Coffin? Casket? Cremation?

— How to make your death more environmentally friendly

By and

We can all agree humans need to reduce their impact on the environment. And while most of us think of this in terms of daily activities – such as eating less meat, or being water-wise – this responsibility actually extends beyond life and into death.

The global population is closing on eight billion, and the amount of land available for human burial is running out, especially in small and densely populated countries.

To minimise environmental impact, human bodies should return to nature as quickly as possible. But the rate of decay in some of the most common traditional disposal methods is very slow. It can take several decades for a body to decompose.

In a one-of-its-kind study, our team analysed 408 human bodies exhumed from grave pits and stone tombs in the north of Italy to find out what conditions help speed up decay.

We conducted research on bodies exhumed from the La Villetta cemetery in Parma, Italy.

The environmental cost of traditional burials

Funeral rituals should respect the dead, bring closure to families and promote the reaching of the afterlife in accordance with people’s beliefs. This looks different for different people. Although the Catholic church has allowed cremation since 1963, it still prefers burials. Muslims are always supposed to be buried, while most Hindus are cremated.

In Australia, however, the latest census revealed almost 40% of the population identifies as “not religious”. This opens up more avenues for how people’s bodies may be handled after death.

Most traditional burial practices in industrialised countries have several long-lasting harmful effects on the environment. Wood and metal fragments in coffins and caskets remain in the ground, leaching harmful chemicals through paint, preservatives and alloys. Chemicals used for embalming also remain in the ground and can contaminate soil and waterways.

Caskets made out of processed materials like metal and wood are bad for the environment.

Cremation also has a large carbon footprint. It requires lots of trees for fuel and produces millions of tons of carbon dioxide each year, as well as toxic volatile compounds.

There are several alternatives to traditional burials. These include “water cremation” or “resomation” (where the body is rapidly dissolved), human composting, mummification, cryonics (freezing and storage), space burials, and even turning the body into trees or the ashes into diamonds or record vinyls.

However, many of these alternatives are either illegal, unavailable, costly or not aligned with people’s beliefs. The vast majority choose coffin burials, and all countries accept this method. So the question of sustainable burials comes down to choosing between the many types of coffins available.

What leads to faster decomposition?

Coffins range from traditional wooden caskets, to cardboard coffins, to natural coffins made from willow, banana leaf or bamboo, which decompose faster.

The most environmentally sustainable choice is one that allows the body to decompose and reduce to a skeleton (or “skeletonise”) quickly – possibly in just a few years.

Our research has presented three key findings on conditions that promote the skeletonisation of human bodies.

First, it has confirmed that bodies disposed in traditionally sealed tombs (where a coffin is placed inside a stone space) can take more than 40 years to skeletonise.

In these sealed tombs, bacteria rapidly consume the oxygen in the stone space where the coffin is placed. This creates a micro-environment that promotes an almost indefinite preservation of the body.

We also found burial grounds with a high percentage of sand and gravel in the soil promote the decomposition and skeletonisation of bodies in less than ten years – even if they are in a coffin.

That’s because this soil composition allows more circulation of air and microfauna, and ample water drainage – all of which are helpful for degrading organic matter.

Finally, our research confirmed previous suspicions about the slow decomposition of entombed bodies. We discovered placing bodies inside stone tombs, or covering them with a stone slab on the ground, helps with the formation of corpse wax (or “adipocere”).

This substance is the final result of several chemical reactions through which the body’s adipose (fat) tissues turn to a “soapy” substance that’s very resistant to further degradation. Having corpse wax slows down (if not completely arrests) the decomposition process.

A new, greener option

In looking for innovative burial solutions, we had the opportunity to experiment with a new type of body disposal in a tomb called an “aerated tomb”.

Over the past 20 years aerated tombs have been developed in some European countries including France, Spain and Italy (where they have been commercialised). They allow plenty of ventilation, which in turn enables a more hygienic and faster decomposition of bodies compared to traditional tombs.

They have a few notable features:

  • an activated carbon filter purifies gases
  • fluids are absorbed by two distinct biodegrading biological powders, one placed at the bottom of the coffin and the other in a collecting tray beneath it
  • once the body has decomposed, the skeletal remains can be moved to an ossuary (a site where skeletal remains are stored), while the tomb can be dismantled and most of its components potentially recycled.
An ossuary is full of skeletal remains forming a pillar and lining the walls – with a large white cross in the centre of a back wall.
Arguably one of the world’s most famous ossuaries, the Paris Catacombs is an underground labyrinth containing the remains of more than six million people.

Aerated tombs are also cheaper than ordinary tombs and can be built from existing tombs. They would be simple to use in Australia and would comply with public health and hygiene standards.

Most of us don’t spend much time thinking about what will happen to our bodies after we die. Perhaps we should. In the end this may be one of our most important last decisions – the implications of which extend to our precious planet.

Complete Article HERE!

Exploring the ordinary and extraordinary in end-of-life care, death

Dr Samuel Labaron PhD, M.D. at Stanford Hospital and Clinics on Thursday, November 12, 2009.


Samuel LeBaron, MD, PhD, is a family medicine specialist and Stanford Medicine professor emeritus who now faces the situation he guided patients through during his career: navigating terminal lung cancer. In his memoir, Ordinary Deaths, published in July, LeBaron weaves personal stories with vignettes that illuminate the patients whose lives he’s witnessed.

Throughout his career as a family medicine doctor, hospice care provider and technician in a medical examiner’s office, LeBaron jotted down stories of his patients, intent to one day share them with his inquisitive children who asked what he did every day. He chose his words carefully, creating a repository of clinical experience, much of it from a time before hospice existed.

I asked LeBaron to share more about his career and the stories he’s said were a salve in coming to terms with his own mortality.

You’ve talked about how you saw death as a child. What does that mean?

Up until about 5 years old, children have not yet adopted the notion of cause and effect. By the time we’re in the third or fourth grade, we’ve learned we live in a world of rules. So we think the way we live our lives determines how our lives end. One might think that a happy person would feel a bigger loss when they’re facing death. That seems logical. But I’ve personally experienced the opposite. I think of it as a phrase: “I could die happy now.” If we have time to accept our death as the end of a happy life, we’re much more ready to accept it.

The title describes death as “ordinary.” How can death bring meaning to our everyday lives?

The book title was partly ironic because every death I witnessed was extraordinary. On the other hand, they are ordinary deaths in the sense that this happens to everyone in some form or another. Put another way, there is really nothing extraordinary about waves. They just wash up and down the shore, but we love them all the same. And they may help create an extraordinary experience. We may go to the ocean to shed our tears and feel a little bit of comfort from that gentle, constant roll in and out. Our deaths are similar in that way: ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.

What guidance can you share with doctors offering end-of-life care? What have you done for patients in their last hours that you think made the biggest difference to them?

What loosens the tongue faster than anything is a safe, sympathetic environment. There are two basic prompts you need to know: Tell me about yourself and tell me more. Ask questions. Invite the exploration of the question and give a response to let them know they’ve been heard: “I can imagine that was very difficult. I really appreciate you letting me into that story.”

It helps the patient feel heard and valued.

The great tragedy is that for the most part, American physicians — the sweetest, most jolly, most interesting people you could want to meet — are on a treadmill, often seeing too many patients to have time for deeper connection.

What value does writing bring to your life, especially as you face your own illness?

Writing is incredibly meaningful in my life. When I was 14, I found it difficult to communicate the way I wanted. I went from a gregarious, playful kid to a reticent teenager.

I also became distant with my brother. But then something quite remarkable happened: We began to write little stories and sometimes letters to each other. They were all about adventure; some of them were entirely fiction, all of them outrageous, and they entertained us and made us laugh. There were times when we would stay up all night, doing nothing but writing stories. It was so much fun, and it drove my parents crazy.

And then, in my 40s, it occurred to me that all the knowledge gleaned from my patients could disappear if I didn’t write any of it down. Since then, it’s been a process of reintegration after feeling like a bomb went off in my house when I learned of my diagnosis.

My wish is that these stories and lessons be used as a guide — to show people how to be present and supportive, how to let people know you hear them and help them get what they need.

Complete Article HERE!

Research offers new perspective on grieving loss of a pet

A new review published in the CABI journal Human-Animal Interactions offers counsellors additional perspectives to explore while working with clients who have lost their pets.

The research highlights how during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was more opportunity for people to spend longer with their pets – relying on them to help maintain a sense of normality and provide security during periods of isolation.

Dr Michelle Crossley, Assistant Professor at Rhode Island College, and Colleen Rolland, President and pet loss grief specialist for Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement (APLB), suggest that pets play a significant role in the lives of their caregivers.

However, they add that grieving the loss of a pet continues to be disenfranchised in society.

Dr Crossley said, “Perceptions of judgment can lead individuals to grieve the loss without social support.

“The present review builds on research in the field of pet loss and human bereavement and factors in the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on human-animal attachment.

“A goal of the present review is to provide counsellors with perspectives to consider in their practice when working with clients who have attachments to their companion animals.

“It also aims to acknowledge the therapeutic benefits of working through the grief process to resolution as a way to continue the bond with a deceased pet.”

The researchers say that stigma associated with grieving a loss can complicate the healing process and that counselors would expect to see more clients wanting to discuss their grieving – particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They add that while empathy may come more naturally when discussing human loss, there are other types of loss that are not acknowledged or given a similar amount of attention by society.

This includes death by suicide, a lost pregnancy/miscarriage, death from AIDS and the death of a pet.

Ms Rolland said, “When relationships are not valued by society, individuals are more likely to experience disenfranchised grief after a loss that cannot be resolved and may become complicated grief.

“The major goals of this review are to provide counsellors with an aspect to consider in their therapeutic work with clients dealing with grief and loss and present different factors that may impact how one grieves the loss of a pet.

“It also discusses considerations for counseling that can be utilized to foster a supportive and non-judgmental space where clients’ expressions of grief are validated.”

Dr Crossley and Ms Rolland, in their review, suggest that having a safe space to discuss the meanings associated with the companion animal relationship is beneficial for moving through the loss in a supportive environment, leading to the resolution of the pain of the loss.

Dr Crossley added, “When an individual loses a pet, it can be a traumatic experience, especially given the strength of attachment, the role the pet played in the life of the individual, as well as the circumstances and type of loss.

“Giving a voice to individuals grieving a disenfranchised loss is one way in which counsellors can help clients through pet loss.

“It is also important to integrate pet loss work into counseling interventions and coping strategies that are already being used in the therapeutic space.”

The researchers believe that group counselling sessions in person or web-based chatrooms can both work as healing spaces for those working through grief.

Counselors can also engage both children and adults who are navigating pet loss by providing them with supplies and space to paint, draw, or use figures to draw out their anxieties and fears about the loss, they state.

In conclusion, Dr Crossley and Ms Rolland argue that understanding the grief process of pet owners can better prepare professionals to foster non-judgmental spaces where clients can feel open to display their grief.

Furthermore, providing empathy and validating the feelings that any type of loss of a pet can create for the clients may lead to more open sharing among the community further enhancing the healing process and a possible societal shift in the recognition of grieving pet loss as a normative experience.

Complete Article HERE!

What to Expect from Sex after Pregnancy Loss


Sex after pregnancy loss is not just sex. It’s complicated sex.

For starters, there’s the whole grieving thing. Can you – should you – experience pleasure in the middle of grieving a loss? If you had infertility before or after your loss, sex might become a matter of getting down to business. You might be feeling conflicted about your body because of your loss. Maybe you’re trying to come to terms with your postpartum self. Plus – hormones. A lot of them. Oh, and did I forget to mention that you and your partner might be on completely different wavelengths on when, how often, and whether to try for a baby or to prevent?

Like I said. Complicated.

Before we break down why sex after pregnancy loss is complicated – and the phases your sex life might go through – let’s get down to basics.

When it’s safe to have sex after pregnancy loss

You may be wondering when you should start having sex again. The answer to that is largely personal based on all the circumstances of your loss. However, the first step is always to make sure you’re cleared by your provider to resume sex. If you had an uncomplicated, early miscarriage, your provider may OK you to start the next cycle. You need to avoid having sex while your cervix is open to reduce your chances of infection. You should not insert anything into your vagina for two weeks following your miscarriage.

If you had a complicated or later loss, your doctor will likely recommend you wait longer. For stillbirth or live birth ending in a loss, you may need to wait a full six weeks. A general rule of thumb: Wait until your bleeding has stopped. Again, factors such as if you had surgery, how far along you were, and if you experienced complications can affect how long your provider will tell you to wait[1]All About Sex and Intimacy After a Miscarriage or D and C,” Ashley Marcin, Reviewed by Valinda Riggins Nwadike, MD, MPH, Healthline Parenthood, February 29, 2020..

When sex feels safe again.

Sex is vulnerable. And when you are already in a tender state of grief, sex can be triggering. You might be reminded of when you got pregnant with your baby who died. You could be unsettled wanting to get pregnant, but then terrified of getting pregnant. Your relationship might be a little more fragile than it once was. There are many reasons why it can be hard for both you and your partner to be in the mood.

The phases of sex after pregnancy loss

Sex is as individual as the couple. But when it comes down to doing the dance, there are a few stages loss couples often go through when it comes to physical intimacy.

You might hit all of these in rapid-fire succession – or you may skip quite a few. But you’ll probably experience at least some of the following stages:

Don’t even think about it.

You might know you’re in this stage when you make sure your partner never sees you naked, just so they don’t get any ideas. You may feel panic when they start to touch you or instantly shut down. You may not come to bed until they are fast asleep. Or you may just frankly tell them, “Don’t even think about it.” You could feel anything from simple disinterest to complete repulsion. Whatever the cause, whatever the effect, sex is the last thing you’re in the mood for.

Have sex – then cry.

Maybe it’s been a day, a month or a year, but you finally feel ready. Sex feels not only okay, it feels good. You feel close with your partner, and for at least a little while think this was a good idea. And then it happens … you’re triggered. Maybe you’re remembering having sex to get pregnant or having sex while pregnant. Or maybe it’s nothing that cerebral at all. You just know that one minute you were having sex. And the next, you’re crying.

I want to. But physically, I can’t. Or it hurts.

Emotionally you might be ready to hit the sack with your partner again, but physically your body is saying no. Perhaps you haven’t yet gotten the clearance from your doctor. Or you have a wound, such as a tear or incision that is causing extra pain. Whatever the case – if you are emotionally ready for sex, but it’s not safe physically, explore some alternatives to help you achieve the intimacy you want with your partner.

Don’t get pregnant, don’t get pregnant, don’t get pregnant.

Two of your most basic instincts – procreation and survival – go head-to-head in sex after pregnancy loss. On the one hand, you might associate sex with your desire and ability (or inability) to have a baby. And on the other, you may feel like there is absolutely no way you’d survive another loss. The resolution: Strict lockdown on all things baby-making. Condoms? Check. Birth control? Check. Ovulation predictor kits used to prevent sex during ovulation? Check. You want to have your baby. But because you can’t, right now, you just need to focus on surviving.

I feel so numb, I just need something to make me feel anything at all.

When people talk about grief, they almost always associate it with sadness. But you know that sadness is sometimes preferable to not feeling at all. Sex provides a bit of an escape from the numbing. For a short time, you can feel something, anything.

I have a super complicated relationship with my body right now. 

Chances are, you want to feel sexy and confident in your skin. But a loss of a child in pregnancy or after can seriously mess with your relationship with your body. You might feel angry at it for “failing” you. You might feel like it doesn’t deserve to feel joy or pleasure when your baby is gone. Or maybe you are just dealing with your body looking and feeling completely different. You may have scars that remind you of your loss that you’d rather not expose. Sex might expose areas you are already feeling particularly vulnerable.

Ready to try again for a baby.

And by ready, we really mean not ready at all – but you figure it’s time to start. If you didn’t deal with infertility before, this stage might look a lot like casual sex. Just without any protection. What is not the same, however, is the obsessive thinking afterward about whether “this was it.” And before, you likely weren’t quite this compulsive over the next two weeks checking for pregnancy signs.
Check ovulation. Text husband: “Sex, now.” Transaction occurs. Legs in the air. Then do it all over 48 hours later.

If you don’t have time for casual baby-making, or you have dealt with infertility before, your version of sex after loss might look a lot more regimented. And frankly, not as fun. Because conceiving again usually means having sex regardless of your current mood. On the one hand, this focus on sex and timing gives you something to focus on besides your loss. It makes you feel like you have some measure of control. On the other hand, it often feels like a transaction, one your mind and heart can be absent for, as your body only is required. While regular sex can be good for your partnership, scheduled sex like this can be draining for you both.

I want sex because I need to be close to my partner.

You and your partner are both grieving, and one thing you need right now is to feel a close connection. You need to know that somehow, you’ll get through this together. Both men and women can find comfort in an act of intimacy during grief. Sometimes, it’s the one way you can communicate your love for each other when words fail.

Sex after pregnancy loss is complicated.

As you work to figure sex after loss out, give you and your partner lots of grace. You have the right to wait however long you need to or want to. Have clear communication with your partner on your expectations and show your partner the same respect. It can take a long time to physically, mentally, or emotionally be ready to have sex after pregnancy loss. Give it time.

While it is complicated, sex after pregnancy loss is worth having.

Complete Article HERE!

In New Doc ‘Last Flight Home’, a Film-Maker’s Dad Gets His Final Call

— Ondi Timoner’s sweet, sad film about her father shows what a good death can look like


You have to be in a certain mood to watch Ondi Timoner’s new documentary, Last Flight Home, which plots out the final 15 days of her 92-year-old father’s life. Hmm, do you want to zone out to a Parks and Rec marathon tonight, or watch a family come to terms with their patriarch’s decision to instigate an assisted death and end his overwhelming physical exhaustion and pain? It might be a hard sell, but for those who can bear to think a little deeper about the nature of existence – and the end of existence – the rewards are rich.

As the film opens, we join the Timoners in the aftermath of what we can only imagine to have been a long and difficult conversation: whether or not to support Eli – who was paralysed in 1982 and is now suffering from congenital heart disease and having difficulty breathing – in his decision to take advantage of the California End of Life Option Act. (There’s no debate about how Eli feels, as he somewhat starkly puts it: “I just want to be in the ground.”)

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By the time we meet them, Eli’s wife, Lisa, and their three grown-up children, Rachel, David and Ondi – who made her name as a film-maker with the very different but also surprisingly intimate documentary Dig!, about the divergent paths of two 1990s indie bands, the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre – have come round to his way of thinking, and are going to give their father the best send-off they can. All Eli has to do is tell the doctor his decision, and a 15-day countdown – which serves as chapter markers for the film – to his legally self-administered fatal dosage begins.

What happens next is quite extraordinary, and raises so much that is valid and instructive about how we live and how we die that it’s hard to know where to begin. In a series of Zoom calls and reunions at the bedside of the couple’s home in Pasadena, California, Eli says goodbye to the people who have meant something to him in his life. His colleagues, his friends, his care-givers, his extended family. He tells them he loves them, they tell him they love him right back. He fine-tunes his obituary, and makes quips about his bunk-bed style burial plot, in which he’ll await his wife’s arrival: “That’s heaven. I love Lisa on top.” What a thing, to look death in the eye and still make terrible dad jokes. Eli must be some guy.

And it turns out he is, or was. Now we get Eli’s back story, the part that Ondi is so keen to relay (something that Robert Downey Jr is also doing for his dad in his forthcoming Netflix documentary, Sr). Having set up an airline, Air Florida, in 1972, Eli became a hugely successful businessman and personality (that picture of a young King Charles looking bashful in a polo shirt? Zoom out and it’s Eli and Lisa flanking him on either side) only to overstretch himself and lose it all. We also find out more about the circumstances of his paralysis (it happened, somewhat shockingly, because of a massage), which caused a huge shift in the dynamics of the family as Lisa and the children rallied around to support him as he had once them.

film maker ondi timoner with her father eli in the days before his death
Film-maker Ondi Timoner with her father, Eli, in the days before his death

What makes the film so bittersweet, is that while Eli’s family is saying goodbye, we as viewers are just getting to know him: getting familiar with the nuances of his relationships with his children, who are inspirationally – and to frigid English sensibilities, a little freakishly – demonstrative of their affection for him; getting a sense of his steady morals and kind heart (OK it’s not the most objective biography, but you’re prepared to let it slide); getting the odd exasperated aside from Lisa, a Bronx native, who raises her eyebrows to the camera as Eli, with just days to live, listens to a droning automated voice read out a list of his bank transactions.

And although the film makes no attempt to discuss the rights or wrongs of assisted suicide – it’s just not what’s being explored here, and that’s fine – you can’t help thinking, as the days tick closer, that Eli’s done something right. He’s got to see his children honouring him in the ways they are best able – David’s written his obituary; Rachel, a rabbi, is preparing his funeral; and Ondi is making this film – and, courtesy of some poison in a plastic glass with a drinking straw, he’s going to be able to show himself to the door. It’s hard, it’s sad, but you can’t help feeling that there are lessons to be taken from the Timoner family’s experience, and that, ultimately, a good death was had by all.

Complete Article HERE!

Human Composting

— Become Living Soil After You Die

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. This age-old poetic reference to cremation and burial faces a modern controversy. Are ash and dust from current death care practices eco-friendly? According to the Green Burial Council, current practices poison the land with over 4 million gallons of embalming fluid, including 827,060 gallons of formaldehyde, methanol, and benzene.


  • Five states, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and California, allow a new, eco-friendly death care option: human body composting.
  • Body composting is scientifically known as natural organic reduction (NOR). Some also call it termination.
  • For those who choose NOR, it takes two-six months to transform their bodies into rich composting soil to nourish the earth.
  • Loved ones may take home all or part of the soil or donate it to a land restoration project through their green funeral home.
  • NOR improves soil biodiversity and reduces carbon emissions. Meanwhile, neither traditional burial nor cremation is eco-friendly.

Meanwhile, by some calculations, U.S. cremations alone burn enough fossil fuels to power a car to the moon and back 1307 times per year.

A new, earth-friendly death care alternative is now legal in five states: transform your body into rich, living soil through body composting.

What is human composting?

Compost is a mixture of organic material added to soil to enrich its contents. Natural products like food scraps, leaves, and grass trimmings are mixed to decompose over time into the type of compost you buy at the store.

Green funeral homes apply this same scientific process to human bodies, allowing them to decompose into rich compost. The official name for body composting is natural organic reduction (NOR). The process requires carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen with optimal temperature and moisture to transform the body into the soil. This rich environment allows beneficial bacteria and other microbes to quickly break down the body into compost.

In 2012, Katrina Spade of Washington state learned that farmers have composted animal bodies for decades. In pursuit of greener burial options, she wondered if human bodies could also be composted.

After seven years of research and development, she stood with Washington state governor, Jay Inslee, on May 2019 when he signed body composting into law. Today, NOR is legal in Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and California, with bills pending in several other states as well.

Natural Organic Reduction (NOR) is eco-friendly

Like any healthy compost, natural organic reduction repairs soil feeds living organisms and absorbs carbon dioxide by restoring forests. This is the same outcome as a natural burial – death care completed without chemicals added to the body or burial supplies – but at a faster rate.

Recompose claims NOR uses 1/8 of the energy used by conventional burial or cremation and reduces carbon emissions by nourishing soil, plants, and forests.

It’s hard to argue when you look at the numbers. Modern burial not only leaks 4 million gallons of embalming fluid into the land yearly, but it also feeds the earth 1.6 million tons of concrete and 64,500 tons of steel, as well as iron, copper, lead, zinc, and cobalt leached from caskets and vaults.

Meanwhile, cremation is growing in popularity as many people find modern burial overly expensive, complex, and unnecessary. But fire cremation isn’t great for Mother Earth, either.

According to the Cremation Association of North America, 57.5% of America’s dead were cremated in 2021, while Canada’s rate was 74.8%. 40 years ago, only 5% of Americans chose cremation.

To cremate a body within two-three hours, the furnace temperature must reach about 1500°. One cremation burns 30 gallons of fuel and produces about 535 lbs of carbon dioxide. The EPA estimates that a typical passenger car emits about 845 lbs of carbon dioxide monthly.

With its necessary machinery and transportation, human composting isn’t completely carbon-free. The natural process also releases some greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide. However, body compost feeds plants and trees that remove carbon dioxide from the air and release oxygen, which means NOR is possibly carbon-neutral. Impressively, one composted body produces nearly a pick-up truckload of healthy soil.

Plants and trees need biodiverse soil to thrive. More microbes live in one teaspoon of healthy soil than all the humans on the planet. Among those billions of microorganisms, there should be 10,000 – 50,000 species of these tiny creatures. Due to various modern practices, however, our soil’s microbial diversity is declining. Composted bodies help tackle this problem by restoring soil and nourishing damaged land.

Another benefit of NOR is that it uses 90% less water than aquamation, another green alternative, which uses water to cremate remains instead of fire.

How does body composting work?

Also called termination, NOR begins when a body is wrapped in a biodegradable cloth and cradled into a vessel, often a steel cylinder. The body rests on a bed of organic material such as alfalfa, wood chips, and straw. Some composting services use wildflowers as well. Each body is placed in its container about eight feet long and covered with more organic material.

Depending on the method used, the body typically stays in the vessel for 30 – 45 days. The environment inside the container reaches about 140°, a perfect atmosphere for microbes to transform the body.

Bones and teeth remain when the rest of the body is fully decomposed. They are ground – just like cremation – and returned to the soil.

Medical devices, metal fillings, and implants are also sorted out at this point and recycled when possible.

Once the body is transformed into compost, it is removed from the vessel and cured in a finishing container for two-four weeks to stabilize the soil’s chemical process.

Nature’s a brilliant transformation process

NOR eliminates nearly all harmful viruses and bacteria as the body decomposes, including SARS-CoV-2. Currently, only three diseases disqualify bodies from being composted: Ebola, tuberculosis, and rare prion diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which causes severe brain damage.

Embalmed bodies are not allowed to be composted. Embalming chemicals are toxic and kill the microbes needed for the composting process.

Radiation seeds implanted for cancer treatment must be removed from the body before composting if the seeds were placed within 30 days of death.

What do loved ones do with the soil?

Loved ones choose to receive all or part of their person’s soil. Like any compost, the soil can feed their deceased loved one’s garden, nurture an orchard, or nourish a memorial tree.

But not every family wants a truckload of their loved one’s composted body. Instead, with the help of the funeral home, the family can donate the soil to a land restoration project.

Burial laws differ from state to state. The placement of human compost must comply with state regulations.

Natural Organic Reduction (NOR) costs about the same as cremation

Depending on the company, costs of terramation with a memorial service range from $3500 – 8000. Some companies subsidize the rate for those who need financial help.

In the United States, the median price for a ceremony with cremation in 2021 was $6971. The median cost of a ceremony with viewing (which requires embalming) and burial was $7848. This burial cost does not include a plot, a cement vault, or a headstone, which can increase the cost substantially.

For people living in a state where NOR is not yet allowed, it is legal to transport a body between states. Delivery of human compost can also be arranged across states.

Leaving a legacy

Green burial options are growing as the public pushes for improved death care practices. Natural organic reduction feeds and nourishes the earth as it has fed and nourished you. For a final act of gratitude, consider returning your body to the earth as rich, living soil.

Complete Article HERE!

Queering the Good Death

When it comes to protecting chosen family, LGBTQ couples face unique struggles.

By Sara Harrison

Before he met Charles Koehler—and before he married a woman, got divorced, and came out—Dennis Hostetler was a college student who needed money. In the summer of 1962 he began working in the W.R. Grace mine, cleaning the tools used to drag vermiculite ore out of the ground. The shiny, flaky mineral would be refined at the plant, and when heated, it would balloon into puffs that could insulate buildings. Libby, a town in northwest Montana, was a beautiful place, but Hostetler had bigger ambitions, so he took the $1,443.72 he’d made and got the hell out.

But pieces of Libby stayed with Hostetler, buried deep in the outer lining of his lungs. He unwittingly carried toxic mineral fibers from the mine to college in Missoula, to the Peace Corps in Tunisia, to Paris’ Left Bank, and to St. Louis, where one day, at age 67, he discovered he was dying. After experiencing fatigue, chest pain, and shortness of breath, Hostetler was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a deadly cancer probably caused by inhaling asbestos that tainted the vermiculite he mined. In 2009, a year after Hostetler’s diagnosis, the Environmental Protection Agency declared a public health emergency in Libby and initiated a massive cleanup effort that’s still ongoing. Hostetler had no illusions about what came next—he needed to put his affairs in order.

Death is an inevitable fact of life that most people prefer not to discuss. According to a 2012 survey by the California Health Care Foundation, 60% of Californians said that when they die, it’s very important to them not to burden their families with tough decisions. Despite that, more than half of the respondents hadn’t communicated their end-of-life plans with the people they wanted making decisions for them. Some were too busy with other things to think about it; others said thinking about dying made them uncomfortable. But having those conversations can make the experience better for the person dying. There’s less regret about what might have gone unsaid, and less anxiety and confusion for caregivers because they know their loved one’s wishes. Numerous studies have linked conversations about death to better, more peaceful deaths. 

For members of the LGBTQ community, dying without the legal protections of a living will or power of attorney could mean spending their final days without the support of the people who love them. A 2010 study by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute found that LGBTQ elders are twice as likely to live alone and four times less likely to have children than their straight counterparts. That means their caregivers are often friends, exes, or chosen family who aren’t always recognized by the medical and legal systems. “There’s no automatic protection in place to make sure that someone can choose the person that’s going to be making their [end-of-life] decisions,” says Kimberly Acquaviva, a professor of nursing at the University of Virginia who specializes in palliative and end-of-life care. “You have to put those things in writing.” Before same-sex marriage was legal, there were horror stories about families swooping in and making medical decisions that didn’t accord with people’s wishes. “Those things still happen,” she says.

Charles Koehler, wearing a blue polo shirt, holds a black-and-white photo of his late husband, Dennis Hostetler, at age 68. He is standing outdoors, with trees and foliage visible in the background.
Charles Koehler holding a photo of Dennis Hostetler at age 68.

A Better Way to Die

Hostetler met his partner, Charles Koehler, in 1984. While the two could never have prepared for how their relationship unfolded over the next two decades, they always had a plan for death. Before Koehler met Hostetler, he’d read the 1969 bestselling book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask) and decided it would be better if he wasn’t gay. The book told him gay people led awful lives, an idea affirmed in an abnormal psychology class where he learned that homosexuality was in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 

If homosexuality was classified as a mental illness, then Koehler reasoned that it too must be a diagnosable disorder. But then Koehler actually met some gay men and realized their lives were just as varied as anyone else’s. Even then, it took years for Koehler to accept himself; when he did come out at age 27, he thought his life would remain solitary. “I had no idea what was possible,” he says. “I assumed that I would be basically closeted.” Both Koehler and Hostetler were hesitant when they met. Hostetler, who was older by a decade, had two daughters he still wasn’t out to. When Koehler moved in, Hostetler told the girls he was just renting a room. But in time they came out to Hostetler’s daughters and ex-wife. 

When two of their lesbian friends asked them if they’d consider donating sperm so they could have children, both men obliged. At first the men agreed to just be “uncles” to the children, but eventually the moms wanted the boys to know who their fathers were. “We had to do DNA testing to find out who was whose,” says Koehler. “The boys were really excited for about five minutes and then they wanted to go outside and play games.” Koehler began volunteering in a program that provided support buddies to men living with HIV and AIDS. He watched a man die and then watched the man’s partner get thrown out of the home they shared. Though the house was owned by the man who died, there was no will to ensure his partner could keep it. “The family came in, took everything, kicked the kid out on the street,” Koehler says. 

Afterward, Koehler and Hostetler—who were both healthy at the time—drew up documents specifying what should happen to their assets in case of death. Now, there are academics and organizations helping LGBTQ people make clear, concrete plans for death. In doing so, they’re modeling a better way to prepare for, think about, and embrace death. Sherrill Wayland, who directs operations at the National Resource Center on LGBTQ+ Aging, saw many of their older friends struggle to get the care and support they needed at the end of their lives. “It was really personal for me,” they say. “No one should die alone if they want support.” In their role, Wayland has helped create a series of guides to help LGBTQ people plan for serious illness and caregiving. 

Sage USA, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ elders, is also pushing for cultural competency training in long-term care facilities. Compassion & Choices, a group that champions the importance of end-of-life planning, has LGBTQ-focused programs like Pride in a Box, which encourages people to take time during Pride Month to talk about how they want to die. These conversations can seem at once ghoulish and mundane: Do you want to be cremated or buried? Do you desire an open- or closed-casket funeral? What clothes would you like to be buried in? What pronouns should appear in your obituary? “LGBTQ people have realized that if we don’t make a plan, things are probably going to go sideways because other people won’t be looking out for us,” says Acquaviva, who helped develop an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum for The Conversation Project, an organization that helps people discuss their end-of-life plans. “We have to figure out ways to look out for ourselves.”

Charles Koehler, in a blue polo shirt, stands next to his son Spencer, age 28, wearing a red T-shirt. Both men are smiling, and standing outdoors with trees and foliage visible in the background.
Charles with son Spencer, age 28.

Because Hostetler had an amalgamation of chosen and genetic family members, he wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page. He organized his will and called his daughters, his ex-wife, the sons, and their mothers. Hostetler was adamant that he wanted to die at home, so he arranged for hospice care. Instead of hiding his identity, Hostetler informed his health care providers that he was gay and that Koehler was his life partner and caregiver. Koehler says that without exception, every single person was supportive and respectful of their relationship.

In the final two weeks of Hostetler’s life, a hospice nurse suggested setting up his bed in the living room so he wouldn’t be alone. His eldest daughter and her family moved in and traded shifts with Koehler and a hospice nurse. His nurses provided massage and music therapy to make him more comfortable. Hostetler was sedated, hovering at the edge of their everyday routines. Finally, on New Year’s Eve 2010, his daughters and his life partner surrounded his bed and held hands as he took his last breaths. Koehler checked his pulse and said, “I think he’s gone.” Koehler describes the whole experience as peaceful. Having months to accept that Hostetler would die helped make the process less traumatizing for everyone.

Three framed photographs sit on a wooden shelf. The photos show, from left: Charles, age 45 (left) with Dennis, age 55 (right) holding their sons Connor, age 2 (left) and Spencer, age 4 (right) on Christmas 1997, in front of a decorated Christmas tree. Center: Charles, age 45, with Dennis, age 55; both wearing patterned sweaters and smiling broadly. Right: Jocelyn, Dennis’ daughter from a previous 12-year marriage, smiles while holding her two children; one an infant, and one a toddler with their arms around their sibling.
Left: Charles (left), age 45, with Dennis (right), age 55, holding their sons Connor (left), age 2, and Spencer (right), age 4, on Christmas 1997. Center: Charles, age 45, with Dennis, age 55. Right: Jocelyn, Dennis’ daughter from a previous 12-year marriage, with her children.

“In a strange way it was both sad and yet somehow comforting at the same time knowing that he died being surrounded by us at his home, just as he wished,” Koehler says. But not all LGBTQ patients receive such affirming care: A 2020 survey published in the Journal of Palliative Medicine found that nearly one-quarter of health care providers witnessed discrimination against LGBTQ patients in palliative care settings and nearly 30% of the respondents reported witnessing discrimination against LGBTQ spouses, partners, or people whom the patient had legally designated to make care decisions for them.

Preparing for the Inevitable End

Experts like Acquaviva and Wayland say that health providers need to take time to understand the barriers that create health inequities in the LGBTQ community and undergo cultural competency training to avoid making the same mistakes. Because LGBTQ families are more likely to be families of choice, providers need to be sensitive to those dynamics and spend time learning who is part of a patient’s support system instead of automatically deferring to genetic family members. There are also simple ways to acknowledge the range of human gender and sexual identities, such as including nongendered pronouns on forms, asking for patients’ pronouns and using them correctly, and including LGBTQ-affirming language in nondiscrimination clauses.

Those steps may seem like small gestures, but they’re important signals. If an organization doesn’t commit to doing something as minimal as adding inclusive language to a statement, says Acquaviva, then it’s reasonable to expect that they won’t treat a patient with the dignity they deserve. Acquaviva has both written about and experienced this discrimination: She and her wife talked extensively about their plans when her wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2019 and ultimately decided to use hospice care to help her die comfortably. But then they discovered that none of the hospice services near their Virginia home included LGBTQ-affirming language in their nondiscrimination statements. Despite the fact that both women were experts in end-of-life care, they faced death without the support of hospice because they felt they wouldn’t receive respectful care. Acquaviva was the one managing her wife’s pain meds, bathing her, and making sure she didn’t get bed sores.

Charles shares drinks with members of his local PrimeTimers social group, of which he was founding president, on the back patio of Just John Night Club in St. Louis, Missouri. He wears a red, white, and blue-checked shirt, glasses, and holds up a pint of beer to toast with a friend who is off-camera.
Charles shares drinks with members of his local PrimeTimers social group, of which he was founding president, on the back patio of Just John Night Club in St. Louis, Missouri.

There’s no single definition of a good death. Not everyone knows when their death is coming and not every death can follow a specific plan, but every death can be expected and discussed ahead of time. “We all want to imagine we’re gonna live a really long time, and it’s human nature to imagine that everything’s gonna be OK, but the reality is 100% of us are going to die,” Acquaviva says. Have the conversation—even if it’s awkward, uncomfortable, and hard. 

Now, more than a decade later, Koehler remains an active retiree. He’s single but he isn’t alone. He’s the vice president of PrimeTimers Worldwide, a large social group for older gay, bisexual, and transgender men. On Sundays he catches up with Hostetler’s daughters and their mom over Zoom, and when the younger daughter needed surgery, he helped with child care. “Having grandkids is something that I never dreamed of as even a remote possibility,” he says. “It never even crossed my mind at all.” His documents are in order and he encourages his peers to make end-of-life plans. But while he’s still here, he’s keeping busy, tending to the life and family he and Hostetler built together.

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