Green Burials

green seagrass and wicker casket

This time of year pushes us, no matter our age, to think about some pretty heavy things.

The season of the Ancestors has us reflecting and meditating on our family’s past, the memories and stories of our Beloved Dead, how they lived and ultimately how they died.

This gives us pause to also reflect upon our own life and ultimately, yes, our own deaths.

Last year, I dedicated a whole moon cycle mediating on death in all of its aspects.

I reflected upon the choices I have made, both the good ones and the bad ones, and no I did not start digging up graves or wear black for an entire month.

I don’t look at death as something to fear, and devote much of my time as a shaman delving into those yes dark and cold places from time to time, but I do not equate them to something that should be feared, simply respected and honoured. Which led me down a path of how I would like my funeral to play out. What sort of burial, what food, what music, what I wanted people to say… it went on and on. I read countless articles about preparing a living will, set up my own healthcare proxy, as well as discussing with my loved ones what I wanted. I may be young, but death could happen at any time rather unexpectedly so it is vital as well as healthy to discuss these matters with your loved ones so they are not so shocked and feel more at peace when it is time for your passing. It won’t make it any easier, but it helps.

When my grandfather died a few years ago, I was one of the pallbearers.

I was completely offended of the way his body was treated after the Church service. Since it was mid-winter, not enough time or money was invested in simply digging his plot because the ground was too hard. And now, even though I do understand permafrost, it pains me deeply that his casket was simply just put in a storage “tomb” where others were placed and crowded much like books tossed on a shelf. It lacked compassion and reverence for the Beloved Dead that were there as well as my grandfather and I vowed that I would never allow this to happen to any other member of my family.

Below, is an article by Nora Cedarwind Young ~ Death Midwife, Hospice Chaplain, Ceremonialist and Green Burial Educator. She lives and works in the greater Seattle area, and teaches workshops throughout the country. She creates and facilitates ceremonies for all of life’s passages, from birth through the grave; but her heart truly lies in end-of-life work. Her belief system, (much like my own) is deeply grounded in the seasons and cycles of nature, which has taught her that death is as certain and sacred as birth. She envisions individuals and families fearlessly facing death, feeling free to extend this “time out of time” with a loved one, and knowing who to call for support.

I hope you enjoy this article as you ponder your own “time out of time.”

Namaste.

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Green means choices!

Anything and everything you need to know about Green Burials can be found on the Natural Burial Company’s website. They offer every imaginable resource for every kind of green burial option you might consider. This site is a must-read. It has so much valuable information, plan to snuggle in and become informed!

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The Green Burial Movement is stirring in this country. Consumers are choosing green for our final act and to help the planet. The goal is what we have practiced for centuries, to allow the body at death to rejoin the elements that gave it birth, to use what remains of a life to regenerate a new life.

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Until the modern era, our formaldehyde-free bodies were laid in the ground, serving as nutrition to the earth. Embalming, often unnecessary, and not required in any state under most circumstances, metal or hardwood caskets and steel reinforced concrete grave liners are options people are choosing to go without. Ask yourself; is it necessary to place your casket into a concrete and steel reinforced lined grave, simply for easy maintenance?

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Today, the United Kingdom and Australia together host over 200 natural burial locations; in the US we have twenty. Every year in the United States 22,500 cemeteries bury:

  • 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid (including formaldehyde)
  • 104,272 tons of steel for caskets and vaults, enough to build another Golden Gate Bridge!
  • 2,700 tons of copper and bronze for more caskets
  • 30 plus million board feet of hardwoods
  • 180,544,000 pounds of steel, in caskets
  • 5,400,000 pounds of copper and bronze in caskets
  • 30 million board feet of hardwoods, including exotic woods, in caskets
  • 3,272,000,000 pounds of reinforced concrete vaults
  • 28,000,000 pounds of steel in vaults
  • 1,636,000 tons of concrete . . .

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For a Natural Burial you can choose all or any part of the following:

  • A clean, unembalmed body
  • A biodegradable container such as a plain pine box or natural fiber shroud.
  • A vault free grave.

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Some providers have restrictions such as no synthetic materials, jewelry or buttons. Some allow headstones; others reveal no trace a burial site exists. Global Positioning Satellites can allow us to have marker free graves, and yet to be able to precisely locate and visit our loved ones. Even if you are buried in a conventional cemetery and choose any part of natural burial, you lessen the ecological footprint for the planet.

  • Avoid synthetic and non-natural materials in your container and clothing
  • Choose biodegradable or recycled materials, wicker, sea grass and woods like pine for caskets
  • Choose non-virgin, organic materials and sustainable production, supporting local family business, handcrafting, and artisans.
  • Support burial goods with organic, fair trade, and eco-certifications.
  • Talk to your local cemetery provider; tell them you want Green and Natural Burial options.

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Conservation Burial is a movement to protect and re-nourish land held in perpetual endowment across the country. Imagine, 20 acres of open space and natural habitat can facilitate 8,000 bodies. Earth to earth, we can heal the planet and make a greener choice in our final act. Choosing natural burial is a way of working together and embracing the transformation of an industry and the reclamation of a lost, practical and ancient practice. Returning our bodies to nature after we die honors the Earth, the deceased and the families and friends that love them both.

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In Washington State, we are fortunate to have two options for Green Burial. Other community resources are considering this change, so let them know you want Green Burial available in your community. Kudos to both Moles Funeral Home in Ferndale who have dedicated four acres for Natural Burial called The Meadow. White Eagle Preserve in Goldendale is a perfect model for Conservation Burial. www.molesfuneralhome.com andwww.naturalburialground.com

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About Biodegradable Coffins

Biodegradable coffins, also known as green caskets, come in a multitude of styles and materials. They were designed to satisfy the growing number of individuals who prefer to have a “natural burial” instead of a traditional funeral. Cremation was long thought to be an eco-friendly option, but many people have been raising concerns about its excessive use of fossil fuels.

Biodegradable caskets can be made to bury someone in the ground or at sea. They will not harm the environment and budget-wise, they are a very cost-efficient burial option. These coffins do not use a vault — cement or otherwise — and everything, including the hardware and lining, is completely natural.

Biodegradable coffins can be made from:

  • Cardboard
  • Biodegradable plastic
  • Fair-trade-certified bamboo
  • Wood
  • Recycled paper
  • Formaldehyde-free plywood
  • Hand-woven willow or wicker

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Build Your Own Casket!

There are many resources for making your own coffin. You can even have a coffin that doubles as a bookshelf or an entertainment center until you are ready to use it!

Check out the wood beauties here or here to see just how easy and beautiful creating your own casket can be. The directions in the Mother Earth News article are not quite as green as I would like to see, so consider pine as your wood of choice instead of hardwoods. Try to avoid plywood due to the glues. However, no matter which wood you choose, the fact you are making your own casket speaks volumes and can create comfort and healing.

The Green Burial Council offers models for conservation, green burials and education, information and experience, all rooted in transparency, accountability and ecological responsibility. Check out the work they are doing.

Photos courtesy of Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve. 

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