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New Wrinkles on Getting Old : River Valley edition : Sunday, 23 February 2020 15:23 EST : a service of The Public Press
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New Wrinkles on Getting Old
... or Keeping the F-U-N in Funeral

     by Stephen Morris

In terms of resource consumption, nothing is quite as wasteful as death. Consider that in a typical year cemeteries in the United States require:

  • 830,000 gallons of embalming fluid.
  • 1.64 million tons of reinforced concrete for burial vaults.
  • 90,000 tons of steel for caskets.
  • 30 million board feet of hardwood for caskets.
  • 2,700 tons of copper and bronze.

This does not even consider the pollution resulting from gasoline powered lawn mowers and maintenance equipment, and tons of pesticide and fertilizers required to keep our cemeteries looking like golf courses. Then, there is the financial drain. The average burial in this country checks in at $7,000.

These statistics come courtesy of ecoMemorial.org, one of several organizations that offer alternatives to conventional burial. For less than $500 they will take your remains and make them part of a mangrove forest restoration in Belize or rebuild a coral reef. You have to provide the “cremains,” however.

As environmental awareness grows, some new options have become available, although the death industry in America is too entrenched to release their stranglehold on well-developed revenue streams. (It is a story often told. Those folks who have a monopoly have no financial incentive to embrace change. We're still a long way from the world that author Bill McKibben describes when he says he'd like his friends to “put his corpse into a canvas bag, drag it into the woods, and dump it.” Personally, I'd like to be composted, but I can see some issues with that, too.)quiet zone

There's no doubt that death will be a “booming” business as baby boomers careen towards the end of life, but how this will translate to burial and/or corpse disposal practices is surrounded by confusion and unanswered questions. Sustainable practices go by a variety of descriptive names, including Green Funeral, Green Memorial, ecoFuneral, Ecological Burial, Living Memorial, Green Burial, and Natural Burial. Not surprisingly, there are now services offered to manage your online, virtual presence after you are part of the coral reef or launched into space. Can the day be far away when we can Tweet from the great beyond?

A variety of entrepreneurs are now offering products and services to help you cope with the Great Beyond. At Celestis.com you can find information for blasting your remains into outer space, promising to return remains to the stars from whence they came. Their next trip is scheduled for April 14.
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New England Burials at Sea offers East Coasters from Maine to Miami the option of having ashes or full bodies disposed of at sea. With ships leaving from a variety of ports, they are fully insured, follow all US Coast Guard regulations, and offer a range of products, including “full-service hospitality package,” that takes all the muss and fuss out of the grieving process.

Greenhaven Preserve outside Columbia, South Carolina eschews the use of vaults in favor of caskets made of biodegradable materials, or even a simple shroud. They also offer advice on non-toxic body preservation.

The concept of “green burials” in its many forms is better developed in the U.K. A leading proponent is Greenfield Creations, a company that says there are now more than 260 burial sites around that offer an alternative to traditional cemeteries. “Natural meadows and woodland burial sites provide a natural environment with no traditional headstones or memorials. The burial grounds welcome all, regardless of religion, faith or belief. They can be used following a traditional church funeral service and many have the facilities for a service within the grounds. You can also scatter or bury ashes following a cremation service. These sites provide a tranquil environment where family members can visit to remember their loved ones.”

Greenfield Creations will also sell you a coffin made of cardboard or wicker. They even feature a “coffin of the week”.

While many of these options are appealing, they come with a variety of individual challenges which can be difficult to sort through. If you want a burial at Greenhaven, for instance, you'll have to figure out how to preserve and to transport the body to South Carolina. The director of your local funeral home will probably not be of much assistance. There is a trade organization called the Green Burial Council, but it is barely ten years old, still in its infancy. “Green Burial” like organic farming or non-toxic living is one of those ancient practices that needs to be re-discovered for our modern age.


Sidebar: A Portable Memorial ... Kinen Ishi

As we become more aware of the consequences of resource depletion, it is not surprising that large chunks of carved marble or granite are falling out of favor, and being replaced by more personal and more elegant options. Vermont stone sculptor, Chris Curtis, offers one called Kinen Ishi (pronounced "kih-NEN  EE-shee:" Japanese for “commemorative stone”)  These are a palm-sized memorial art objects, made of a naturally smooth black Japanese river stone and inlaid sterling silver. 

Contained inside the stone and under the spot of sterling silver are the cremation ashes of your loved one. Other small memorabilia, such as a lock of hair, grass clippings from the grave site, or grains of sand from a favorite beach can also be used.

Sculptor Christopher Curtis carefully pieces together these memorial art commemorative stones, and every piece is handmade with great respect for you and your loved one.

Transport these stones anywhere, place them in any location and keep them close for your own comfort. Many choose to keep them in a high profile position in the home, such as on the mantle. Others opt to take them to their office so that they can be reminded about those they care about during stressful work hours. Still others place them in gardens around the home, or hide them at the beloved’s favorite place outdoors.

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River Valley editor: Stephen Morris
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