Natural Burials Are Rising, and That’s Good for the Planet

Natural burials offer a greener alternative to traditional cemeteries, but Big Funeral is fighting back.


Even in death, Americans just can’t stop themselves from destroying the planet, according to new research.

Right now there are around 22,500 active cemeteries in the United States. These sanitized spaces, with bunches of flowers lain among neat rows of gravestones on manicured lawns, are so closely associated with the American idea of mourning that it’s difficult to imagine an alternative.

Yet the practice is deeply unsustainable. Every year, in laying their dead to rest, Americans bury approximately 73,000 kilometers of hardwood boards, 58,500 tons of steel, 1.5 million tons of concrete, and 3.1 million liters of formaldehyde. A typical four-hectare cemetery contains enough wood to construct 40 homes and sufficient volumes of embalming fluid to fill a backyard swimming pool. As the Baby Boomers start to die, these environmental impacts are only going to grow.

“People hate to think about it. They think, ‘I’m going to be embalmed, put in a vault, and have a nice, dry, quiet existence for my body,’ but that’s a total farce,” says Chris Coutts, an associate professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Florida State University. “The bodies quickly start to rot, and those fluids, if they’re in the body, find a way out of the vault and into the soil, and they can create a plume. It’s a concern if it migrates into water tables. The whole point of embalming fluid is that it doesn’t degrade, so it’s going to be around a long time.”

Coutts is the lead author of a new paper examining the benefits of a greener alternative to the traditional rituals of death: natural burial. While higher-density family vaults can reduce your environmental footprint compared to an individual burial, it’s still a high-impact way of shuffling off your mortal coil. Even cremation, which has doubled in popularity since 2000, leaves an environmental smudge on the Earth, thanks to its high energy consumption and the ensuing air pollution.

Increasingly, Coutts et al. have found, people are rejecting the lawn-park cemetery model, and instead choosing to commit their bodies to a wilder resting place. In most cases, this means eschewing traditional American funerary rites altogether and burying the body without chemicals in a biodegradable casket or a simple shroud. At its best, natural burial allows your death to leave almost no physical damage on the natural world, while helping to protect and conserve threatened landscapes for those still living.

One example is the 142-hectare Glendale Memorial Nature Preserve in Florida, a family farm located in an area full of endangered native longleaf pine and wiregrass. The plan for the cemetery called for 80 percent of the land to be restored and conserved as natural habitat, with around 28 hectares set aside for natural burials. Add-on items include coffins constructed from old bookshelves, while the conserved habitat is also available for recreational activities including hiking and camping. Telling ghost stories remains optional.

John and Bill Wilkerson, the brothers who run the business, say that the income they’ve generated from the burials has allowed them to resist the financial pressure to sell the land to developers—a proposition that was adamantly opposed by their late parents.

The lawn-park cemetery in America might feel like an inescapable ritual, but the idea is relatively recent, arising in the 19th century, as urban elites grew increasingly affluent. Rural cemeteries like Mount Auburn in Boston or Laurel Hill in Philadelphia were not only useful for memorializing the supposed importance of the deceased bourgeoisie, but also for providing their surviving relatives a pleasant getaway from increasingly crowded cities.

The practice of embalming grew popular around the time of the American Civil War, Coutts adds. “They needed to preserve and ship the bodies back to wherever they were going to be buried, and embalming became prevalent. It’s the common expected practice, but it’s really just people going through the motions: It’s what we’ve always done, it’s what we continue to do, but that’s changing,” he says.

This resource-intensive method of burial is far from universal across the globe. Muslim communities practice natural burial as a “basic religious obligation,” according to Coutts and his fellow authors, while in countries such as Australia, grave sites can be reused for new inhabitants after a certain amount of time has elapsed. In the Peruvian Amazon, before the arrival of Christian missionaries, bodies were lain among the buttress roots of large trees. Some Tibetans practice sky burials, placing the corpse on a mountain and allowing it to decompose gradually.

The first natural burial site in the U.S. was established in 1998 in South Carolina. There are now 162 natural-burial providers in the U.S., of which 99 are hybrid cemeteries, offering both natural and traditional burial. A further 54 offer exclusively natural burial, while nine are active conservation burial sites.

Yet America’s lucrative death-care industry is fighting back, determined to protect a billion-dollar market by perpetuating the idea that a resource-intensive funeral is the only guarantor of lasting peace. Indeed, hybrid burial sites are mostly a way for the sector to cash in on the growing popularity of natural burial, a form of greenwashing that offers little in the way of concrete benefits, says Joe Sehee, who founded the Green Burial Council, which certifies natural burial sites, in 2005.

“There were people who just didn’t like the idea [of natural burial],” Sehee says, “people within the industry, particularly people who liked the merchandise-based model of death care: chemical, casket, and vault companies.”

Perhaps more sinister than this greenwashing are the attempts by the funeral industry to lobby for new regulations that will protect its economic position. There are very few federal laws around the handling of the dead, with states and local governments generally left in control. Around half of U.S. states regulate the amount of time that a body can remain un-embalmed, yet no states require a body to be buried in a coffin. Only a handful of states forbid bodies being buried outside of established cemeteries.

This loose legal framework bodes well for natural burial, and badly for Big Funeral. Correspondingly, the mainstream funeral industry has lobbied state governments to pass legislation protecting its share of the market, such as mandating embalming, only permitting burial in established cemeteries, and requiring the involvement of a licensed funeral director to perform tasks that could ordinarily have been performed by the next-of-kin. Restricting citizens’ freedom to access natural burial is bad for the environment, and could deter those who might have chosen this wilder option because it was cheaper than a traditional plot.

Coutts himself, after years of studying the benefits of a natural burial, sounds almost excited by the contribution he will be able to make to conservation from beyond the grave. “I’ve often just dreamed about walking out into the desert with a bottle of water and just sitting under a tree and waiting for it to come,” he says. “But that would be a luxury and it’s probably not feasible. I have it in my will that I want my body to be buried naturally in a conservation burial ground.”

Complete Article HERE!

This is what happens when you die, according to a bunch of different people who died

Many of their accounts align with a recent scientific study into the subject

Many respondents described have no vital signs, yet being able to ‘see’ what was going on

By Adam Withnall

What happens to us when we die? It’s a question that has exercised humanity’s finest minds since those humans have been around to have them – and has been recently the subject of a number of groundbreaking scientific studies.

Now, a Reddit thread has posed the question specifically to those who have been clinically dead and then revived, and has received hundreds of responses.

Though the veracity of the answers has to be taken with a small pinch of salt, the answers from what essentially amounts to a large survey on the subject can be broken down into three categories.

There are those who felt nothing at all; those who had an experience of light and some interaction with another person/being; and those who felt they could watch what was happening while they were “dead” without being able to do anything.

The first group corresponds closely with the answers of a single Redditor who officially died twice and recently invited questions on the topic from other users.

The latter group, meanwhile, appears to agree with the work of Dr Sam Parnia, who sought out cardiac arrest patients and found that almost 40 per cent described having some form of “awareness” at a time when they were clinically dead.

Here is a taster of some of the Reddit users’ responses – which don’t seem to have produced a consensus on the topic just yet:

“I was getting an angiogram done, wide awake watching the screen and talking to the doctor. Alarms started to go off and everyone became panicked. My world became soft and foggy and everything faded to black. Next thing I remember was opening my eyes and hearing a Dr say “we got him back”. It was really a peaceful feeling more than anything.”

“I collapsed during a class presentation one day. All breathing and blood circulation stopped. I felt as if I was plummeting down an endless hole while my peers cried for help. I was revived and still have no memory of the little bit of time before and after my death.”

“Overdosed on heroin, EMTs said my heart stopped. Didn’t see anything, just like sleeping with no dreams.”

“I collapsed at a work meeting in February 2014 and had no pulse or cardiac rhythm for about five minutes. My last memory was from about an hour prior to the incident, and my next memory was from two days later, when I emerged from a medically-induced coma.”

“I flatlined for around 40 seconds. It was like falling asleep without dreaming, no sense of self.”

“Pure, perfect, uninterrupted sleep, no dreams.”

“I do remember a little bit of the ambulance ride, but not from my own body. It was seriously the strangest thing I have ever experienced. It could have been a dream, but I saw my own unconscious body, completely flatlined, in the ambulance. I remember the EMT who was in the ambulance with me (whom I did not see before I passed out) had mint green hair and I couldn’t remember his name, but I asked for him when I regained consciousness about three days later.”

“I was standing in front of a giant wall of light. It stretched up, down, left and right as far as I could see. Kind of like putting your eyes 6″ from a fluorescent lightbulb. The next memory I have is waking up in the hospital.”

“I was standing somewhere. There was a fog all around me, and I saw my best friend (who at the time I’d been fighting with and he’d stopped talking to me) come out of the mist. He told me that I couldn’t go yet, that I have to keep trying, and if I promised not to give up, he’d see me back on Earth. I wordlessly agreed, and I was instantly pushed (into?) my body.”

“I see a vivid “flashback” of myself in the ambulance being taken to the hospital and I am stood in the ambulance looking down on myself / others in the ambulance.”

“When I coded, I don’t remember a sensation of floating, but I was able to recall things in detail that happened while I was ‘dead’ on the other side of the room. No white lights, no dead relatives, nobody telling me to go back, but I was definitely able to see things that were in no way visible from where my body was. I remember speaking and being angry because nobody would answer me. My mother told me ‘you didn’t say anything, you were dead’.”

“I saw nothingness. Black, long empty, but I had a feeling like everything was great and nothing was wrong at all. Imagine how preexistence felt, much the same as post existence.”

Complete Article HERE!

Native American Burials: Trees and Scaffolds Illustrated


by Fritz Zimmerman

We may now pass to what may be called aerial sepulture proper, the most common examples of which are tree and scaffold burial, quite extensively practiced even at the present time. From what can be learned the choice of this mode depends greatly on the facilities present, where timber abounds, trees being used, if absent, scaffolds being employed.

From William J. Cleveland, of the Spotted Tail Agency, Nebraska, has been received a most interesting account of the mortuary customs of the Brulé or Teton Sioux, who belong to the Lakota alliance. They are called Sicaugu, in the Indian tongue Seechaugas, or the “burned thigh” people. The narrative is given in its entirety, not only on account of its careful attention to details, but from its known truthfulness of description. It relates to tree and scaffold burial.

Dakota Scaffold Burial.

Though some few of this tribe now lay their dead in rude boxes, either burying them when implements for digging can be had, or, when they have no means of making a grave, placing them on top of the ground on some hill or other slight elevation, yet this is done in imitation of the whites, and their general custom, as a people, probably does not differ in any essential way from that of their forefathers for many generations in the past. In disposing of the dead, they wrap the body tightly in blankets or robes (sometimes both) wind it all over with thongs made of the hide of some animal and place it reclining on the back at full length, either in the branches of some tree or on a scaffold made for the purpose. These scaffolds are about eight feet high and made by planting four forked sticks firmly in the ground, one at each corner and then placing others across on top, so as to form a floor on which the body is securely fastened. Sometimes more than one body is placed on the same scaffold, though generally a separate one is made for each occasion. These Indians being in all things most superstitious, attach a kind of sacredness to these scaffolds and all the materials used or about the dead. This superstition is in itself sufficient to prevent any of their own people from disturbing the dead, and for one of another nation to in any wise meddle with them is considered an offense not too severely punished by death.

The same feeling also prevents them from ever using old scaffolds or any of the wood which has been used about them, even for firewood, though the necessity may be very great, for fear some evil consequences will follow. It is also the custom, though not universally followed, when bodies have been for two years on the scaffolds to take them down and bury them under ground.

All the work about winding up the dead, building the scaffold, and placing the dead upon it is done by women only, who, after having finished their labor, return and bring the men, to show them where the body is placed, that they may be able to find it in future. Valuables of all kinds, such as weapons, ornaments, pipes, in short, whatever the deceased valued most highly while living, and locks of hair cut from the heads of the mourners at his death, are always bound up with the body. In case the dead was a man of importance, or if the family could afford it, even though he were not, one or several horses (generally, in the former case, those which the departed thought most of) are shot and placed under the scaffold. The idea in this is that the spirit of the horse will accompany and be of use to his spirit in the “happy hunting grounds,” or, as these people express it, “the spirit land.

When an Indian dies, and in some cases even before death occurs, the friends and relatives assemble at the lodge and begin crying over the departed or departing one. This consists in uttering the most heartrending, almost hideous wails and lamentations, in which all join until exhausted. Then the mourning ceases for a time until some one starts it again, when all join in as before and keep it up until unable to cry longer. This is kept up until the body is removed. This crying is done almost wholly by women, who gather in large numbers on such occasions, and among them a few who are professional mourners. These are generally old women and go whenever a person is expected to die, to take the leading part in the lamentations, knowing that they will be well paid at the distribution of goods which follows. As soon as death takes place, the body is dressed by the women in the best garments and blankets obtainable, new ones if they can be afforded. The crowd gathered near continue wailing piteously, and from time to time cut locks of hair from their own heads with knives, and throw them on the dead body. Those who wish to show their grief most strongly, cut themselves in various places, generally in the legs and arms, with their knives or pieces of flint, more commonly the latter, causing the blood to flow freely over their persons. This custom is followed to a less degree by the men.

A body is seldom kept longer than one day as, besides the desire to get the dead out of sight, the fear that the disease which caused the death will communicate itself to others of the family causes them to hasten the disposition of it as soon as they are certain that death has actually taken place

Until the body is laid away the mourners eat nothing. After that is done, connected with which there seems to be no particular ceremony, the few women who attend to it return to the lodge and a distribution is made among them and others, not only of the remaining property of the deceased, but of all the possessions, even to the lodge itself of the family to which he belonged. This custom in some cases has been carried so far as to leave the rest of the family not only absolutely destitute but actually naked. After continuing in this condition for a time, they gradually reach the common level again by receiving gifts from various sources.

The received custom requires of women, near relatives of the dead, a strict observance of the ten days following the death, as follows: They are to rise at a very early hour and work unusually hard all day, joining in no feast, dance, game, or other diversion, eat but little, and retire late, that they may be deprived of the usual amount of sleep as of food. During this they never paint themselves, but at various times go to the top of some hill and bewail the dead in loud cries and lamentations for hours together. After the ten days have expired they paint themselves again and engage in the usual amusements of the people as before. The men are expected to mourn and fast for one day and then go on the war-path against some other tribe, or on some long journey alone. If he prefers, he can mourn and fast for two or more days and remain at home.

The custom of placing food at the scaffold also prevails to some extent. If but little is placed there it is understood to be for the spirit of the dead, and no one is allowed to touch it. If much is provided, it is done with the intention that those of the same sex and age as the deceased shall meet there and consume it. If the dead be a little girl, the young girls meet and eat what is provided; if it be a man, then men assemble for the same purpose. The relatives never mention the name of the dead.

Offering Food to the Dead.

Still another custom, though at the present day by no means generally followed, is still observed to some extent among them. This is called wanagee yuhapee, or “keeping the ghost.” A little of the hair from the head of the deceased being preserved is bound up in calico and articles of value until the roll is about two feet long and ten inches or more in diameter, when it is placed in a case made of hide handsomely ornamented with various designs in different colored paints. When the family is poor, however, they may substitute for this case blue or scarlet blanket or cloth. The roll is then swung lengthwise between two supports made of sticks, placed thus × in front of a lodge which has been set apart for the purpose. In this lodge are gathered presents of all kinds, which are given out when a sufficient quantity is obtained. It is often a year and sometimes several years before this distribution is made. During all this time the roll containing the hair of the deceased is left undisturbed in front of the lodge. The gifts as they are brought in are piled in the back part of the lodge, and are not to be touched until given out. No one but men and boys are admitted to the lodge unless it be a wife of the deceased, who may go in if necessary very early in the morning. The men sit inside, as they choose, to smoke, eat, and converse. As they smoke they empty the ashes from their pipes in the center of the lodge, and they, too, are left undisturbed until after the distribution. When they eat, a portion is always placed first under the roll outside for the spirit of the deceased. No one is allowed to take this unless a large quantity is so placed, in which case it may be eaten by any persons actually in need of food, even though strangers to the dead. When the proper time comes the friends of the deceased and all to whom presents are to be given are called together to the lodge and the things are given out by the man in charge. Generally this is some near relative of the departed. The roll is now undone and small locks of the hair distributed with the other presents, which ends the ceremony.

Sometimes this “keeping the ghost” is done several times, and it is then looked upon as a repetition of the burial or putting away of the dead. During all the time before the distribution of the hair, the lodge, as well as the roll, is looked upon as in a manner sacred, but after that ceremony it becomes common again and may be used for any ordinary purpose. No relative or near friend of the dead wishes to retain anything in his possession that belonged to him while living, or to see, hear, or own anything which will remind him of the departed. Indeed, the leading idea in all their burial customs in the laying away with the dead their most valuable possessions, the giving to others what is left of his and the family property, the refusal to mention his name, &c., is to put out of mind as soon and as effectual as possible the memory of the departed.

From what has been said, however, it will be seen that they believe each person to have a spirit which continues to live after the death of the body. They have no idea of a future life in the body, but believe that after death their spirits will meet and recognize the spirits of their departed friends in the spirit land. They deem it essential to their happiness here, however, to destroy as far as practicable their recollection of the dead. They frequently speak of death as a sleep, and of the dead as asleep or having gone to sleep at such a time. These customs are gradually losing their hold upon them, and are much less generally and strictly observed than formerly.

Depositing the Corpse.

A. Delano,66 mentions as follows an example of tree-burial which he noticed in Nebraska.

During the afternoon we passed a Sioux burying-ground, if I may be allowed to use an Irishism. In a hackberry tree, elevated about twenty feet from the ground, a kind of rack was made of broken tent poles, and the body (for there was but one) was placed upon it, wrapped in his blanket, and a tanned buffalo skin, with his tin cup, moccasins, and various things which he had used in life, were placed upon his body, for his use in the land of spirits.


Complete Article HERE!

A mother grieves: Orca whale continues to carry her dead calf into a second day

“It reflects the very strong bonds these animals have, and as a parent, you can only imagine what kinds of emotional stress these animals must be under, having these events happen,” says one researcher.

Biologists say orcas mourn the loss of newborns as any family would. On Wednesday, J35 was still carrying her dead calf for the second day straight. In 2010, L20, photographed in Haro Strait, did the same thing with her dead newborn in a behavior biologists say is a common expression of grief.


For two days she has grieved, carrying her dead calf on her head, unwilling to let it go.

J35, a member of the critically endangered southern resident family of orcas, gave birth to her calf Tuesday only to watch it die within half an hour.

All day, and through the night, she carried the calf. She was seen still carrying the calf on Wednesday by Ken Balcomb, founder and principal investigator of the Center for Whale Research.

“It is unbelievably sad,” said Brad Hanson, wildlife biologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, who has witnessed other mother orcas do the same thing with calves that did not survive.

Robin Baird, research biologist with the Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, in 2010 watched L72, another of the southern residents, carry her dead newborn in 2010.

“It reflects the very strong bonds these animals have, and as a parent, you can only imagine what kinds of emotional stress these animals must be under, having these events happen,” Baird said.

“You could see the calf had not been dead very long, the umbilical cord was visible. When we were watching, all the rest of the whales were separated by a distance, and they were just moving very slowly. She would drop the calf every once in a while, and go back and retrieve it.”

J35 is doing the same thing, carrying her calf by balancing it on her rostrum, just over her nose. She dives to pick it back up every time it slides off.

Scientists have documented grieving behavior in other animals with close social bonds in small, tightly knit groups, observed carrying newborns that did not survive.

Seven species in seven geographic regions covering three oceans have been documented carrying the body of their deceased young, including Risso’s dolphin in the Indian Ocean; the Indo-Pacific bottle-nosed dolphin and the spinner dolphin in the Red Sea; and pilot whales in the North Atlantic.

In one instance, a researcher attached a rope to the carcass of a bottlenose dolphin and towed it to shore and buried it — with the mother following, touching the carcass until she could no longer follow into water too shallow to swim in. There she remained, watching.

Some carried their young in their mouths, some on their backs.

Deborah Giles, research scientist for University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology and research director for the nonprofit Wild Orca, also watched L72 carry her dead calf, following her at a distance in her research boat until the light faded and it was too dark to see.

“Same thing, it was hours and hours,” she said of that whale. “But I have never heard of this,” she said of J35. “More than 24 hours.

“It is horrible. This is an animal that is a sentient being. It understands the social bonds that it has with the rest of its family members. She carried the calf in her womb from 17 to 18 months, she is bonded to it and she doesn’t want to let it go. It is that simple. She is grieving.”

The news of the grieving mother came even as researchers are also tracking a 4-year-old in the endangered orca clan that is emaciated. Hanson photographed J50 on Saturday and documented the classic “peanut head” — a misshapen head due to loss of body fat. Her survival is in doubt.

The southern residents face at least three known challenges to their survival as a species: toxins, vessel traffic and lack of adequate food, particularly chinook salmon. When they are hungry, it makes their other problems worse, research has shown.

Gov. Jay Inslee has appointed a task force on orca whale recovery.

Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Inslee, said the task force is looking at a range of solutions, both short and long term.

“The loss of this calf is a sobering reminder of what’s at stake,” Smith said. “And it’s why we’ve convened partners who we believe can and will be best able to identify what we need to do in the upcoming weeks, months and years to save these animals.”

For researchers who work closely with the southern residents, their continued decline is painfully apparent.

“I am on the water collecting poop from animals that are not getting enough to eat,” Giles said. “ I don’t know if people understand the magnitude of what we are talking about here. We don’t have five years to wait, we really don’t.”

She said other members of the whale’s family knew J35 was pregnant, because of their echolocation ability, which they use to find food.

“So they must be grieving, too.”

Complete Article HERE!

Make an Eco-Conscious Final Exit

“The Green Reaper” talks about her latest book

By Katie O’Reilly

You’re probably aware that your carbon footprint doesn’t end when you do, but did you know that we could build a new Golden Gate Bridge every year using the metals that leach into the ground from traditional caskets? Take into account all the concrete we bury and we could construct a new two-lane highway beneath it. Factor in the annual carbon emissions that result from cremation and you could drive to the moon and back. This all is according to Elizabeth Fournier, the one-woman operation behind Boring, Oregon’s Cornerstone Funeral Services. It’s located in a rehabbed goat farm and is also the first green funeral home in the Portland metropolitan area. Fournier, in fact, is more commonly known as the “Green Reaper.”

After all, she’s long been helping Oregonians bury their loved ones in ways that involve no metal caskets, concrete linings, or carcinogenic embalming fluids (the noxious chemicals that are released into the earth when the casket eventually biodegrades and the body decomposes). This often means lowering unembalmed bodies into their own backyards in Green Burial Council–certified biodegradable cedar caskets, or even no caskets at all. Fournier (pictured, right), an upbeat and big-hearted mortician who’s prone to statements like “All Grandma’s juicy goodness will go back into the permaculture of the land,” says her nickname was coined by a neighbor who saw her standing in yet another yard with a shovel, excavating a new plot. “It’s a lighthearted way of saying, ‘Yes, you’re the death lady, but you’re the eco death lady.’”

When the Green Reaper was eight, her mother and grandparents died. Not only did young Fournier spend a lot of time in funeral homes, but she also found herself drawn to the tranquility of cemeteries, and even kept a mock graveyard on her dresser. She also devoured National Geographic stories about various cultures’ death rituals and performed funerals for her friends’ pets. Fournier, who soon after going into the funeral industry observed that its progression has aligned with the regression of the planet, wrote about her passion for green death in 2017’s The Green Reaper: Memoirs of an Eco-Mortician. Following its release, she received countless calls and emails from readers who wanted to extend their environmentalism into their after-lives but weren’t sure how to legally go about not turning into toxic waste. “I got a lot of people asking, Can you just put all this information in one place?” Fournier says.

Similar to how Caitlin Doughty of “Ask a Mortician” fame has cracked open the secrets of the funeral industry in hopes of boosting western cultures’ acceptance of death and grieving, Fournier wrote The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial (the paperback version of which came out in May from New World Library) as a resource to catalog all the natural burial choices available in North America, and to empower readers to make more environmentally friendly final choices—which also, she says, tend to be more cost-effective and psychologically satisfying. A true memoirist, Fournier draws on many of her own experiences to guide readers through everything from green burial planning and funeral basics to sea burials and body-composting options. And The Green Burial Guidebook exudes warmth and compassion—readers who are grieving or faced with their own mortality will likely find comfort in its pages.

After devouring The Green Burial Guidebook in one sitting, Sierra called up the Green Reaper to  discuss climate-conscious changes within the funeral industry and greener ways to go about dying.

Sierra: Who did you write this book for?

Elizabeth Fournier: My intended audience was people who’ve never heard of natural burial and want to know what the heck is going on, as well as people who keep hearing about it and think it’s a trend. I wanted to clarify that up until 150 years ago, in fact, most burials were inherently green—when someone died they were bathed, prepared, and placed in a wooden box. This changed dramatically during the Civil War. Suddenly, bodies had to be transported over long distances in large quantities, and so we started embalming to preserve them, which became common practice. Now, we have a very eco-conscious, DIY culture, and a lot of people are saying, Oh my God, death and dying is so expensive! I wrote this book to show that it doesn’t have to be, and to give people the tools to handle loved ones’ deaths themselves.

So, you’re a funeral director telling people they don’t necessarily need to have or pay for a traditional funeral. . . . Have you experienced any pushback from your own industry?

Not a lot, although there are certainly some people who find the whole green death concept a little outrageous, don’t see the profit-making angle, and think this is just a trend that’ll go away. And that’s discouraging, because our role as morticians is to provide options for people who are going through a horrible time. And of course, this isn’t a trend. What was just a trend is the traditional funeral industry. It’s experienced a lot of growth with the last 50 years, but before that—and especially before the Civil War—burial was far more natural.

There are presently more than 150 green burial sites in America, compared with just a handful a decade ago. Why do you think green burial is on the rise in the U.S.?

A lot of it has to do with today’s generation of end-of-life decision-makers. Baby Boomers, who were born between 1946 and 1964, started recycling and launched Earth Day and put a lot of ecological concerns on the world’s radar. They’ve walked the walk during life, and a lot of them are thinking that a green death wouldn’t be that bad. Baby Boomers are making choices for their parents too.

And again, there’s the issue of rising costs of death—the average American funeral now costs $8,000, and people are saying, How do we afford that?! So, cremation has become more popular. But while that helps you avoid the consequences of embalming fluid, we’ve now learned that cremation’s carbon footprint isn’t so fantastic. So, let’s push further.

You write about being a kid who obsessively read about different cultures’ death rituals in National Geographic, and your book is peppered with insights about various internment practices and beliefs across the globe. Did any other cultures inspire you to become a funeral director who specializes in green death?

So many of them! In parts of the Philippines, for instance, they just make plain caskets out of a single piece of wood and hang them from cliffs; other Asian cultures leave bodies out for the vultures, and in places like India, many just do a funeral pyre. And then there are Viking funerals and other types of at-sea burials. All this stuff is pretty darn non-resource-intensive. And then take Sweden, where promession is legal. That’s when they actually cryogenically freeze-dry you in liquid nitrogen and put you on a vibrating table, which causes your body to disintegrate into particles, making you into a dry powder that can be interred in a biodegradable casket. Italians are using biodegradable seed pods to turn the dead into trees—their remains provide nutrients to a sapling planted above it, creating eco burial forests, rather than burial grounds.

But here in America, things are a bit more challenging—we still have reverence for the human body and human remains, so this idea of putting people in the soil, or watering plants with your remains, is very European. But, we’re getting there—there’s Jae Rhim Lee at Stanford, who developed the mushroom burial suit, a garment sewn with mushrooms whose spores help to detoxify and decompose the body, and Washington State University’s Urban Death Project, where you’re laid in a structure with chips to biodegrade, or as they say, recompose, and it works fantastically well. But, this all has to become palatable to the average person to talk about. Greenies are in the lead here.

“In parts of the Philippines they just make plain caskets out of a single piece of wood and hang them from cliffs; other Asian cultures leave bodies out for the vultures, and in places like India, many just do a funeral pyre. And then there are Viking funerals and other types of at-sea burials. All this stuff is pretty darn non-resource-intensive.”

Your book takes a very warm, open, and never morbid approach to the subject of death. Can you talk about societal comfort levels with death and how they affect the green burial movement?

We used to keep loved ones’ bodies in our homes for a while, but nowadays, funeral directors come and take them—our ethos is to just call the undertaker so we don’t have to think about or deal with any of the messy parts of death. But now people are realizing, partially thanks to the wonderful interwebs, that we have choices, and I think we’re slowly becoming more comfortable with death. A younger generation of funeral directors—the old man with the clammy hands is far from the norm nowadays—is trying to embrace more modern practices. Celebrations of life are becoming more popular, and I love the concept of the living funeral—if you know you’re gonna pass soon, rather than having a party when you’re dead, have it when you’re alive and can still enjoy being honored and listening to all the good things people say about you. People truly are embracing more choices. And when you consider Mother Nature and the drive to honor Earth as this gorgeous, loving place, you can engage in dialogue with people who’ve perhaps never talked much about death before.

What if someone wants to embrace green burial, but she lives somewhere like Manhattan and so can’t expect her loved ones to bury her in the backyard?

There’s certainly no perfect way to do it; it’s about shades of green. Consider that every state now has at least one cemetery that allows for natural burial, up from just a dozen nationwide a decade ago. It’s legal everywhere now; you just have to be diligent about calling the county and finding the often small cemeteries that don’t require a concrete grave liner. And plenty of companies are offering green burial caskets that use a basic liner, such as a wicker basket. But the movement goes beyond burial itself. Maybe you want to make sure your loved ones know you want local and organic food served at your reception and no cut flowers. Maybe you want to have guests carpool to your service, or you want to be buried in the sheets from your bed. There are all sorts of ways to approach green death. Like, on one hand you’re making a horrible choice if you insist on going into a mausoleum, but if it’s what best helps your family cope, then fantastic. Let’s find you some other ways to be part of the solution.

What’s next for you?

I’m working with someone right now to secure a place in Portland, Oregon, for an official green burial cemetery. I have to keep it under wraps right now but will be revealing more later in the year. It’s been a really fun process—we’re working to get community muralists to paint the wall behind it, and to find passionate underwriters, and to make this a really comfortable, beautiful place that will truly honor the people interred there. It’s been great to meet and talk to all the fantastic people who’ve come out of the woodwork to talk about how doing something good for the planet can really help grieving loved ones heal.

Complete Article HERE!

Sky Burial; Ancient Tradition of Iran’s Zoroastrians

Ancient Zoroastrians believed the dead body should be put in particular structures to be feasted upon by birds of prey, because the burial or burning of the corpses would cause water and soil to become dirty, which is forbidden in the ancient religion.

The burial traditions in historical periods are known through archaeological evidence and sacred texts like the Zoroastrians’ Avesta as well as Pahlavi texts.

With the recognition of the Zoroastrian religion in Iran, body burial was strictly prohibited and the only way to eliminate the corpses was to place the deceased in rows so their bodies would be feasted upon by birds of prey.

In a Zoroastrian religious text, which is a collection of religious rules and instructions, there are references to the ways to treat with the bodies of the dead. According to these texts, the dead should be put in structures known as dakhma to be feasted upon by birds of prey, because the burial or burning of the corpses would cause the sacred elements of water, soil, and fire to become dirty and it is forbidden to do so.

However, according to the researchers, even in Zoroastrian texts, there are indications that a significant number of people opposed the change in funeral practices, which resulted in penalties. Given that the time passed between the burial and the exhumation, only physical punishments were imposed on the perpetrators, which were practically subject to fines.

According to the findings, for a long time, it was generally thought that burial was more based on putting the corpse outdoor. But extensive scientific studies revealed that the Sassanids, in addition to the tradition of placing the body in the open air, used other burial practices. This can be interpreted in relation to religious communities within the Sassanid Empire and perhaps related to the class division of society in this era.

According to Samer Nazari, a graduate of archaeology at the Isfahan University of Art and his colleague, “the coexistence of religious communities including Christians, Jews, Manicheans, Buddhists and other religious sects in the Sassanid community is one of the main reasons for the diversity of burial practices in this era. At the end of the Shapur I era, the Zoroastrianism was the official religion of the country, but Manichean religion, along with other emerging sects should not be ignored. This comes as Buddhism was also spreading in the East, and Christianity and Judaism were expanding in the western regions.”

Prohibiting Burial of Corpses to Keep Water, Soil Clean

Based on the available information, it is not possible to attribute the burial practices specifically to a particular group, but according to the teachings of the Zoroastrian School, we are aware of the prohibition of burying bodies for the purpose of keeping water and soil clean. Thus, the most dominant burial method during the Sassanid era was to put the deceased body in a dakhma, or towers of silence.

The dakhmas or towers of silence were common until Pahlavi era (20th century). At the time of Pahlavi, the dakhmas were shut down and turned into a burial chamber. But some of the dakhmas are registered as national heritage with domestic and foreign tourists visiting them. The most famous Zoroastrian dakhma is in Yazd province.

Zoroastrian dakhma is known as tower of silence. This dakhma is located 15 km south-east of Yazd near the Safaeiyeh area and on a low-altitude mountain called the mountain of the dakhma.

Although there are Zoroastrian dakhmas in Tehran, Kerman, Sirjan, Isfahan, Taft, Ashkezar, Ardakan, Fars province, etc., the dakhmas of Yazd have more visitors as they are located in the religious capital of Zoroastrianism close to the city and other monuments.

Zoroastrian Dakhma or Tower of Silence

In the past, the site had two dakhmas, which, according to historical documents and Zoroastrian words, both were used for a period of six months. One of these structures is the Maneckji Limji Hataria dakhma, or the Great Maneckji, which is located on the left.

Maneckji, known as Maneckji Sahib, travelled to Iran during the reign of Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, as the representative of “the Association for the Improvement of the Zoroastrian Conditions in Iran,” in order to reduce the pressure on Zoroastrians. Zoroastrians still owe their existence to his efforts.

The second building is Golestan dakhma. During the Qajar period, the difficulty of passing through the mountainous road of the Maneckji caused problems for the burial of the corpses. That is why the Golestan dakhma was built in smaller dimensions. This dakhma could be seen 150 metres west of the Maneckji. The diameter of this dakhma is 25 metres and the height of the wall is 6 metres from the surface of the hill.

The inner surface of the Zoroastrian dakhmas is flat and rounded, all covered with large boulders and consists of three parts: feminine, masculine and childish. Perhaps it’s not bad to know that the end of the circle space, which is attached to the wall around the dakhma, is for the corpses of men, the middle part is for women and the inner circle is for children.

The bodies were placed on these slates according to their gender, and the birds of prey, especially vultures started to eat their flesh. After eating the flesh and becoming completely dry under the sun, the bones were poured into a well in the centre of the circle, called the bone well, to turn into dirt.

All burial practices from leaving the body inside the dakhma until its disappearance lasted about six months to one year. When the dead were placed inside the dakhma, it was customary to mourn, wearing white clothes for three days in ruined buildings next to the dakhmas known as “Khileh”.

Interestingly, in a documentary entitled “The Lovers Wind” made by the famous French director Albert Lamorisse in 1970, part of it was dedicated to the Zoroastrian dakhmas of Yazd. At that time, the dakhma was still open.

Complete Article HERE!

Doing Death Differently

Death doulas: the end-of-life guides who are recreating the dying experience

By Isabel Bird

When Rebecca Lyons’ great aunt died, her body remained with the family.

Her aunt’s body was kept cool with the use of dry ice for four days, and the family washed and dressed her for service, held ritual, and prepared themselves for saying goodbye.

“We had candles, we burnt frankincense … it was a gentle process because there was no loss of ownership. It was about coming together and having that time, to laugh and cry, and it wasn’t all doom and gloom,” Ms Lyons said.

“You have looked after this person in life and now you are going to look after this person in death … the whole experience is precious.”

It was a personal death-care experience for Ms Lyons that was also connected to her new role as a death doula.

Doula in Ancient Greek translates to “woman of service” and is traditionally used in the birthing sector, but has been adopted by the death-care movement.

A death doula, end of life doula, deathwalker or death midwife can be hired by a dying person or their family to offer support in a multitude of ways, which can include organising alternatives to conventional funeral home offerings.

Their services ultimately depend on individual need and choice but can range from pre- and post-death planning, assistance with wills or advance care directives, bedside vigils, and the organisation of counselling, respite or other therapies.

Planning options may include dying at home, keeping the body at home for one day or more before burial or cremation, or holding family-led funerals in alternative spaces such as in the home, in the backyard, on a beach or in a forest.

Ms Lyons, a former funeral director, became a qualified death doula four months ago, offering the service as part of her death-care advocacy business You n Taboo.

She said a death doula helped people to make informed decisions, and then worked with families to help carry out those decisions.

“There is so much involved in the death and dying process, yet there is a lack of community knowledge about it,” Ms Lyons said.

“From the point of death a nurse might say ‘which funeral director should we call?’ The question should actually be ‘do you want a funeral director called?’ Right from the start, there is a lack of information given (in the institutional space),” she said.

“When someone dies the family can legally take the body home. Funeral directors are not mandatory, there doesn’t need to be embalming or temporary preservation, coffins are not necessary, and there are choices about the funeral and where it is held, or if they even have one.”

Ms Lyons said planning for death can be beneficial for families because it takes the guess work out of wondering what their loved ones want, and can be beneficial for the dying as they can focus on spending time with family.

Zenith Vorago is the founder of the Natural Death Care Centre in Byron Bay, which has offered deathwalker training for 12 years.

She started working with dying people 25 years ago after dissatisfaction with the conventional way of doing death, which generally involves hiring a funeral home director and relinquishing control of the body.

“We didn’t want to give our people to the medical system, or to funeral directors we didn’t know,” she said.

Ms Vorago explained that the funeral industry in Australia is led by one corporation that had a monopoly over various links in the chain, from funeral homes and crematoriums down to coffin makers.

“There is a lot of money to be made and in my experience people don’t mind paying for a service but they don’t want to get ripped off.”

Ms Vorago also said the health care system would soon not be able to cope with the ageing population, and more people in society would need to care for their own dying.

“What we are doing is skilling people up, so they can participate in that role with some awareness about how to do that well and how to do it with the system (such as) using community nurses,” she said.

“We are empowering people to know what their options are, to consider what is best for them and their people, to make decisions that are right for them, so people die well.”

Social worker Lynne Jarvis has completed Ms Vorago’s deathwalker training, and runs JUMAVE on the North-West Coast.

Her business adopts a holistic, social justice approach to death, offering a range of pre- and post-death services similar to that of a death doula, including funeral celebrancy and the use of cooling blankets for at-home funerals.

Ms Jarvis is also responsible for organising the Coffin Club at Ulverstone, where people can make their own coffins and have open, end-of-life conversations.

She said increased family involvement in the death care process can lead to highly meaningful experiences, and provided the example where an individual held a wake before their expected death.

“It ended up being really beautiful experience for them, it was well planned and simple. As sad and painful as it was, there was still beauty and joy in that process on reflection.”

Ms Jarvis stressed that early planning was important.

“I am focused on training the after-death care (family and friend) network to make sure they know what they need to do,” she said.

“It does take more energy and time … but there is great value and healing, and that healing is really important for the longer term bereavement of those left behind.”

Alternative options, such as taking the body home, will never alleviate grief but it can ease the process.

Ms Lyons said that when someone dies people often feel a loss of control, which is heightened when the body is taken away.

“It brings a massive, massive trauma that adds to the grief … what we are saying to people is that you don’t actually have to do that,” Ms Lyons said.

“For those who suit the conventional processes there are funeral directors out there who do an absolutely almighty job, but, it is a choice.”

She added that alternative options are actually a return to the old way of doing things.

“My grandmother would tell me stories where Mrs so-and-so from three doors down died, and everyone turned up with casseroles, and the body was in the lounge room. People gathered, they mourned and grieved together. The community used to own it. We are reclaiming this lost knowledge,” she said.

“Death has an amazing way of pulling people together, and the process that my family went through, looking after my great aunt – that was truly beautiful.”

Complete Article HERE!