Ashes to Ashes

Turning the dead into soil in Washington State.

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Micah Truman, founder of Return Home, uses the word beautiful many times during our conversation about his company’s unique burial process.

Terramation—what Return Home calls human composting—a two-month-long process that turns deceased bodies into soil, is new to the world. So new, in fact, that the service is offered in only a few places on the entire planet, and Washington State happens to be one.

Washington became the first place in the world to legalize human composting, thanks to a small, dedicated group of funeral directors led by Katrina Spade, a founder of the nonprofit Urban Death Project. As an undergrad at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Spade had received the prestigious Echoing Green Fellowship and worked with scientists and biologists to develop a process that turns human remains into soil. In 2018, Spade pushed for human-composting legislation in Washington, later signed by Governor Jay Inslee in 2019. After it became law, she opened the world’s first human-composting center, Recompose, located in Seattle.

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Currently, there are only three states that provide this service: Washington, Colorado, and Oregon. Other states, including California, are working on similar legislation. In 2021, California Democratic assembly member Cristina Garcia, from Bell Gardens, introduced Assembly Bill 501, which would legalize “natural organic reduction.” It successfully passed out of the California State Assembly, the Senate Health Committee, and the Senate Business and Professions Committee, but it is currently tabled.

Return Home is located in Auburn, a suburb 20 miles south of Seattle. Speaking with me on a sunny spring morning, Truman recalls the story of a California family who recently used Return Home’s service.

The woman’s son had died suddenly, and she’d decided that because he hadn’t liked to fly when he was alive, she would transport him in a car herself. She drove from Northern California to Washington, her son’s body cooled and packed according to Return Home’s instructions. Once she arrived, Truman recalls, “She was able to sit with him and talk with him. We were able to place him in his vessel with his mom there.”

“It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” Truman says.

An entrepreneur and investor, Truman saw the Washington legislation as not just a business opportunity but an environmental one. The funeral industry isn’t particularly innovative: most people opt for either burial or cremation, and neither of those are good for the planet, he explains.

“Cremation has long been considered the environmental alternative. It’s the one that people use. It’s what I would have used, or my family, because we consider it the least environmentally impactful,” he says.

But, he points out, “Cremation uses about 30 gallons of fuel, spews about 540 pounds of CO2 into the air per cremation.”

The burial service Truman offers is different from a green burial, which, at its simplest, involves placing an unembalmed body directly into the ground without a box. Though green burial is also more natural than cremation, it presents the same problem that traditional cemeteries often face: limited space.

The idea of human composting might seem weird at first. Some “conservative religious groups” have reservations, says Truman, but he points out that the Catholic church was also once averse to cremation and is now on board. And if you think of human composting as slow burial, it’s less odd. Return Home uses a custom-made, heavily insulated plastic polycarbonate vessel; the body is placed inside with alfalfa, straw, and sawdust. After 30 days, the body disintegrates, leaving only bones, which are crushed and returned to the vessel to sit for another month. At the end of the cycle, 500 pounds of dense, nutrient-rich soil are created and can be used anywhere.

“We have to tell our families that it is extremely nutritionally dense,” Truman says. “So a lot of people would think, ‘OK, I will take a large pile of this and plant a tree in it,’ but there’s an enormous amount of nitrogen. It’s incredible. It’s the stuff of life.”

Joanna Ebenstein is the founder and creative director of Morbid Anatomy, an organization based out of New York City that has classes and lectures that encourage thinking differently about death and using creativity to explore the end of life. (Sample class: Make Your Own Memento Mori.) “We’re really about bringing death to the forefront,” says Ebenstein. A Bay Area native, she says that many people in the death-positive community are younger women and are more open to embracing natural burials, like human composting.

“A lot of them are focusing on trying to change attitudes about death so that we can live, so we can have better deaths. And that includes dying with more dignity, being able to choose when you die. And that also includes what you want done with your body and help people get to spend time with your body after you die,” Ebenstein says. “I certainly have seen many, many more people interested in this in the last 10 years than I ever have before.”

Though Return Home’s is the largest facility in the state—11,000 square feet, housing 70 vessels at a time, at full capacity—Truman is composting only 900 bodies a year.

With so few places offering the service in the country, Truman says 20 percent of his customers are from out of state: “Colorado, California, Missouri, Oregon. So we’ve had people come from all over there, and a number of them from California.”

Truman is still moved by the memory of the California family who came to Return Home.

At the end of the two-month process, the woman’s other sons made the drive up to gather the enriched soil made from their brother’s remains and brought him back to California.

“It was one of the most remarkable experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” Truman says.

You might even say it was beautiful.•

Complete Article HERE!

These Human Composting Facilities Are Open for Business

— to Deceased People Nationwide

A human composting vessel at Recompose’s facility.

By Sophie Hirsh

Human composting, an eco-friendly alternative to traditional burial, has already been made legal in Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. Plus, states including California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York have introduced legislation to legalize the process. So as the carbon neutral burial process grows in legality across the nation, more and more human composting facilities and funeral homes are springing up.

Thinking about your end of life can be scary — and made even scarier when considering the high environmental impacts of traditional death practices such as burial and cremation.

So if you are interested in learning more about human composting and your body returning to the earth when you leave this planet, keep reading for a look into a few of the innovative funeral homes leading the way in human composting, aka natural organic reduction.

Recompose is leading the way for human composting in the U.S..

human composting facilities

Source: SABEL ROIZEN Recompose’s human composting vessel.

Recompose, which is based in Kent, Wash., is a full-service funeral home that works directly with clients and families for empathetic end-of-life processes. After a client passes away, for 30 days, the Recompose team regularly mixes the body with soil, alfalfa, woodchips, and straw in a Recompose vessel.

Once the body has fully turned into soil, they remove any items that did not break down, such as dental fillings or metal pins and screws, and recycle them; the soil is then moved to a bin for several more weeks to cure and dry. Recompose will then offer some topsoil to the person’s loved ones; otherwise, it will be donated to a conservation partner.

Recompose’s full-service burial (including local transportation of the body, the entire natural organic reduction process, death certificate filing, an online obituary, and more) costs​ $7,000. The company’s services are open to people anywhere; but you’ll be responsible for paying to transport the body to Washington.

Not only was Recompose the first licensed human composting funeral home to open in the U.S., but Recompose and its founder Katrina Spade actually inspired a Washington bill to legalize the process in the state back in 2019. Additionally, the Recompose team is also helping pave the way for other states to legalize human composting, which you can learn more about on the public policy section of Recompose’s website. The company is also planning to open a second location by the end of 2022, in Colorado.

Return Home offers human composting in Washington and nationwide.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Return Home, which opened in 2021, offers “inclusive, gentle, transparent death care” via its Terramation human composting process. The company’s facility is based in Auburn, Wash., but offers its services to people across all 50 states and Canada.

At Return Home, deceased bodies are placed in a vessel. For 30 days, oxygen is flowed through to stimulate microbes in the body, which turns it to soil; then for the following 30 days, the soil rests and stabilizes. During these 60 days, visitors can come visit their deceased loved one in their vessel at Return Home’s facility turning business hours. At the end of the process, the deceased’s family can take the soil, or opt to have it scattered in nature.

Return Home’s full-service process costs $4,950. The company allows people to plan ahead to arrange their eco-friendly burials; it also offers services to those with an immediate need, and keeps its phone lines open 24/7 for this purpose.

Return Home is passionate about legalizing human composting more widely, and the company created the #IdRatherBeCompost campaign to help lead this movement. You can find a letter-writing template on Return Home’s website, which you can use to encourage your elected officials to support legalizing natural organic reduction in your state.

Earth offers natural organic reduction in Washington and Oregon.

“Funeral brand” Earth describes offers burial via a 45-day process called soil transformation. Earth uses its proprietary vessel technology; a balance of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and water; materials like mulch, wildflowers, and woodchips; and ideal moisture and temperature levels to create the optimized conditions for microbes and bacteria to break down the body, much like it would in nature.

At the end of the process, the deceased’s family choose to plant or scatter some of the resulting soil; the remaining soil is used for land restoration projects on the company’s conservation site in Washington’s Olympic Peninsula.

Earth has two facilities, located in Portland, Ore. and Auburn, Wash., both of which are powered by renewable electric energy. Currently, the company is only offering its services to those based in the Pacific Northwest (more details can be found here). Even though transporting dead bodies is legal, Earth believes “doing so undermines one of the greatest advantages of soil transformation, which is that the process is carbon neutral.”

Earth’s soil transformation package — which includes funeral services, all paperwork, and more — typically costs between $5,000 and $6,000.

Complete Article HERE!

Why I’m planning my own funeral in my 20s

When ABC reporter Claudia Long began preparing her funeral, she realised she didn’t want a traditional burial.

By Claudia Long

As someone in their 20s, I try not to spend too much time thinking about my own death.

And when it comes to actually planning for the event, it’s somewhere on my priority list between becoming the eighth member of BTS and holidaying on Mars.

But when a friend — citing my love of gardening — sent me a link to a new funeral home that can compost your body after you die, it sent me down a rabbit hole of caskets, wills and burial fees.

There were so many options to choose from, which for an indecisive person like me is straight up more stressful than the idea of actually dying.

I figured, why not save myself some worry and plan my own funeral.

So you’re dead, now what?

There’s quite a few ways to deal with a dead body in Australia but unfortunately composting isn’t one of them just yet.

There isn’t yet a facility providing the service here, so I’d need to get my corpse sent to the US, and while I’m all for sustainability, a logistical nightmare doesn’t seem like the kindest gift to leave my family.

So what do my options look like?

A room including a mortician's slab and a clock.
Composting may not be an option in Australia but there are modern approaches to burial and cremation that are gaining in popularity.

For most Australians, cremation is the way to go, with 70 per cent of people taking the literal dust-to-dust route.

For the rest, burial is the other most popular choice.

But modern spins on these old traditions are becoming more common, according to Griffith University death studies expert Margaret Gibson.

“The possibilities are much greater than they’ve ever been before,” Dr Gibson said.

“It’s another way of marking the finality and transitioning the body into another form. Some people find it a cleaner kind of ritual and more, I guess, more finite in that sense.”

But down the body-composting clickhole I found another option: natural burial

Death, naturally

Essentially, natural burial involves placing your remains in the ground in biodegradable coverings — at a slightly shallower level than other burials to allow for better decomposition — and letting nature run its course.

There’s no embalming, headstone or fancy coffins, to minimise impact on the environment.

So minimal is that impact, that when I went to check out my potential final resting place at Gunghalin Cemetery in Canberra, I didn’t even realise we’d reached the natural burial ground until cemetery staff pointed it out.

The burial ground, with a large stone at the entrance.
Canberra’s first natural burial ground at Gungahlin Cemetery.

Dr Gibson said the natural burial ground’s ability to blend in could make it an appealing option for councils looking for more cemetery space.

“The difficulty for local governments getting approvals to have cemeteries is that there’s always that question of where are they going to be and are they going to be close to where people live,” she said.

“The thing about natural burial is that it creates kind of a multiple space environment.

“It’s much more about a green space than a death space.”

While the process isn’t quite as common as other types of burial and cremation yet, the idea itself isn’t new.

A number of religious and cultural traditions around burial call for shrouding the deceased, as is often done in natural burials, and burying the body without embalming treatments.

Putting all your eggs in one casket

Once I’d opted to be interred at the natural burial ground, it was time to rethink any plans for a big, classic coffin (what can I say, I love drama).

When it comes to what you’ll be buried in, there’s plenty to choose from: did I want a shroud? A cardboard coffin painted by my family and friends?

A cardboard funeral casket
A cardboard funeral casket

In the end, I decided to go with a simple wicker basket, with flowers on top if my family were ok with bringing some along from the garden.

I booked in for a formal planning session with a not-for-profit funeral home, thinking now that I’d decided where and how I wanted to be buried I was set! Ready to go! Totally, 100 per cent prepared!

Not. Even. Close.

Tender Funerals is currently based in the Illawarra, with plans to be operating in Canberra by the end of the year. So hopefully by the time I die they’ll have everything ready to go.

And when it comes to funerals, turns out there are details you need to have prepared.

The planning session went for almost an hour and there were plenty of questions that needed answering.

  • Indoors or outdoors? Outside.
  • Flowers? Yes, but nothing too fancy.
  • Music? Sure, I’ll prep a Spotify playlist.
  • Eyes open or shut? Eyes absolutely, 100 per cent shut (?!).

And that’s just the start.

It’s all a bit overwhelming and that’s before you chuck a sudden death into the mix rather than one that’s hopefully decades away — a good reason to write down some ideas, just in case.

While it’s not all that common to plan and handle a funeral yourself, there’s technically nothing stopping you.

“The funeral industry doesn’t want people to take control of it,” said Dr Gibson.

“You could actually authorise your family to be your own personal funeral directors if you wanted to, it’s just that no one thinks about that and it’s not part of the conversation.

“Part of what keeps the industry going is that people don’t really want to think about their own death, they don’t think ‘ooh how exciting’.”

Who needs to know?

A funeral plan isn’t very useful if discovered under a stack of papers years after you’ve died, so you should tell your nearest and dearest what you want them to do.

A coffin sits at a funeral.
A code of practice has been introduced to safeguard WA’s $170 million prepaid funeral sector.

That could be in the form of instructions in your will, putting together a plan with a funeral home like I did, or jotting down a plan for your loved ones to execute — just make sure to tell someone where you’ve left it.

Cost-wise, even choosing a natural burial, without many bells and whistles, dying is pretty expensive, particularly if you want to have a funeral.

That cost, combined with the pressure and complications of figuring out the logistics, is pushing some to ditch the funeral altogether.

As long as your remains are dealt with, there’s no legal requirement for any funeral or ceremony to mark your death.

“There’s probably a number of factors, but certainly it’s cheaper, I think the cost of funerals is a real factor for people,” said Dr Gibson.

“In some cases, it can be because the nature of the deceased person, maybe didn’t want that and was not particularly into any kind of forms of ceremony or celebration of their life.”

But Dr Gibson said people may want to think of those left behind before instructing there be no funeral.

“I’m not sure whether in the long term that is necessarily a good thing because, you know, funerals are about recognising in this communal way that someone has died,” she said.

“It’s a symbolic act of that recognition, but it’s also connected to the capacity to be able to grieve.”

Complete Article HERE!

Inside the rise of human composting and other green burial practices

The quest to save the planet doesn’t end when your life does.

By Vanessa Taylor

Everybody’s going to die. That’s a fact of life. And there’s one thing everybody who dies has in common: We all got bodies. And when we die, something needs to happen with them. Most of the time, this involves cremating or embalming and burying — processes that tend to emit a lot of harmful chemicals into the atmosphere. But with our climate apocalypse creeping ever closer unless we change our ways, conventional funerary practices are no longer cutting it. Enter: the green funeral movement.

Many Americans have been trying to pursue green funerals for a while. Traditional embalming and bury-in-a-coffin approaches involve the use of about 20 million feet of wood, 4.3 million gallons of formaldehyde and other embalming fluids, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, 17,000 tons of copper and bronze, and 64,500 tons of steel, according to the Green Burial Council. Cremations are increasingly popular, likely because they’re often billed as the more environmentally friendly option of after-death care, but it’s harmful in its own way: It’s estimated that cremations in the U.S. alone account for about 360,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

If you look online for truly green funeral practices, you might see the more creative forms like eternal reefs or biodegradable burial pods. There are also companies like Return Home, which specializes in human composting, getting into the game. Return Home’s human composting method is a 50-day process that begins with the body being placed into a wooden cradle with organics like alfalfa and sawdust at the bottom. From there, the body is covered with more plant material and placed into a special HVAC system.

“The most important part of this [is] that we believe the body should not be altered at all,” Return Home CEO Micah Truman tells Mic. “By that we mean we don’t cut, grind, or separate at any point.” At most, Truman explains, Return Home sometimes has to reduce down the remaining bone at the end of 30 days to make for a suitable end product. But after that, he says, “We have soil that we give back to the families.”

In order to make a burial “green,” says Caitlyn Hauke, president of the Green Burial Council International, you just need “to not inhibit decomposition, allowing the body to go back to the earth naturally.”

That means a green burial can be as simple as ditching aspects of conventional burials that are bad for the environment. For example, each year, over 8,000 gallons of formaldehyde — one of the chemicals used in embalming — is put into the ground with dead bodies. But this chemical doesn’t stay inside of dead bodies forever; it leaks. Forgoing the embalming process can do a lot for sustainability.

Caskets themselves can be quite an issue, too. According to Milton Fields, the amount of casket wood buried each year is equivalent to about 4 million acres of forest. There’s also the use of concrete. As Carol Lilly, a professor of history and the director of international studies at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, tells Mic, “Many cemeteries insist on using concrete vaults for all burials because they help to prevent ground sinkage and thus serious maintenance problems.” But to produce just a single pound of concrete releases 0.93 pounds of carbon dioxide.

“Green burial” is a new term for an old practice.

Changing the funeral industry to be more sustainable might seem like a big undertaking. But the problems with conventional funerals are actually quite new. As Lilly explains, “Death rituals and funerary practices in the United States have changed dramatically over the past 200 years.”

And because funeral traditions vary widely between different faiths and groups, some communities’ death rituals are closer to being sustainable than others. “Funeral service is a highly segregated industry, both in terms of race and in terms of religion,” Truman, the CEO of Return Home, explains. “I’m Jewish, and there are Jewish funeral homes. There’s an African American funeral home downtown that builds a lot of community there. And that’s the way it’s always been.”

This separation isn’t necessarily bad. Sarah Chavez, the executive director of the Order of the Good Death, a death acceptance organization, tells Mic, “There are often so many small details that need to be adhered to [in funerals] … It can be a big comfort to know that your needs will be accommodated without having to teach someone what has to be done, and explain why it is so important.”

In looking at how death rituals vary, it’s important to remember that “green burial” is a new term for an old practice. “What we call green burial has always been practiced by people of Muslim and Jewish faiths because of their beliefs,” Chavez says. In Islam, it’s customary for bodies to be washed and shrouded, in a process known as ghusl. The bodies are then buried as quickly as possible either without a coffin (if local laws permit) or in a plain wooden one, which is biodegradable. Similarly, in Judaism, bodies are washed without embalming, wrapped in a plain shroud, and buried in a wooden casket without any metal or nails.

In the U.S., handling the dead used to be much more of a family affair. The phrase “funeral parlor” comes from visitations once being held in a family’s home “parlor” room, Lilly explains. It wasn’t until after the Civil War that embalming become hugely popular and funerals became professionalized. Death rituals — once deeply personal — were gobbled up by the new funeral industry.

“Although funeral home employees are largely well intended … Americans have become too far distanced from our deceased loved ones as a result, which may make the grieving process even more difficult,” Lilly tells Mic. “Death in American society during the 20th century became overly sanitized and often almost invisible.”

The U.S. has once again been taking up a cultural transition — this time towards green burials. In 2018, a survey by the National Funeral Directors Association found that nearly 54% of Americans are considering green burials, and 72% of cemeteries said they were seeing an increased demand, too.

“Our younger generations are teaching us how to die better.”

Since its launch in July 2020, Return Home has helped 45 families across various communities. Truman has found a bittersweet theme among his clients. “One of the most amazing things that’s happened to us is that young people are personally requesting it,” he shares. “It’s been unbelievable. Painful, but amazing. … We’re realizing that our younger generations are teaching us how to die better.”

But this shift in learning how to die better is about more than changing how people are buried. Overall, it’s a massive reexamination of how death is approached in the U.S. As Chavez says, it’s not just about “how these spaces can be used to care for the land, but each other — especially people from historically marginalized communities who are often not able to access the end-of-life options they desire.”

This can take shape in a number of ways. There can be community funds to help address funeral costs. Green burial practitioners can also do more to honor cultural differences, like accommodating ancestral rituals that need to be held at gravesites or holding ceremonies like Quinming, Obon, or Dia de los Muertos on funeral grounds. In the same vein, cemeteries can also respond to tragedies within their communities, rather than seeing themselves as a depoliticized site.

“Community altars are often created in response to deaths stemming from violence or police brutality,” Chavez says. These altars are often torn down by state officials in ways that can compound a community’s trauma. “Green burial grounds might consider creating a community altar or garden, providing an alternate space for collective mourning.”

Death itself isn’t evil. And while some might find it uncomfortable, neither is decomposition. At the end of the day, people are from the earth, and we’re meant to return to it. As Truman says, “It’s absolutely vital that we make sure the last thing we do on this planet is give back.”

Complete Article HERE!

The stunning rise of cremation reveals America’s changing idea of death

It’s now more popular than a traditional casket burial, and twice as common as it was two decades ago. What does that say about us?

An urn-filled atrium inside Green-Wood Cemetery’s crematory building in Brooklyn. By 2040, 4 out of 5 Americans are projected to choose cremation over traditional burial.

By Karen Heller

In his half-century in the death business, Richard Moylan has never experienced years like these.

As president of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood cemetery, he spends his days managing the historic site where families have spent the past couple years tending to loved ones lost to the pandemic. But the bigger change had been building before then: the choice to routinely cremate over traditional casket burial of years past.

At the height of the pandemic, Green-Wood’s crematory burned constantly, 16 to 18 hours daily. A wall recently collapsed. Maintenance costs spiked. Last year, 4,500 bodies entered the five chambers, a 35 percent increase over 2019.

So many ashes to ashes, so much dust to dust. Cremation is now America’s leading form of final “disposition,” as the funeral industry calls it — a preference that shows no sign of abating.

In 2020, 56 percent of Americans who died were cremated, more than double the figure of 27 percent two decades earlier, according to the Cremation Association of North America (CANA). By 2040, 4 out of 5 Americans are projected to chose cremation over casket burial, according to both CANA and the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA).

>This seismic shift represents potentially severe revenue losses for the funeral industry. It’s leading innovators to create a growing number of green alternatives and other choices that depart from traditional casket funerals. And rapidly shifting views about disposing with bodies have also led to changes in how we memorialize loved ones — and reflect an increasingly secular, transient and, some argue, death-phobic nation.

“Some people want it over and done with. You wonder if they’ll come to regret that later,” Moylan says of cremation. “With cremation families, a lot of them don’t want to know what we do or how we do it or don’t care to know what you can do with a cremated body. This generation just doesn’t want to do the three-day-long funeral home thing.”

The stunning increase in cremation is “the single greatest change in our funeral practices in our generation or, I’d venture to say, in the last couple of centuries,” says Thomas Lynch, a Michigan poet and funeral director of 50 years. “People want the body disappeared, pretty much. I think it reminds us of what we lost.” In the United States, Lynch notes, “this is the first generation of our species that tries to deal with death without dealing with the dead.”

Other countries have been quicker to embrace the practice, like Japan, with a rate of almost 100 percent, in part because of its high density and paucity of burial grounds. Cremation is central to Hindu and Buddhist funeral practices, releasing the soul from the body. But Judaism, Catholicism and Islam resisted it, because of views about the sanctity of body and spirit in death. Though the United States’ first crematory opened in 1876 in Washington, Pa., Americans were slow to acceptance. They were just queasy about the practice. It took a century or more to evolve.

The rising cremation rate is “upending truly conventional ideas of how death and commemoration work,” says University of Southern California professor David Charles Sloane, the author of “Is the Cemetery Dead?” who grew up in one, his father a cemetery superintendent in Syracuse.

Traditional burials often use valuable space in high-density areas and may involve embalming chemicals, and non-biodegradable caskets with metal linings. But critics of cremation counter that it is dependent on fossil fuels and emits greenhouse gases.

They argue that cremation can also have a desensitizing effect on families. It can be too easy. For some, it’s drive-through death. For others, cremation offers the opportunity to control and personalize life’s final ritual.

CANA estimates that 20 to 40 percent of cremated remains are interred in a cemetery — placed in the ground or a columbarium, a storage area for urns — while 60 to 80 percent are buried in another location, scattered (Walt Disney World a favored site) or kept at home, on the mantel or stashed in a closet. Some families bypass any ritual, be it saying goodbye to the body at the crematory, holding a funeral or establishing a permanent memorial. There’s resonance in a body that forces families to deal with death. “The body is the incarnation of our mortality and our emotional loss,” Lynch says.

“Some families see it as: ‘I did my job. They’re cremated.’ They just get frozen about making a decision from there,” Sloane says. “I don’t think it’s a lack of caring. It’s just confusion

CANA executive director Barbara Kemmis counters, “There’s this assumption that the funeral director is the only person who can provide a meaningful death ritual.” Her family chose to travel to Colorado and scatter her brother’s remains in a national park, a celebration that still resonates almost three decades later. “The cremation rate is 100 percent being driven by the general public. It’s all about what grieving families want. They’re creating their own traditions, their own experiences.”

For most of history, death was a constant of daily life. Disease was rampant. Children died all the time. Mothers died in childbirth — where often the child died, too. Wars created entire graveyards of young men and boys. People acknowledged life’s transitory nature by placing reminders on the paths they traversed routinely — not by sticking cremated remains in an urn in the basement. The dead were laid out in homes and buried on family property. They were memorialized in art and photography; their hair became keepsakes tucked in lockets and pins. They were commemorated in stone, both modest and grandiose

In the 19th century, “rural” cemeteries at the edge of growing cities, like Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Mass. (1831), Laurel Hill in Philadelphia (1836) and Green-Wood (1838), were welcomed as parks.

Six decades ago, when the U.S. cremation rate was less than 5 percent, Jessica Mitford advocated for it as an affordable option in her searing, best-selling expose of the funeral industry, “The American Way of Death.” Her advice was not widely heeded, even with the Catholic Church’s 1963 lifting of its prohibition on cremation (though Islam and Conservative and Orthodox Judaism still prohibit it). Rates barely budged for years.

“Of all the rituals that humans do, death rituals are the most stable and least likely to change,” says Boston University professor Stephen Prothero. In the two decades since he published Purified by Fire: A History of Cremation in America,” Prothero has been astonished by the soaring acceptance. “I’m a historian. I’m always skeptical of projections. I thought they were way too high — but I was wrong.”

Cremation finally skyrocketed as America became increasingly secular. Last year, the number of people belonging to a house of worship dropped below 50 percent for the first time since Gallup launched the poll in 1937.

Americans also started to recognize the convenience of cremation and its lower cost. Comparisons are challenging because of the many options, but the median price of a funeral with burial and viewing is $7,848, according to the NFDA, while the median cost of direct cremation is a third of the price at $2,550. Cremation with viewing and funeral is comparable to traditional burial, with a median cost of $6,970.

For families scattered across multiple states, there often seems little point in investing the effort and expense to bury a loved one in a cemetery no one will visit. Like pet food and leisure footwear, cremation is now available through direct-to-consumer websites such as Solace and Tulip.

Cremation is more popular in states that vote Democratic, include large transient populations or endure brutal winters that make the earth frozen solid. (Canada’s rates are notably higher than those of the United States.) Cremation rates already hover near or over 80 percent in Nevada, Washington, Oregon and Maine. They remain half that in Utah and many Southern states with large religiously observant populations.

Caitlin Doughty, a mortician, advocate and author, says funeral directors haven’t done enough to address contemporary Americans’ wishes.

“The cremation rates are telling us something. They’re screaming at us that people are not happy with what is available,” she says. “Cremation is more a rejection of the traditional funeral industry than an acceptance of cremation.” She craves innovation and meaning: “We need safe, beautiful ways to engage with death.”

The pandemic generated profound loss. In 2021, almost three-fourths of American counties reported more deaths than births. The age-adjusted death rate spiked more than 19 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, following a nearly 17 percent increase the previous year

Americans are nowhere near finished with spikes in death. The number of residents over 65 will nearly double in the next three decades, according to the Social Security Administration. The nation will experience a quarter more deaths by 2050 than it did in 2019. Deaths are projected to peak in 2055, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

Despite these escalations, many families have become no more adept at planning for the inevitable. “There is this hyper-optimism of America. You’re supposed to look on the sunny side of life, which also mitigates a full experience of grief,” Prothero says. Mourning is not always accorded its due. Bereavement leaves transpire in days.

Some who have lost a loved one revel in defying convention and remaining joyful. Families uncomfortable with the solemnity of traditional funerals have replaced them with birthday-like celebrations of life

When families choose cremation, they sometimes do so without a sense of long-term consequences. Elisa Krcilek, a funeral home vice president in Mesa, Ariz., where 80 percent of the families request cremation, says: “We’ve got to do a better job informing people that there’s a time to say goodbye and a place to say hello. The moment you scatter someone, you’re done. People need a memorial, to be remembered.”

As our supermarkets make clear, Americans crave choice. And with an increase in annual death has come more choice for dealing with bodies.

Many new ideas pick up on people’s willingness to eschew a casket, but are considered more environmentally viable than cremation. They include green burials (where the body is interred in a shroud or a biodegradable container so it naturally decomposes in the ground), natural organic reduction (human composting), promession (freeze-drying the body), infinity burial suits (a mushroom suit accelerating decomposition), and alkaline hydrolysis (a water-based, energy-efficient cremation process).

“If there’s anything that is going to slow down or reverse the cremation rate in the United States, it is green burials,” says Kemmis, the CANA executive director. “People are looking to the greenest final disposition so that our deaths will reflect our lives.”

Founded in spring 2019 Recompose in Seattle is the nation’s first company to offer natural organic reduction. The body is laid in a vessel on a bed of wood chips, alfalfa and straw and transformed into soil over 30 days, enough to fill a pickup truck, for a flat fee of $7,000. Some families take some soil for personal use; about half donate it to a forest or farm. Subscribers to Recompose’s newsletter about “the death care journey” have swelled to 25,000. “People are looking for different options,” says Recompose outreach manager Anna Swenson. “Cost is a factor. Cultural beliefs are a factor. Guilt is a factor. The environment is a factor.” Recompose plans to expand to 10 facilities during the next decade.

New initiatives have met resistance from state legislatures and the funeral industry. Change is costly for the nation’s 18,874 funeral homes, many operating on slim margins, with consolidation frequent. Cremation, where the chamber heats to an optimum temperature of 1,400 to 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit, requires an average of two to three hours; alkaline hydrolysis, with Bio-Response Solutions’ machines starting at $174,000, can take 16 to 20.

Natural organic reduction is legal only in Washington, Oregon and Colorado. Promession is approved in Sweden and South Korea. Alkaline hydrolysis, which requires expanding the legal definition of cremation to include water, has been approved in 22 states but is available for humans in only 14.

Pets are another matter. West Laurel Hill Cemetery in suburban Philadelphia is home to the state’s first alkaline hydrolysis machine, which resembles an oversize fish poacher. In four years, 90 pets have been reduced to a fine white powder similar to baking soda, beginning with a five-foot-long alligator named Sheldon.

With a move away from burial and as families opt for less expense, some industry officials worry that some cemeteries will fall into disarray. “We’ve always had dead cemeteries, family cemeteries where family died out or the farm got sold or the church was disbanded,” Sloane says. With fewer burials, he notes, many cemeteries “are struggling to maintain themselves.”

Older, urban ones have different challenges. “The march toward cremation is a good thing for a cemetery like Green-Wood that’s running out of room,” Moylan says

Many historic sites have transformed themselves, hosting cultural events, membership programs and death cafes where people discuss life’s final passage. Hollywood Forever, founded in 1899, was on the brink of foreclosure in 1998 before new ownership added author discussions, podcasts, outdoor movie screenings and a massive Dia de los Muertos celebration. These events not only provide additional funding but build awareness at a time when cremation is king. “Ultimately, we’re building affinity with the community,” says Laurel Hill and West Laurel Cemeteries president Nancy Goldenberg.

Cemeteries are adapting to attract families interested in green alternatives, promoting them as a return to earlier practices. At West Laurel Hill, 258 people have pre-purchased space in the natural burial site, which was once the cemetery’s landfill site. In a century, the burial ground will be transformed into forest. Graves are hand-dug by shovel, rather than a gas-fueled backhoe loader. “People want to return to the earth in a very purposeful way,” says arboretum manager Aaron Greenberg.

More Americans are choosing to die at home or in hospice with loved ones nearby, according to a 2019 study by the New England Journal of Medicine, as people did for centuries, rather than in hospitals. “Passing away at home is bringing death into a place that matters,” Sloane says. “This could lead to more personalization and how we memorialize.”

Lynch, the poet and undertaker, says he would like to see more cremations that are witnessed, with families present at the last moments before the body enters the chamber. “Cremation should be public, not private.”

Death needs to be honored as it long was, advocates contend, as fully observed as life’s other events. “It would be great if more emphasis was placed on something special for the individual. If it’s personalized, it will have more meaning for the family,” Moylan says. He’s excited about green burial and alkaline hydrolysis, choices that are better for the environment. And when his time comes, Moylan says he will probably choose cremation, “probably because it’s the easiest thing to do.”

Complete Article HERE!

Living Coffin makes sure we continue the Circle of Life even in death

By

Very few people are comfortable discussing matters related to death. In some cultures, it’s even taboo to do that. Despite social mores and psychological hurdles, there are businesses that thrive around the passing of family members and friends. The state environment might be the last thing on people’s minds when burying their loved ones, but it might shock them to learn that, even in death, we continue to harm the planet that has given us so much in our life. Since it’s a rather morbid topic that very few probably want to broach, it took vision, courage, and ingenuity to design a product that offers comfort to the bereaved while also giving back something to the environment, making sure that we continue to live on, even if in a completely different form.

Designer: Loop

Unless we have relatives or friends in the funeral business, we probably never give much thought to what pretty much becomes the last bed our body lies in. Presuming, of course, you don’t go for cremation or other practices and traditions. Few might have given any thought to the materials used for coffins, for example, and simply presume that they eventually decompose and disintegrate along with the human body. That, unfortunately, isn’t the case, and most of our funeral practices, be it burial or cremation, actually continue humanity’s crimes against Mother Nature.

The Living Coffin, which also goes by the less morbid name of Living Cocoon, shatters those misconceptions and even offers a way for people to make amends with the planet once they’ve ended their earthly journey. Instead of the typical materials used in coffins, which often use harmful chemicals or non-biodegradable materials, the “box” is actually made of mycelium. Or rather, the coffin is grown from a type of mushroom that is known for being nature’s biggest recycler.

The idea is not only for the coffin itself to return to the soil but also to transform dead organic matter into nutrients needed to grow plants. Yes, it basically turns your dead body into compost that could nurture new life. Instead of a cemetery filled with concrete, dead matter, and pollution, a burial site can actually become the start of a new forest, with each tree forever marking where your loved one was laid to rest. Inside the coffin is a bed of moss, rather than fabric or plastic, which helps the process along without poisoning the soil.

It is admittedly a novel concept that could unsettle some folks, but it is also a simple yet effective way to make sure that we leave behind a good legacy, no matter how we have lived our life. One of the things that people are advised to do in order to live forever is to plant a tree, but few of us are able to do so during our lifetime. The Living Coffin ensures that we’d still be able to do that after our death and could even have a tree to our own name.

Complete Article HERE!

Americans are bad at talking about death, and it’s hurting the environment

The path to more eco-friendly burials starts with uncomfortable conversations about death

By Rachel Ashcroft

How often do you think about your own death? The answer is probably along the lines of “rarely, if ever.” Death denial is commonplace in the United States; indeed, in Western countries, people tend not to die at all, but “pass on” or “slip away” instead. Our own death, in particular, is something we try to avoid thinking about until we really have no choice in the matter.

This is perfectly understandable behavior. Thinking about death can be scary for many reasons, from fears about dying in pain to contemplating what happens after death. Longer lifespans and medical advances have made it easier to delay thinking about mortality. But death denial has many disadvantages, too. Avoidance can actually increase — not lessen — anxiety. We also risk leaving behind grieving loved ones who aren’t clear on our final wishes. Death denial is not just bad for individuals, either: There’s plenty of evidence to show that it is harmful to the environment, too.

Traditional funeral options are less than eco-friendly. In the U.S., some estimates suggest that cremation emits approximately 360,000 metric tons of CO2 each year. According to the Green Burial Council, heating a furnace at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours produces roughly the same emissions as driving 500 miles in a car. Burials pose their own set of problems: Caskets and vaults use a large amount of natural resources. Casket wood alone requires the felling of 30 million board feet of wood in the U.S. each year, and thousands of tons of steel and concrete are used to construct vaults. Embalming fluid (which contains carcinogenic chemicals) can contaminate groundwater around cemeteries.

At a time when large corporations are regularly held to account for their green principles, the funeral industry is one of the few players to escape the scrutiny of its practices. A culture of death denial facilitates this situation. In a society where death is considered “morbid,” who wants to build their activism around something that most of us avoid discussing? Prominent figures like Greta Thunberg rarely venture into the murky world of deathcare. On Instagram, eco influencers are far more comfortable snapping pictures of avocado on toast than discussing the perils of embalming fluid.

Things weren’t always this way. In the early 1900s, Americans lived in close proximity to the dead and dying. Bedside vigils, in which the entire family gathered around a dying relative, were extremely common. Most people died in their home, leaving family members to prepare the body. Historians argue that this changed when end-of-life care moved to hospitals and funeral parlors began looking after dead bodies. Death became far less visible. When people today view an open casket, the corpse is altered so as to hide the physical effects of death. This evolution from death in close proximity to death being hidden and painted over has fueled a tendency toward death avoidance which, when compared to many other world cultures, is a complete anomaly.

Fortunately for our planet, change is on the horizon. Several environmentally-friendly deathcare options are springing up across the United States. From water burials to natural organic reduction or “human composting,” the green deathcare industry is taking root. But in order to fast forward the process of offering people legalized, eco-friendly deathcare choices, we have to talk more openly about death and dying to begin with.

In practical terms, avoiding death talk allows myths and assumptions about funeral care to flourish. Just over half of Americans choose cremation each year, partly due to a (false) perception that it’s good for the environment. Caitlin Doughty, a prominent mortician and “death positive” advocate, has also reported instances of bereaved families being informed that embalming is a legal requirement — it isn’t. No state requires embalming or even burial inside a vault. If you’ve lived your whole life trying to reduce your carbon footprint, understanding what is and isn’t legal can help make your death greener, too.

People often say they “want to be a tree” after they die. But when we don’t examine traditional deathcare closely enough, it’s easy to overlook the fact that ash from cremated remains doesn’t enrich soil, while traditional burial prevents bodies from mingling with the earth. Setting aside time to explore other funeral options reveals the different ways that our remains can help plants grow. “Green burial” generally describes an unembalmed body placed in a shroud or biodegradable coffin, which is lowered directly into the ground. This allows the body to decompose into the surrounding earth. No state laws forbid green burial, and a growing number of cemeteries are offering this service. Human composting uses a combination of microbes, oxygen, and organic matter to convert corpses directly into soil. It’s legal in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, and bills are being considered in several other states.

There are some disadvantages to green deathcare. At the moment, price can be an issue. For society’s poorest, direct cremation (no viewing or visitation) costs as little as $1,000. Human composting, on the other hand, is priced between $7,000 to $10,000. There may also be religious issues pertaining to human remains; Washington’s legalization of human composting was opposed by Catholic groups who argued that composting didn’t show enough respect for the deceased body.

However, green deathcare will only become more affordable and widespread (for those who want it) if we learn how to talk about death in the first place. Of course, it can initially be uncomfortable to think about ourselves turning into ash or soil. But having as much information as possible about a topic is always empowering — even when it comes to your own death.

Complete Article HERE!