Jewish law forbids human composting, but for some Jews it’s the way to go

Jewish law forbids human composting, but for some Jews it’s the way to go

Before she died in May 2022, Anne Lang told her daughter Zoe Lang, right, that she wanted her remains composted.

By Stewart Ain

New York could soon become the sixth state to legalize the composting of dead people, a practice prohibited by Jewish law, but one which a small but growing number of American Jews have come to embrace.

Axios has called it “the hot new thing in death care.” For proponents, human composting aligns with an ecological mindset that sees human beings as part of nature, obligated to care for the Earth even after they die.

A shrouded mannequin lies near a composting vessel at Recompose, a Seatte funeral home specializing in human composting in October 2022.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has until Dec. 31 to sign a legalization bill into law. She has not yet tipped her hand on the measure, which passed both houses of the legislature easily. Several Jewish lawmakers voted for it.

Traditional Jewish burial, which calls for plain wood coffins, is considered relatively green. But human composting is touted as one of the greenest options available — there are no coffins to bury or bodies to burn.

Orthodox Jewish rabbis, however, hold that halacha, or Jewish law, clearly forbids human composting, for many of the same reasons it forbids cremation, which has overtaken traditional burial in the U.S. as the most popular option for American families after the death of a relative.

Still, Jews are beginning to consider and choose human composting, and say it can be done in keeping with their Jewish values. Recompose in Seattle is among several companies in states where the process is legal that have composted the bodies of Jewish clients. Some rabbis, from more liberal Jewish traditions, are willing to support the choice.

Rabbi Seth Goldstein of Temple Beth Hatfiloh in Olympia, Washington — the first state, in 2020, to approve human composting — has not yet presided at the funeral of someone who chose to be composted. But some of his congregants have asked about it.

“It is not something I was on the front lines for,” or for cremation either, said Goldstein, who was ordained in the Reconstructionist tradition.

But Goldstein is willing to work with those who favor composting, and said he would figure out ways to incorporate Jewish ritual into the funeral rather than to turn a family away.

“Human composting seems more in line with Jewish practice than cremation in terms of the practices and values that surround it,” he added. “It is something that has a lot of environmental value.”

From dust to dust

Anne Lang

Human composting — also called terramation and natural organic reduction — generally involves placing the deceased in a vessel, which can be cylindrical or boxlike, atop a bed of organic material — wood chips, alfalfa and sawdust are commonly used. The body is often wrapped in a cotton shroud, and air and moisture are pumped in.

Microbes found naturally in the body and the organic material take about two months to decompose it. What remains is about one cubic yard of soil and bones, which are then ground into a powder. Any medical devices or hardware is removed from the soil by hand.

Survivors can scatter the soil in a cemetery, their backyards or in a natural spot special to the deceased.

That’s what Anne Lang wanted.

“When it is my time, I would like to be composted,” she told her daughter Zoe. The Jewish woman from Boulder, who died of lymphoma in May, loved the outdoors and lived in Colorado, which legalized human composting last year.

At her mother’s deathbed, said Zoe Lang, the family said the Mourner’s Kaddish though they are not particularly observant. “It felt like something my mom would do and I wanted to honor her,” she said.

The funeral took place outside, with a view of the Flatiron rock formations. The Natural Funeral, a company not far from Boulder, took care of the composting. Two and a half months later, Anne Lang’s body was soil.

“The company asked if we wanted to pick it up and we chose to have it return to the Earth because that is what my mom would have wanted. So it was brought to a farm that grows flowers and trees,” Zoe Lang said.

The service cost the family between $7,000 and $8,000, and would have cost about $12,000 had they bought a coffin and a burial plot, Zoe Lang said.

It doesn’t bother her that she has no particular place to visit to mourn her mother.

“She is still with us,” Zoe Lang said. “I think she would be thrilled to know she is coming back as a flower or a tree with a beautiful view.”

More human composting businesses are opening as more states allow it. In addition to Washington and Colorado, it’s been legalized in Oregon, Vermont and California.

Washington has at least three such businesses — Recompose, Return Home and Earth, which promises a “carbon neutral alternative to cremation” and allows families to take a portion of the soil created from a body. It sends the rest to a land restoration project on the Olympic Peninsula.

Objections

Traditional Jewish burial forbids many common funeral practices that are also rejected by proponents of human composting.

A small box of soil made from human remains sits on a table at the Recompose funeral home in Seattle.

Jewish law, for example, prohibits embalming, a process that many who favor composting consider unnatural and polluting. And it shuns crypts, cement liners and other containers for the body, said Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs at Agudath Israel of America, the nation’s leading ultra-Orthodox umbrella group.

Cremation, which some environmentalists object to for the pollutants it produces, is also forbidden under Jewish law, which requires specific steps after a person dies that include the washing and quick burial of the body. In Orthodox tradition, cremation is a defilement.

But composting is similarly problematic, according to Shafran. “The idea of ‘utilizing’ a body as a growth medium is anathema to the honor due to a vessel that once held a human spirit,” he said.

Or as Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, put it: “Reverence for the dead through proper burial traditions has taken place throughout the generations.” He added: “The idea of grinding the bones is at odds with Jewish law.”

The Conservative movement, which lies between more traditional Orthodox Judaism and the more liberal Reform movement, has not taken a position on human composting, said Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky, who leads Ansche Chesed, a Conservative synagogue in Manhattan. But he has studied the issue on its behalf and concluded that making a profit from human composting does not align with Jewish tradition.

“There is a difference between returning [a body] to the Earth — which is the point — and using the soil for a business,” he said.

A tallit atop a vessel that contains the remains of a Jewish person at Return Home, a Washington state funeral home that specializes in human composting.

In general, he continued, dead bodies shouldn’t be used for tangible benefit, even if it’s not strictly commercial. That’s why, he said, “it’s dishonorable to eat fruits or pick flowers growing directly above graves, nourished partly by decomposing human flesh.”

The Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in the U.S., had no comment on human composting.

Goldstein, the Washington state rabbi who has fielded inquiries about human composting, is a past president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, which he said not taken a position on it.

But even though he’s not an advocate, Goldstein said for some Jews, human composting dovetails nicely with their Jewish environmental values, which call them to be good stewards of the Earth. He advises other rabbis to be prepared for the conversation.

“I have to serve my people,” Goldstein said. “This is not an issue we can shy away from. It is reality and we have to deal with it.”

Visiting Mariah Carey’s Cat’s Grave

— Reflections on Disenfranchised Grief

E.B. Bartels on the Particular Sorrow of Losing a Pet

The grave I was looking for was in a quiet back corner of the cemetery, surrounded by trees. I was grateful for the shade—it was August in Westchester County, and the place was hot. Asphalt pathways criss-crossed rows of blinding granite headstones; my black dress clung to the sweat on my back. I’d spent the afternoon walking up and down the paths of this four-acre cemetery. Bright spots of metallic pinwheels, Mylar balloons, and neon stuffed animals decorated the headstones. Flowers wilted in the summer sun.

Under the trees, weaving through the graves, I found the marker: pink granite, engraved with hearts. Clarence, it read. My eternal friend and Guardian angel. You’ll always be a part of me forever. And underneath, obscured by flowers: love, M.

I had read about Clarence. I knew he was a loyal friend, kind, affectionate, sweet. Even though he ran with a famous crowd, he didn’t seem to care about money or celebrity or power. He valued the simple things in life. I studied the dates under Clarence’s name: 19791997. Clarence was eighteen when he died— by most cemeteries’ standards, painfully young. But in this cemetery, in Hartsdale, New York, eighteen is a good, long life.

I was looking at the grave of Mariah Carey’s cat.

When we open our hearts to animals, death is the inevitable price.This was not my first celebrity pet memorial. I’ve sat at the grave of Donald Stuart, Royal Nelson, and Laddie Miller—Lizzie Borden’s Boston terriers—their headstone engraved with the phrase sleeping awhile. I visited Pet Memorial Park, in Calabasas, California, where Hopalong Cassidy’s horse, Rudolph Valentino’s and Humphrey Bogart’s dogs, Charlie Chaplin’s cat, and one of the MGM lions are buried.

I traveled to the outskirts of Paris to see Rin Tin Tin’s grave in the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques. I’ve said a prayer standing over the final resting place of America’s hero racehorse Secretariat, in Lexington, Kentucky. But every time, what impressed me more than the celebrity pet graves was all the headstones that surrounded them.

Celebrities are not alone in burying their dead pets. To the left and right of Clarence’s pink granite tombstone were hundreds of graves for other animals belonging to regular people. These memorials were no more or less lavish than the headstone Mariah had engraved for Clarence. If I hadn’t known about the telltale love, M on Clarence’s stone, I wouldn’t have been able to distinguish his grave from any of the others. Celebrities, I thought, studying the two hearts flanking Clarence’s name. They’re just like us.

By the time I visited Hartsdale, I’d already had a long personal history with pet cemeteries; in fact, I went to high school next to one. My school was of the New England prep variety, with facilities better than those at many colleges, on a gorgeous green campus in Dedham, a suburb southwest of Boston. This was the sort of school that carefully curated its image, boasting of athletic alumni competing in the Olympics, generations of legacy students, high SAT scores, and extremely competitive Ivy League acceptance rates. Less present in its marketing materials: that the school is located next to several thousand dead animals, buried in the Animal Rescue League of Boston’s Pine Ridge Pet Cemetery. Pine Ridge was the first official pet cemetery I knew of, but there are more than seven hundred of them scattered throughout the country.

By the time I was fourteen and first saw Pine Ridge, I’d already loved and lost many companion animals. I also loved to read, and, frankly, young adult literature is full of dead pets. “I remember that awful dread as the number of pages shrank in each new animal book I read,” writes Helen Macdonald in her memoir H Is for Hawk. “I knew what would happen. And it happened every time.” What happens in Old Yeller? The dog dies. In Where the Red Fern Grows? Two dogs die. The Red Pony? The pony dies. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing? The turtle dies.

In this way, grieving pets is a disenfranchised grief, which can make it hard to know how to process and honor it.I could go on.

When we open our hearts to animals, death is the inevitable price. Jake Maynard, in his essay “Rattled: The Recklessness of Loving a Dog,” writes that loving an animal is “mortgaging future heartbreak against a decade or so of camaraderie.” Matthew Gilbert, in his memoir Off the Leash: A Year at the Dog Park, writes, “In the course of an average human lifetime, pots and pans and couches and lamps stay with us for longer stretches of time. Even beloved T-shirts survive the decades, the silk-screened album images and tour dates wrinkled and cracked but still holding on. With a dog, you’re on a fast train to heartache.”

Yet people keep getting pets. As of the writing of this, 67 percent of American households, 84.9 million homes, own “some sort of pet,” according to the American Pet Products Association. And yet, despite those millions of pet owners all over the globe, and despite the inevitable loss that comes with that relationship, the ways people grieve a dead pet aren’t always taken very seriously.

Imagine Mariah canceling a world tour due to “a death in the family.” If her mother died, of course people would understand, without question. She would get cards and flowers; fans would send encouraging, sympathetic messages. But if Mariah put off a tour to mourn for her cat Clarence? Some fans would get it, I’m sure, but she would also certainly become the butt of thousands of jokes on social media.

For every pet that’s died, the one thing they’ve had in common has been my feeling of not knowing what to do with my grief—I could do everything, anything, nothing.Fiona Apple actually did postpone her South American tour in 2012 to spend more time with her dying pit bull, Janet, publishing a handwritten note explaining her reasoning to fans on her Facebook page. (Apple would later play percussion using Janet’s bones in a song on her album Fetch the Bolt Cutters.) Thousands of fans wrote supportive messages—it seems on brand that Fiona Apple fans would get it—but there were also ugly comments the moderators had to delete. Pets don’t live very long. They’re going to die. What were you  expecting? Taking time off from work to grieve for your pet as you would for a human—some say that’s too much.

In this way, grieving pets is a disenfranchised grief, which can make it hard to know how to process and honor it; but there’s freedom in that, too. With social acceptance come social standards and expectations. The human funerals I’ve been to run together in my mind.

I grew up in an Italian Irish Catholic household in Massachusetts, so to me the death of a person meant the same open casket, the same Bible verses, the same laminated prayer cards and stiff black clothes, the same taste of funeral home Life Savers, the overpowering scent of day lilies, the post-funeral deli sandwiches. Different cultures have different traditions, but every culture typically does have its own set of mourning rituals—for humans. The rituals may feel tedious and repetitive at times, but they also offer stability and closure. There is comfort in the expectedness. Even in the “spiritual not religious” memorial services I’ve been to, I see patterns: the same large-format photos of the deceased, the same Dylan Thomas poem, the same covers of “Make You Feel My Love.”

There’s no guidebook for mourning your animal. Some people keep urns with their animals’ ashes on their mantels for decades; others bury their pets (sometimes illegally) in their yards. Some knit scarves out of their cats’ fur; others have their dogs taxidermied. Some immediately go out and get a new puppy or kitten; others vow never to love again.

Taking time off from work to grieve for your pet as you would for a human—some say that’s too much.When your pet dies, it’s possible you’ve never seen anyone else grieve for a pet. There’s a good chance you won’t have a model to follow. My family cremated one of our dogs and spread his ashes by a lighthouse; another I carried home from the vet wrapped in towels, and we buried her in our yard. I made a small cemetery behind my childhood home to entomb my birds and fish; we never acknowledged the inevitable death of the tortoise that went missing.

For every pet that’s died, the one thing they’ve had in common has been my feeling of not knowing what to do with my grief—I could do everything, anything, nothing. I often wished for an encyclopedia of options, a guidebook to help me figure out how best to honor my departed animal friends, to both grieve for and celebrate their lives. I want my book, Good Grief, to be that guide.

That August day in Hartsdale, it struck me that every animal was buried there intentionally. No pet is buried in a cemetery because the law requires it; pets are buried in a cemetery because a human wanted them to be there. It doesn’t matter if it is the Jindaiji Pet Cemetery, in Tokyo, or Pet Heaven Memorial Park, in Miami—worldwide, throughout history, the love is the same, and the people who honor their pets in this way understand one another.

As I sat by Clarence’s memorial, I watched a woman visit her pet’s grave. She borrowed scissors from the cemetery office to trim back the grass around the stone. A few rows over, a man carried a bouquet of flowers. He approached the woman to borrow the scissors; she gave them to him with a nod. No judgment in the exchange, just one pet person to another. When you get it, you get it.

Complete Article HERE!

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!

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.

By

  • 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!

Letting grief make you stronger

By Nancie Wiseman Attwater

Grief is powerful and can break your heart for the rest of your life, or you can learn from it and become stronger. Losing a loved one is something that everyone will go through, but not all come out as survivors in the end. It’s part of life, but a very difficult part. Think of your loss as a lesson to help you live the rest of your life.

How do you survive grief? It’s a difficult question and everyone will have a different answer. You must find your own answer and let that be your focus rather than the sorrow you are feeling. Death is final, there is no going back, but your grief can slowly ebb if you work at it and learn what you can do to feel better for yourself. I don’t have all of the answers, but I have done some real soul-searching to make my new lifestyle work for me. No one can do this for you, you have to take care of your own heart and soul.

I write. That helps me get through the hard days and the difficult nights. Not everyone will feel comfortable writing their thoughts down, but there are some other options, and hopefully, one or two will fit your lifestyle.

1. Grief is like a chronic illness. Some days will feel better, and others will be just like the first day after your loved one died. You will always have grief, but it can be managed. You will never forget them, and remembering the time you had together may be more helpful than thinking only of the time you no longer have with them. It’s always there, in the same room with you at all times. It might be right next to you or across the room, but it is there.

2. Reading about others’ grief and what they did to feel better may help you. How did they survive every day? There are dozens of books and resources about grief. I received an email every week for 12 weeks from the Neptune Society, the folks who cremated my husband, on the stages of grief and how to work through them. Try and read this helpful information if you receive anything like it. It truly is invaluable.

3. Speaking to others who may have gone through the same loss. Choose carefully as the person who lost a child, or a parent may have a different experience than someone who lost a spouse.

4. Finding things to do that focus your mind elsewhere. Not easy to get out and exercise when you just want to go back to bed. There are other things like reading, crafts of some sort, or even just cleaning out the cupboards in the kitchen.

5. Your appetite may change. For most, I think eating becomes an issue because they don’t feel hungry. They live alone now and don’t want to sit at the table across from an empty chair. Wander the grocery store aisles and find things that appeal to you. Even if it is just a chocolate rice cake, it’s something.

6. Alcohol. Be very careful. Using alcohol to calm your nerves or go to sleep can turn into a bigger problem than your grief. I used brandy every night for a month to help me sleep. I knew I was headed in a bad direction, so I had to find other ways to help me sleep. Music is at the top of the list.

7. Get help. Please get some counseling and let your grief pour out during your sessions. It’s a safe place to talk with no judgment. Online counseling is easy to get now. Contact your health care provider to see what they have to offer.

8. Exercise of some sort is a great stress reducer and will increase endorphins that help make you feel better. I’m not a bit gym person, but I have one where I live, and I get there when I can. My exercise is walking the dog. We walk up to 10,000 steps a day, sun, rain, or wind. It helps us both. I feel better, and I think the dog does too, after a long walk. We have several walking paths where I live, and I think we have walked every one of them. One day, my dog saw someone using a walker and ran to catch up with them. Bill used a walker, and I think she thought it was him. She came to a screeching halt when she realized it was a woman. I felt so sorry for my dog because how do you explain death to a pet? She is grieving too, and I’m sure she wonders when Bill is returning.

9. I have to walk by my husband’s clothes hanging n the closet every day. I am not ready to get rid of them. Some days I wear one of his flannel shirts. It’s huge and will always make me cry for a minute, but it’s a closeness I’m not ready to give up.

10. The one thing that I miss is Bill saying, “Good night, sweetheart” every night when we went to bed. I still think he is going to walk out of the bathroom in the morning and say, “Good morning,” but that is wishful thinking and all part of the grieving process. I still can’t believe he is gone, and my brain and my heart need some time before acceptance is part of my reality. I spoke with our accountant the other day, and when we were saying, “Goodbye” he said, “I love you.” This was so sweet, and I have never even met him, only talked on the phone. I sat in my chair and cried for a bit and realized I miss that sentiment too and will always long to hear it again from Bill.

11. If your loved one had a long illness and you experienced anticipatory grief before the actual death, you may find that your grief now doesn’t seem strong enough. You might ask, “Why am I not feeling more sorrow?” You’ve already done a lot of the work, and even though “grief” has not left the room, your day-to-day struggle may be slightly less. Some days will always be brighter than others, no matter when and how you experience grief.

12. Grief will stay in the room with you wherever you go. It might be next to you or over in the corner, but it will always be there. I went to my local grocery store, where I always bought cream puffs for my husband. He loved them and asked for them whenever I went shopping. I just happened to walk past the cream puff section of the store while shopping the other day and started crying. That’s how grief stays with you. A simple reminder of your loved one can – when you least expect it – bring sadness and tears. I had to walk away and wipe my tears and told myself to stay away from that section of the store if I possibly can. I’m in charge of my grief, the cream puffs are not, so I need to manage when I think I can walk by them again and not break down in tears. It’s the age-old phrase, “Choose your battles.” Always choose where you are the winner.

13. I have found that at least once a day since my husband passed away about three months ago, I have had to tell someone, “My husband passed away in August.” For some reason, it happens every day. The bank, Social Security, the state, or the HOA where I live, someone! Even the pest control people needed to know. I found after a while that it became easier to say the more I said it. I can now say “Bill passed away” without crying. I may tear up, but saying it more often sort of takes the “sting” out of the words and their meaning. This made me stronger and more accepting of what has happened and the need to let everyone know.

14. When someone asks me how I am doing, I’m still not able to answer without tears. I went out to lunch with a friend the other day, and she kept asking me over and over how I was doing. I told her I couldn’t answer right now, which may have been hurtful for her because she really cares, but I had to stop the tears. It ruined the lunch I was looking forward to, and could not eat another bite. It was a well-meaning gesture, but I didn’t want to cry at the restaurant. I need to get stronger on this issue and with my answer. Usually, I say I’m “OK,” but that isn’t enough for the people who really care sometimes.

15. Keeping busy helps, but don’t overdo it. One task, a phone call, or a chore a day is useful for keeping up with everything, like paperwork for a government agency or retirement income changes. Some of these calls are very frustrating. I talked to Social Security at least once a week for a while, but I made the call when I was rested, had eaten something, and felt I could handle their questions as well as they could handle mine. You never know what kind of day the person on the other end of the phone has had, and if it feels like all you get is rudeness and no answers, maybe it’s best to try again another day.

16. I had to learn to cook for myself. This was a benefit to me. Bill always did all of the cooking, and I had to take over when he could no longer work in the kitchen. I’m not a great cook, but I do try to manage something for breakfast and sometimes dinner. I was going to look into cooking lessons next year and see if this gives me a new place to meet some people and make a friend or two.

17. Let kindness become a part of your life. I have a pretty good temper when provoked or feel someone isn’t giving me the service I think I deserve. I am working on being more gentle with my fellow humans because I have learned that life ends too soon. I want to be remembered for being nice, not crabby. My husband lived that way every day. I should have learned it sooner but was always so busy taking care of him that I didn’t give it much thought. I am learning from him still, and my grief makes me remember him and his “moral compass” that always seemed to be in the correct direction. I’m also trying to get my compass in the correct direction while I manage everything on my own.

18. A friend told me that it takes about two months to get everything straightened out – the insurance, social security, banks, and retirement accounts. I scoffed at this, thinking I’ll give it about a year. That’s also what they say is the length of time to accept the death of your loved one. I’m three months out, and the money issues seem to be clearing up, but I’ve got a long way to go to get used to the loss of Bill. I’m OK with that, I’m still working on this and will for a while, I’m sure.

19. Make your home all about you. You don’t have to remove mementos or photos, but now you can arrange the furniture or bathroom. Bill used a walker, we had to have wide paths for him to get through the house. I can now change this and rearrange things for my comfort. Bill also had several photos of old relatives hanging on the wall. I had no idea who any of them were, so I removed them and put up photos of my family and some of my artwork. It’s hard to do, but his family photos belong to his children, not me.

20. And finally, it’s OK to laugh despite your grief. In fact, laughing is good for you. A good sense of humor can’t cure all ailments, but data is mounting about the positive things laughter can do. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen and stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles. It also increases endorphins that are released by the brain. Laughter can cool down your stress response, soothe tension by stimulating circulation, and aid muscle relaxation. Laughter also has long-term side effects like improving your immune system, relieving pain, making it easier to cope with difficult situations, and improving your mood. I do my best to be around people who either make me laugh or at least seem happy. If someone has so much sadness themselves that it makes me feel sadder, I will say hello, but walk away as soon as is comfortable.

Complete Article HERE!

After a loved one dies, red tape adds to the grief

Bureaucratic delays and paperwork are frustrating, exhausting, emotionally crushing — and often unavoidable

by Allison Engel

In quick succession last spring, my family experienced three wrenching deaths: My brother-in-law died of a late-diagnosed cancer, my husband, Scott, died of a different late-diagnosed cancer and my mother died at age 100.

The last thing you want to deal with when you’re wrapped up in grief is red tape. It’s frustrating and exhausting and emotionally crushing. And yet it is unavoidable.

My family thought our financial affairs were organized. We had wills and beneficiaries were listed there and on all financial accounts. Many people don’t do that, which makes the post-death red tape so much worse. But even so, we’ve endured months of maddening experiences with banks, insurance companies, employers and the Social Security Administration — among others.

Here are a few of the most aggravating roadblocks:

Face recognition, voice recognition and fingerprint recognition speed up access when someone’s alive but present tremendous barriers for survivors trying to wind down accounts. When I sign in to my late husband Scott’s password manager and investment accounts, access codes are sent to his phone. Despite many tries, I find I cannot change that phone number. This means keeping Scott’s phone active, a needless expense.

Credit card mix-ups

If you think you and your spouse share a credit card, because each of you has a card with your name on it and the same account number, guess again. That card belongs only to the person who applied for the account. Credit card companies are alerted to a death quickly by the Social Security Administration, and will freeze a survivor’s ability to view the account online. Providing a paper statement seems logical, but our bank’s representative told me, “Once you’ve opted to get online statements, our policy is you cannot go back to paper statements.” It took six full months of begging to the bank’s “Deceased Management Team” (actual name) to be mailed statements for the months following Scott’s death. And it wasn’t easy to cancel some recurring charges.

At Best Buy, a customer service representative said I had to take a death certificate to a Best Buy store to cancel a Geek Squad subscription. I considered dressing in black with a veil but went dressed normally, with death certificate in hand, and got the refund.

Personal visits are discouraged

When your frustration level rises after marathon sessions on hold, you might be tempted to visit the bank or insurance office in person. Don’t. At one bank, an employee would not make an address change when I arrived, and referred me to the financial institution’s website.

I visited a Social Security office in person twice to try to change the address where Scott’s post-death Medicare bills were sent since I had moved — and was now paying those bills. An address change could not be done in person after a death, I was told; use his online account. But it is the one account not in his password manager and it has a unique username I don’t know. I hope his medical bills, arriving at a snail’s pace, all come before the Postal Service stops forwarding his mail to our old address.

Documentation overload

I bought multiple copies of Scott’s death certificate, but I was unprepared for how companies string out requests for other documents. Scott’s longtime employer clawed back his monthly pension without notification, then refused to tell me what documents it required other than the death certificate. The company needed to investigate Scott’s pension wishes, it said.

Scott had had only two choices: a higher pension that ended with his death or a lower pension that continued to me. From the dollar amount of the checks, it was obvious he had chosen the lower pension.

Two weeks after receiving the death certificate, the company rep asked for Scott’s birth certificate. Two weeks after that, our marriage license. Two weeks after that, she requested the original Social Security card I applied for at age 16. A friend, a retired district judge, pointed out that companies get only 30 days to resolve such issues. I called and told the representative that this limit had been exceeded. Amazingly, she called the next day and said everything was resolved.

Still, she insisted on sending the three months of withheld pension payments to my old address, even though I had provided proof of my new address weeks earlier.

Lengthy waits

Expedia required a death certificate and 30 days to quit sending Scott emails. I couldn’t just unsubscribe him because he once had been booked on a flight through Expedia, the online travel agency’s fine print disclosed.

At our bank, I had to make one appointment with an official to delete Scott’s name from our joint checking and savings accounts, and another to change beneficiaries on that account. I was told to plan 90 minutes for the first visit. (It took two hours.)

Most of the time was spent sitting in the banker’s cubicle, waiting while he tried to get the bank’s estate management group to answer the phone. He waited on hold for 43 minutes while I sat there. Deleting Scott’s name took a few minutes. The banker hung up without asking about the credit card linked to that account and had to call back. We waited another 18 minutes for the phone to be answered.

My return appointment for the beneficiaries took another hour sitting in that cubicle.

Many of these red-tape problems are made more galling as they often require phone calls with endless waits on hold. When representatives finally connect, they invariably start by the rote and insincere “sorry for your loss” scripts.

Grief is hard enough. Dealing with tech barriers and nonsensical policies make the months after a death into a second career of aggravating phone calls, emails and visits.

How to reduce these irritations

To minimize these frustrations, here are a few suggestions learned the hard way:

1. Keep an updated list of recurring credit card charges, organized by each card.

2. Make sure you have a credit card you applied for in your name.

3. Get a password manager to hold all your user names and passwords and make sure your executor knows your master password. If you have some accounts that are not included in a password manager, make sure your executor knows what they are (and also remember to update any list in case you change them periodically).

4. Buy at least six copies of the death certificate. Some companies allow you to email copies, but others require the physical certificate.

5. Do an inventory now and make sure you have birth and marriage certificates, adoption or divorce documents and Social Security cards. After many decades of marriage and multiple moves, some of these documents may have gotten lost. It can take weeks to get copies from the various agencies.

6. Don’t put the will or other important documents in a safe-deposit box. Getting access to it can be a lengthy process, particularly if your loved one misplaced the key. Even with a key, if family members suddenly need to get a loved one’s medical power of attorney outside of bank hours, for example, they are out of luck.

Complete Article HERE!

Death Comes For Everybody

— Here’s How to Make Yours Sustainable

By Paola Magni & Edda Guareschi

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 8 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 analyzed 408 human bodies exhumed from grave pits and stone tombs in the north of Italy to find out what conditions help speed up decay

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 percent 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.

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 “skeletonize”) quickly – possibly in just a few years.

Our research has presented three key findings on conditions that promote the skeletonization 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.

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!