05/23/18

Catholic Cemeteries to offer ‘natural burial’ option starting in fall

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When Frank Schweigert dies, he doesn’t expect embalming, a burial vault or even a casket.

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After his funeral Mass, Schweigert, 67, wants to be placed directly in the ground, wrapped only in cloth, with little of the funeral trappings many people have come to expect.

And The Catholic Cemeteries plans to be ready to accommodate him.

The Mendota Heights-based organization, which oversees five Catholic cemeteries in the Twin Cities, is preparing to offer natural burial as an option as early as this fall. The trend, also called “green burial,” takes different variations, but aims to unite the body with the earth using little if any fossil fuel or non-biodegradable materials.

“It’s so much a part of our tradition,” said John Cherek, The Catholic Cemeteries director. “That’s the amazing part of it.”

The Catholic Cemeteries’ staff began exploring the option a few years ago, as they became aware of local Catholic interest in it. In many respects, the concept is as old as death itself, but the contemporary movement began in earnest about 20 years ago with the opening of the first green burial cemetery in the U.S. in South Carolina.

The California-based nonprofit Green Burial Council, established in 2005, certifies green burial practices for funeral homes and cemeteries. Its Minnesota listing includes only Mound Cemetery of Brooklyn Center as a “hybrid” green cemetery, meaning it offers both green and conventional burials, and Willwerscheid Funeral Home and Cremation Center in St. Paul as the only “green” certified funeral home. Other Minnesota cemeteries and funeral homes, however, do offer the natural burial options without formal certification.

Cherek said he isn’t certain that The Catholic Cemeteries will pursue certification, but preparations are underway in a section of Resurrection in Mendota Heights to make about 50 natural burial plots available this year, with the potential to add more in future years.

Burying the body

Natural burial begins with the preparation of the body, which is not embalmed. Because everything buried with the body needs to be biodegradable, the body is often not clothed, but rather wrapped in a shroud. In some instances, the grave is dug by hand, to avoid fuel-dependent machinery, and the body is transported to the gravesite by non-motorized means. The body may be encased in a biodegradable casket — options include those made from wood, bamboo and wicker — or simply shrouded before being lowered into the grave manually.

At Resurrection, the natural burial area is also being restored to native prairie. That means long grasses and wildflowers will eventually cover the graves. Instead of individual headstones, the plots will be identified collectively by monuments along paved paths.

As The Catholic Cemeteries’ leaders considered whether to offer natural burial, they surveyed focus groups and found more interest than anticipated. Several of those surveyed, such as Schweigert and his wife, Kathy, now feel passionate about the option.

“Since it’s our mission to bury the dead, and we offer full body and we offer cremation [burials] … this would be another option, and it may be attractive to folks who have thought they wanted cremation, but this might give them an alternative,” said Sister Fran Donnelly, director of LifeTransition Ministries at The Catholic Cemeteries.

In many respects, natural burial is a return to common burial practices before the rise of the funeral industry in the early 20th century. Although embalming dates to early Egypt, its contemporary use gained traction during the Civil War, when fallen soldiers’ bodies were transported home for burial.

Although there are common misconceptions that embalming or vaults are necessary for public health, that’s not the case, Cherek said.

Done properly, natural burial does not endanger the water supply or put bodies at risk of being dug up by animals, or spread disease, according to the GBC.

Funeral vaults — structures that surround the coffin in standard graves — are used as a way of stabilizing the ground around a grave for ease of grounds maintenance, preventing the otherwise inevitable sinking of topsoil, which displaces the coffin and bodily remains as they decay.

Embalming, meanwhile, puts chemicals into the ground, and vaults prolong or prevent natural decay, and many elements included in the burial — from suit coat buttons to casket hinges — aren’t biodegradable.

According to the Green Burial Council, American burials annually put into the ground 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, 20 million feet of wood, 17,000 tons of copper and bronze, and 64,500 tons of steel. Add to that 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluids, which contain toxins that could negatively impact the health of embalmers.

While some people think of cremation as a simpler option, it also requires chemicals, and toxins linger in the cremated remains.

Cremation is permitted for Catholic burial, and its use is on the rise. However, the Church prefers burial of the body. The Catholic Cemeteries’ leaders think that natural burial might appeal to Catholics not only because of theologically-rooted ecological commitments, but also because it allows them to have a full body burial in a simpler form.

“Faith-wise, I think it says something about the resurrection of the body, that the body is intact, and it’s just going to return to the earth,” Sister Donnelly said.

Dust to dust

Schweigert, an administrator at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, remembers reading decades ago about traditional Muslim burial, in which the body is placed directly in the ground. It struck him as a very natural way to approach death and honor the deceased, and over the years, the idea germinated in his mind as something he would prefer to the standard use of embalming, a casket and a burial vault. A parishioner of St. Frances Cabrini in Minneapolis, he contacted The Catholic Cemeteries a couple years ago to see if it was possible. He found out that “green burial” was becoming a trend, and that The Catholic Cemeteries was exploring the option. The organization later asked him to participate in a focus group on the topic.

The idea of placing the body directly into the ground with nothing to impede its return to the earth reminded Schweigert of something he observed as an altar boy: that the body and blood of Christ, if not consumed, were buried or drained directly into the ground.

“The earth was the most sacred place for the body of Christ, and the parallel between that and putting a loved one in the earth just seemed to me convincing spiritually,” he said.

And although Schweigert has strong feelings about not being cremated, which he sees as too industrialized and destructive of the body, he said his decision to choose a natural burial is also not a reaction to the funeral industry, which he respects, as he noted funeral directors have treated him and others well during times of grief.

He does, however, question the long-term sustainability of common methods, and he sees natural burial as a way to honor the environment, the dead and the Catholic faith.

Green or natural burial practices complement Catholic teaching about death, Sister Donnelly said, as well as the Church’s social teaching on caring for creation, which Pope Francis articulated in his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home.” Already, several Catholic cemeteries in the U.S. offer green burial options, and a 2011 survey by U.S. Catholic Magazine found that 80 percent of respondents would prefer a green burial.

Some religious communities are adopting natural burial as part of their commitment to caring for creation. Among them is Sister Donnelly’s community, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which has a cemetery at its motherhouse in Dubuque, Iowa.

In “A Reflection on Changes in Burial Practice” in The Catholic Cemeteries’ summer newsletter, retired priest of the archdiocese Father James Notebaart looks to Scripture and Church tradition and what they say about the sacredness of a burial place, recalling the words spoken in the Ash Wednesday liturgy: “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

After noting that the natural burial process is the way most people — including Catholics and their Jewish ancestors — were buried for thousands of years, he wrote, “So the core of natural burial is to acknowledge our innate closeness to the earth as a creature of God’s own making. It acknowledges that the earth itself is holy because it is an icon of the One who created it.

“Today we have begun to step back to much earlier practices, those of the preindustrial world in which there was a more organic sense of how all things are related, both the natural resources and the human use of them. This awareness is shaping a new articulation of ecological ethics, of which Pope Francis is a leading proponent.”

Practical considerations

Choosing natural burial, however, does mean eschewing other common aspects of funeral and burial beyond the casket and vault.

According to state law, a person needs to be embalmed, buried or cremated within 72 hours of death, but refrigeration of the body allows burial to take place up to six days after death, said Dan Delmore, who owns Robbinsdale-based Gearty-Delmore Funeral Chapels and sits on The Catholic Cemeteries’ board. State law also requires embalming for a public open-casket wake, but an in-home or closed-casket wake is a possibility.

Delmore has been a funeral director for 42 years, and for the first 15 years of his work, no one questioned the practice of embalming; it was an assumed part of the funeral preparation, he said.

“There’s been a lot of change of heart in people, and it goes more along the lines of chemicals in general, not necessarily at the time of death, but wanting a life free of chemicals in general,” he said, comparing it to the organic food movement. A Catholic, he also sees natural burial as an appropriate accompaniment to the Church’s funeral rites, and he said he’s excited to see it embraced at Resurrection.

As it prepares to open its natural burial section, The Catholic Cemeteries is working on logistics, including cost, which is among the aspects that The Catholic Cemeteries’ focus groups said would affect their decision whether or not to have a natural burial. While 41 percent surveyed said they were likely to consider natural burial, complicating factors included already owning plots elsewhere; wanting to be buried next to a loved one who already has been buried in a conventional grave or wants to be; and wanting an individual headstone, which The Catholic Cemeteries’ current natural burial plan precludes.

Schweigert admits the idea of not having an individual headstone has taken some getting used to, but while that alone has dissuaded others, he’s not deterred. He recalled seeing a family burial plot in France that had a collective monument, and it’s reminded him that burials have been handled differently in different times by different cultures.

He puts it in perspective with the knowledge that after three generations have passed since a person’s death, his or her grave is not likely to be frequented by loved ones, and that there are other ways to leave a final mark on the world. For him, it’s more important to remove any barriers — physical and symbolic — between the body and the earth.

“This is a sacred moment for us,” he said of death and burial. “We want to have a way to do this with dignity, [and] we want a way to do this with our Catholic religion, so I’m very happy, too, that the Catholic Church has gotten involved in it.”

Complete Article HERE!

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05/19/18

What happens at the end of life?

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By Rachel Schraer

Scientists are expecting a spike in deaths in the coming years. As life expectancies increased, the number of people dying fell – but those deaths were merely delayed.

With people living longer, and often spending more time in ill-health, the Dying Matters Coalition wants to encourage people to talk about their wishes towards the end of their life, including where they want to die.

“Talking about dying makes it more likely that you, or your loved one, will die as you might have wished. And it will make it easier for your loved ones if they know you have had a ‘good death’,” the group of end-of-life-care charities said.

Where to die?

Surveys repeatedly find most people want to die at home. But in reality the most common place to die is in hospital.

Almost half of the deaths in England last year were in hospital, less than a quarter at home, with most of the remainder in a care home or hospice.

What happens to human remains?

Dying wishes don’t just extend to where you die but to what happens to your body after death too.

Cremation overtook burial in the UK in the late-1960s as the most popular way to dispose of human remains, and more than doubled in popularity between 1960 and 1990.

Since then it has remained fairly stable at about three-quarters of the deceased being cremated, although it has been creeping up gradually year on year – in 2017 it hit 77%.

Although cremation is thought to be more environmentally friendly, it is not without its own costs. The process requires energy. And burning bodies releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

There are hundreds of “green” burial grounds in Britain where coffins must be biodegradable and no embalming fluid or headstone markers are permitted. Instead, loved ones of the deceased often plant trees as a memorial.

The Association of Natural Burial Grounds says: “Many people nowadays are conscious of our impact on the environment and wish to be as careful in death as they have been during their lives to be as environmentally friendly as possible.”

At natural burial grounds, bodies are generally buried in shallow graves to help them degrade quickly and release less methane – a greenhouse gas.

Some people want to go further than this.

A form of “water cremation” is currently available in parts of the US and Canada, and could come to the UK.

This eco-friendly method uses an alkaline solution made with potassium hydroxide to dissolve the body, leaving just the skeleton, which is then dried and pulverised to a powder.

Sandwell Council, in the West Midlands, was granted planning permission to introduce a water cremation service, but these plans are currently on hold because of environmental concerns.

In December 2017, water providers membership body Water UK intervened and said it feared “liquefied remains of the dead going into the water system”.

Cremation by fire or burial remain the two options for most people, but those that want to do something a bit different could opt to have their ashes turned into a diamond or vinyl record, displayed in paperweight, exploded in a firework or shot into space.

The cost of death

Traditional cremation is cheaper than burial, particularly as space is short, driving up the cost of grave plots. But the cost of funerals in general has been rising.

Insurance firm SunLife, which produces an annual report on the cost of funerals, says prices have risen 70% in a decade.

It put this down to lack of space and the rising cost of land as well as fuel prices and cuts to local authority budgets leading to reduced subsidies for burials and crematoria.

A survey of 45 counties, conducted by the Society of Local Council Clerks, found half of respondents’ local council run cemeteries would be full in 10 years and half of Church of England graveyards surveyed had already been formally closed to new burials.

The same problem faces Islamic burial sites.

Mohamed Omer, of the Gardens of Peace cemetery in north-east London, says the problem is compounded by a growing population and by the fact that Muslims do not cremate their dead.

The Jewish community also do not traditionally practise cremation. David Leibling, chairman of the Joint Jewish Burial Society, says all of the four largest Jewish burial organisations have acquired extra space in recent years.

However, he says it’s not such a problem for the community since synagogue members pay for their burial plots through their membership. This means the organisation can predict how many people it is going to have to bury.

“As we serve defined membership we can make accurate estimates of the space we need,” he says.

What about our digital legacy?

There are growing concerns over what will happen to people’s social media profiles after they die.

The Digital Legacy Association is working with lawyers to produce guidelines on creating a digital will, setting out people’s wishes for what happens to social media profiles – and “digital assets” such as music libraries – after death.

Three-quarters of respondents to the DLA’s annual survey say it’s important to them to be able to view a loved one’s social media profile after their death.

But almost no-one responding to the survey had used a function to nominate a digital next of kin, such as Facebook’s legacy contact or Google’s inactive account manager functions.

Both Facebook and Instagram allow family and friends to request the deceased’s account is turned into a memorial page, while Twitter says loved ones can request the deactivation of a “deceased or incapacitated person’s account”.

Complete Article HERE!

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05/17/18

Is the cemetery dead?

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Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.

IN 1831, ARCHITECT Jacob Bigelow built a radically new kind of cemetery at Mount Auburn in Cambridge. It was much larger than its forebears, located on what was then the suburban fringes, and designed to create a romantic space of death that also served as a horticultural, sculptural, and even recreational place. Mount Auburn and the many cemeteries that followed were a rousing success, making the American cemetery a major tourist site for much of the 19th century.

However, in the 20th century, Americans medicalized and privatized dying and death, creating a death taboo that isolated cemeteries. The dying were put in hospitals or nursing homes, visiting hours were moved to funeral homes, and cemeteries were professionalized and standardized. While Mount Auburn remained a popular spot with locals because of its natural and artistic beauty, even it could not retain the cultural prominence that it and the other great urban cemeteries, like Green-Wood in New York and Spring Grove in Cincinnati, had had in the previous century.

Today, American funerary practices are undergoing dramatic and sudden change. This year, cremations surpassed burials for the first time on record. By 2030, cremation may reach 70 percent. That’s shifted the locus of the rituals associated with death from cemeteries to corners of the world that hold particular meaning to the departed or their survivors, from backyards to bodies of water. At the same time, social media are changing the way we deal with grief — once a deeply private affair, it has increasingly become a public process online.

As customs change, cemeteries are trying to keep up.

Events such as the Run Like Hell 5K in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery and the beer baron tour in St. Louis’s Bellefontaine show how these places are becoming more accessible to the public. Hollywood Forever’s Life Stories where a family can submit photographs for a remembrance video suggest their new digital savvy. And, at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, a family can scatter their loved one’s ashes, something cemetery operators have opposed including for decades.

In 2014, Mount Auburn Cemetery began offering “natural burials” that do not include embalming and other popular procedures. It was an iconic moment, for an esteemed, yet very traditional institution to adopt a practice popularized by the contemporary death reform movement. But it was actually not so contradictory. Cemeteries, even ones as august as Mount Auburn, have been trying to adjust and renew their connection to the broader public even as reformers either question the very need for a cemetery or convince them to adopt such reform measures.

Cemeteries face a sort of life-or-death crisis. The increasing popularity of cremation has meant that cemeteries are no longer critical to storing remains, while mourning on social media has removed the necessity of cemeteries as a primary place to mourn. Public mourning also has re-emerged with the widespread acceptance of roadside shrines, ghost bikes (white bikes placed on the roadside where a cyclist died), memorial vinyl decals for the back windows of cars, and memorial tattoos. While zombies roam the big and small screen, real death has returned to our streets, building walls, vehicles, and even bodies.

While these new practices relocate mourning and remembrance out of the cemetery, other trends, such as natural burial, provide new opportunities for cemeteries. Natural death advocates promote the practice as a more environmentally sensitive mode of burial that eschews embalming, hardwood caskets, and steel or concrete vaults as pollutants. Reformers have succeeded in getting widespread notice, though relatively few Americans have chosen green burial thus far.

Green advocates have often met cemeteries halfway. Some cemeteries offer natural burial adjacent to conventional sections, but have to maintain their whole cemetery without pesticides and herbicides. As a result, cemeteries such as Mount Auburn see an opportunity to offer consumers choices.

Confronting death is painful and upsetting. We lose a person we love in an act of finality which has no comparison. Yet how we did things before may not be how we will do them in the future. Consumers just need good, unbiased information, and a willingness to overcome any family hesitancy about unconventional choices.

Cemeteries can embrace change — even radical change, as the founders of Mount Auburn demonstrated. The signs of successful adaptation are mixed so far. But there are glimmers of hope.This fall, Mount Auburn will host Death Salon, a festival of alternative approaches to death and mourning, including lectures and a demonstration of green burial. That Death Salon is coming to Mount Auburn suggests cemeteries can remain beautiful, natural, historic, and artistic places, even as they embrace new practices that allow them to attract new lot-owners and reconnect them to a broader public.

Complete Article HERE!

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05/15/18

Dog visits funeral home for 1 last goodbye to beloved owner

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After her owner’s sudden death, Sadie was showing many signs of grief — until she had the chance to say goodbye.

May said this photo has “not only helped (Baelieu’s wife) with this ongoing grief process, but it has also brought her a great deal of joy in this difficult time.”

by Danielle Wolf

Sadie the dog proves that humans aren’t the only ones who grieve the loss of a loved one.

When the man who raised her from a puppy, Andy Baelieu, died from a sudden heart attack, the 13-year-old mixed-breed dog was right by his side. “After the paramedics could not revive and save Andy, Sadie laid down beside him and was snuggling his hand,” Jeremy May, president of Elements Cremation, Pre-Planning, & Burial, located in Langley, British Columbia, told TODAY.

“During the 10 days (between Baelieu’s death and funeral), Sadie started showing signs and symptoms of grief,” said May, who helped organize Baelieu’s memorial service.

“Grief is not a human emotion. Love is not a human emotion. These are emotions we share with other animals,” Barbara J. King, anthropology professor at the College of William and Mary and author of “How Animals Grieve,” told TODAY.

King defines pet grief as “some kind of really altered behavior that suggests distress, such as social withdrawal, altered feeding or sleeping habits, or distressed vocalizations and body language, which persists for a while.”

Sadie certainly fits that description. After accompanying her best friend to work every day for more than a decade, she tirelessly waited by the window for Baelieu to return home. After his sudden death, she couldn’t sleep on her own, stopped eating and swiftly lost 10 pounds.

According to King, many studies have shown that dogs grieve for each other, but “the really important thing to understand is that when a pet mourns one of us that it’s because they have the emotional capacity that comes from their own relationships (with other animals in their species).”

Having Sadie involved in Baelieu’s service was not just a spur-of-the-moment decision. “From the moment Andy passed away, (Baelieu’s wife, Julia, knew) that Sadie was going to be there,” said May.

On the day of the funeral, Sadie, accompanied by Baelieu’s wife, was the last one to enter the room. The dog put her two front paws up on the casket and looked inside at her deceased companion.

“There was this unbelievable sense of emotion and power in the room because everyone knew the importance of Sadie to Andy,” said May.

After seemingly getting the closure she needed, May said Sadie “calmly walked out, went home and ate two meals and started to heal and go back to her way of life.”

King speculates that Sadie’s sense of peace may stem from two places. First, Sadie could be taking her cues from her remaining owner: “It is very possible that the funeral was closure for the wife and Sadie may have picked up on a certain closure that she felt.” Second, “maybe the dog, seeing her owner quiet, smelling differently and clearly not in a living state, had a moment of realization,” said King.

The idea of having pets at funerals isn’t a new concept. May said an increasing number of people are prearranging for their pets to attend services, a practice he finds very important.

“This is not the first nor will this be the last time this happens,” he told TODAY. “I would encourage all funeral homes to care more about closure than they do about carpets.”

Complete Article HERE!

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05/14/18

I Embalm Dead Bodies For A Living — Here’s What It’s Like

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By Annie Georgia Greenberg

The building that houses Milward Funeral Directors in Lexington, Kentucky has been around for 193 years. It’s a three-story maze that starts with a light-soaked, stone-floored entrance hallway. The hallway is home to an awfully regal cage of tiny, yellow-breasted finches, and they greet you as you walk in through the funeral home’s front doors. Even when they’re out of sight, you can hear their occasional, lively chirps, particularly if you’re in any of the nearby pastel-hued rooms on the first floor. Say, the powder blue chapel, the pink viewing room, the green family meeting room, or the front office where office associate Elaine Kincaid has found a way to answer the ever-ringing phone with a pressing sense of compassion.

By contrast, it’s nearly pin-drop-silent in the upstairs casket showroom, where, if you were preparing to bury a loved one, you would arrive to find a selection of 30-plus casket models in every variation of wood and steel. Should you be cremating your loved one, there’s an adjoining hall where you could select an urn, each one of them unique in presentation and name — “White Orchid” for the porcelain vase and “Solitude” for the simple, gold rectangle. You could also turn loved ones’ cremated remains into jewelry, a keychain, a bench or, in the words of Miranda Robinson, Milward’s youngest mortician, “pretty much anything you want.”

Like Milward funeral home, Miranda Robinson is polished and professional. Yet, at 30-years old, she both embodies and defies the stereotypes often associated with morticians. Yes, she has a fascination with death and dying. Yes, she loves the skeletal system, owns a black cat, and displays a ouija board on her apartment’s living room table — but she’s anything but morose. In fact, her bubbly Kentucky drawl is often interrupted by a burst of up-swinging giggles, even while discussing death. She used to be a cabaret performer and closely follows RuPaul’s Drag Race. Her most-used word is “lovely” and her retro-feminine personal aesthetic matches that same description.

At around 5 feet, 4 inches tall with an obvious flair for vintage, Miranda pays almost as much attention to her own presentation as she does to those on her embalming table. Robinson clips in hair extensions that she curls every morning. Her arms, which remain covered while at work, are decorated with tattoos. One of them is of a bottle of embalming fluid.

Still, at first blush you’d never guess that Robinson works with the dead on a daily basis. And, perhaps, you’d never guess how many women her age are actively entering the field, either. Frustrated by nursing school and looking for a change, Robinson shifted gears from aiding the living to preserving the dead, and enrolled in mortuary school in Cincinnati, Ohio. In doing so she joined the ranks of young women now outnumbering men in the mortuary education system. In fact, the National Funeral Directors Association reports that, “While funeral service has traditionally been a male-domination profession…today, 60% of mortuary science students in the United States are women.”

Once a male-dominated industry, after-life and funeral care is now becoming not only a budding, female-centric space but also one ripe for disruption. And no one knows this better than Miranda. “Even in mortuary school, I was taught that [funeral service] was still a different, difficult field for women.” She explains, “Women, so I’ve heard, were expected to wear skirts and heels still, so it seemed, before I got into the funeral home, that [the] funeral service [industry] hadn’t come a long way for women… but now that I’m here, I feel like I’ve made my mark and I’m really seeing women in funeral service emerge.” They’re emerging and they’re excelling, bringing with them calm, care, and attention to detail that may have long been lacking.

While embalming, Miranda says she feels like “both an artist and a scientist,” because her work combines aspects of both. Made prevalent during the Civil War, when bodies of fallen soldiers were shipped back home for viewings and funerals, embalming is a technique used to preserve the deceased by replacing a portion of their blood with chemicals (including formaldehyde). The body is also made up to look as it did in life — lipstick and all. But, while this method may long be favored in the United States, a new wave of green burial options seeks to challenge the traditional funeral industry. In fact, for the second year running, cremation is now more popular than burials, and the National Funeral Directors Association only expects this trend to continue.

That’s because green burials, alternative and eco-friendly practices are popularizing. Some of these green practices, like home funerals and vigils, pre-date the popularization of embalming, while others like bio-urn cremation (when the body’s cremated remains are buried and grow with the seeds of a plant) or aquamation (a proposed way of breaking down a body using water rather than fire) are brand new. Whether the increased options in funeral care signify an impending end of the traditional funeral industry that Miranda is a part of is a matter that may only be answered in time. For now, what it does mean is that this freshly energized attention to death care is bringing light to a space that, despite touching every single life on Earth, has largely been kept in the shadows.

Ultimately, it is not the method of end-of or after-life care that concerns women like Miranda, but rather the instinct to talk about death in a meaningful way, early and often. Miranda loves her job because what she does helps bring peace to grieving families. She explains, “The most beautiful thing about my job, is taking the loved one into my care from a removal, especially when family is gathered, just that intensity of how much they love that person. It’s an absolute honor to be in the worst possible moment in someone’s life. To be there and for them to look at me and just me to try to at least give them some answers, to try to give them some peace in that moment.”

And while it may seem strange to light up while talking about death, it’s a conversation everyone will someday need to have, regardless of personal preference or spiritual beliefs. Miranda has this conversation every day — at work, at home, with her 1,859 instagram followers — and in doing so helps to de-stigmatize a topic that’s long been off-limits.
As a mortician, Miranda believes that viewing the body is of the utmost importance. As she puts it, “I think it’s important to see the body because you face the reality of what’s actually happened.” But, it’s the trend toward personalization, transparency and increased discussion around death and dying that continues to be a universal priority for many women working in both alternative and traditional funerals.

For Miranda, part of this conversation means addressing the details of her own funeral. And, of course, she can’t imagine anything more fitting than a traditional embalming. Ever the enigma, while her choice to embalm may be traditional, her last look will be anything but. Robinson would like a “glitter casket” with a leopard interior. Dark brown extensions will be clipped and curled, her lips will be painted in the bright red pigment Ruby Woo by Mac. Years from now, when that day comes, Miranda may very well lay on the table that she works alongside every single day at Milward Funeral Directors, in the storied embalming room that she considers sacred. Perhaps somewhere beneath her in the entry hall, the finches will be singing.

Complete Article HERE!

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05/8/18

Going Green After Kicking the Bucket

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How to Die Sustainably

By Katie Conley

The Sustainability of Death

In their 1976 classic, (“Don’t Fear) The Reaper,” Blue Öyster Cult sang that “40,00 men and women” die every day. Today, that number is more like 151,600. That’s a lot of bodies, and frankly, we’re running out of places to store them all. Ignoring sustainability entirely, how we dispose of our deceased is becoming a big problem. In Sweden, for instance, your grave is dug up twenty-five years after burial, your corpse is pushed farther into the ground, and another body is added on top—there simply isn’t space for new bodies. The Swedes are known for their compartmentalization (I see you, IKEA! Loveyour meatballs!) but when it comes to our final resting place, there’s got to be a better way.

Environmental activist Edward Abbey, famously buried in the desert in a sleeping bag, stated that “[After] the moment of death . . . we should get the hell out of the way, with our bodies decently planted in the earth to nourish other forms of life—weeds, flowers, shrubs, trees, which support other forms of life, which support the ongoing human pageant—the lives of our children. That seems good enough to me.” And today, you can do just that. Although cremation remains the number one choice of disposal in North America, and traditional burial a close second, green practices are quickly catching up.

Cremation does indeed create less waste than a traditional casket and land plot, but the “natural gas that goes into a cremation is [equivalent to] two full tanks of an SUV, or a 500-mile car trip,” as mortician, author and “Good Death” advocate Caitlin Moran told Jezebel. Perhaps more disturbing is the amount of mercury released into the atmosphere during cremation due to…brace yourself…our dental fillings. You don’t see a pamphlet about thatat the dentist’s office. Bestselling author Mary Roach notes in Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadaversthat “the average amount of mercury released into the atmosphere” is “three grams per cremation.” Maybe we all should have flossed more?

If you lived your life sustainably, why wouldn’t you die sustainably? We’ve provided an intro to green burials, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. You can be buried on a funeral pyre, thanks to the help of organizations like the Crestone End-of-Life Project; you can donate your body to science, perhaps at The Body Farm, where your decomposition will help forensic scientists solve crimes; or you can go full-on Edward Abbey and decompose back to the earth. (The legality on that last one is iffy, but hey, chase your bliss). We’ve all got to go sometime. Know your options, create a plan with your loved ones and research, research, research. Make your memorialization an eco-conscious testament to the way you lived your life.

What Constitutes a Green Burial?

To be considered “green,” according to Ellen Newman of the Good Green Death Project and TalkDeath, a burial must adhere a few basic standards:

For the Body:

-No embalming fluid.

-Natural shrouds or compostable/recyclable “basket casket” are utilized. Youcanhave a casket, but it must be made from biodegradable materials. Remains (if in powder form) must be in a biodegradable container.

For The Gravesite:

-No grave markers. Naturally occurring markers like trees or stones are fine.

-No vaults or grave liners.

-No non-native species planted on burial grounds; no maintenance for the plants or grounds.

Complete Article HERE!

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