"For me, that’s like a final spa treatment."
October 3, 2017 5:19 PM   Subscribe

For decades, most people arranging a funeral have faced a simple choice - burial or cremation? But in parts of the US and Canada a third option is now available - dissolving bodies in an alkaline solution. It will arrive in the UK soon. Its technical name is alkaline hydrolysis, but it is being marketed as "green cremation:" Dissolving the dead—A radical alternative to burial and cremation.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (81 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Mary Roach talked about this some in Stiff. Sounds great to me. Unless the cats eat me first, of course.
posted by janey47 at 5:21 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


Seems like an awful waste of all those complex proteins...
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:25 PM on October 3 [7 favorites]


i have always kinda wondered, doesn't this imply some sort of battery potential?
posted by mwhybark at 5:27 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


As long as they can precipitate me out at the Resurrection, sounds great
posted by thelonius at 5:29 PM on October 3 [8 favorites]


99% sure I saw this on an episode of NCIS once and not in a positive way
posted by Hermione Granger at 5:41 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


To me this looks like an industrial nightmare. On the other hand, I did learn the word "cremulator".
posted by OverlappingElvis at 5:41 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


On the gripping hand, the process does seem to have a lot of environmental benefits. I guess this is the same terror that some people feel when they think about being cremated or having a sky burial, neither of which bother me very much.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 5:45 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


Lastly, be smart for your final ending.
posted by zamboni at 5:47 PM on October 3 [8 favorites]


I suspect this is going to be derided as "basic."
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:48 PM on October 3 [24 favorites]


What happens to the fluid afterwards?
posted by dilaudid at 5:48 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


Unless the cats eat me first, of course.

Aww, kitties.
posted by Artw at 5:52 PM on October 3 [13 favorites]


TFA says the fluid is pH-adjusted and poured down the drain, although some of his veterinary customers spray it on their lawns—good fertilizer, apparently.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:54 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


I still prefer cremation. No idea why I fear that less than being eaten by worms or dissolved by acid, but I do. Maybe it's because I at least have some positive experiences sitting by a fire and roasting marshmallows. The other two, not so much.
posted by greermahoney at 5:55 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


They are billing this as a "radical" alternative to cremation. Is the resulting liquified version of my soft tissue caustic to bronze and other materials used in large racist statues?
posted by zebra at 5:59 PM on October 3 [18 favorites]


I suspect this is going to be derided as "basic."

But I'm sure that proper education would render those opinions moot.
posted by Greg_Ace at 6:00 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


i want my intact corpse launched into space so it can float around in the vast infinite icy void wearing a katamari ROYAL RAINBOW shirt and pajama pants for all eternity
posted by poffin boffin at 6:03 PM on October 3 [21 favorites]


I suspect this is going to be derided as "basic."

No, it's acidic.
posted by Ickster at 6:06 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


And as soon as a typed that, I realized that I'm an idiot.
posted by Ickster at 6:07 PM on October 3 [7 favorites]


Ooooh! Sign me up! I wanted, originally, to be put out for the vultures, but failing that, this sounds fine.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 6:07 PM on October 3


I'm having a bush burial. A rough cotton bag will be slipped over my rot-ready body and I'll be folded into a hole then covered with dirt and sticks and leaves with nothing to mark my last corporeal location except the scat of native fauna. Fortunately I won't have to pay a serial-killer for this service as it's an option provided by my eco-conscious local council.
posted by Thella at 6:09 PM on October 3 [13 favorites]


Turn me into a lava lamp, the groovy urn.
posted by skymt at 6:09 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Walrus magazine had this article awhile back with, oddly, the exact same title:

Dissolving the Dead

I'm neutral on the subject... (groan)...
posted by Pomo at 6:11 PM on October 3 [8 favorites]


I'm gonna be cremated.

However my will specifies that everyone attending my funeral be given an M80 to drop into my casket just before they open the crematorium doors.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:15 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


I wanna be a chemtrail and freak out some rubes.
posted by Artw at 6:16 PM on October 3 [8 favorites]


Now I have an earworm of the Ramones singing "I wanna be sedatedcremated..."

Of course, the whole "green cremation" process sounds like something from the "How Would You Dispose of a Body" AskMe or the related Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode (Don't put the head in the ice bucket!!!)
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:28 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


I want to be divided up and mailed, in 305 separate small parcels, to randomly selected individuals across North America.
posted by delfin at 6:30 PM on October 3 [6 favorites]


Just make sure you don't use the bathtub, Jesse.
posted by 4ster at 6:35 PM on October 3 [7 favorites]


As the joke goes, I want my remains scattered around Disneyland. I do not wish to be cremated.
posted by mosk at 6:37 PM on October 3 [7 favorites]


(In fact, the same doors are used on submarines, although the manufacturer points out a crucial difference - submarine hatches are designed to open from the inside too.)

I loved this sentence.

The procedure is used in some places for pets rather than people, which the article mentions. I like the ecological aspect and I am leaning towards requesting that this happen to me.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:37 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


i want my intact corpse launched into space so it can float around in the vast infinite icy void wearing a katamari ROYAL RAINBOW shirt and pajama pants for all eternity

I want my corpse launched into space where it will be accelerated to 0.lotsofnines C and slammed back into Earth.

It's not like anyone really wants to go on without me. And Chuck Tingle can write "Slammed In The Everything By A Transluminal Corpse."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:45 PM on October 3 [12 favorites]


I've instructed my wife to just put me out on the curb for the trash truck to pick up. If the timing works out, I'll die just before Heavy Item Pickup Day and she won't even need to buy a sticker from the Town Hall.
posted by briank at 6:51 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


I believe the words you are all tiptoeing around are "lime pit"
posted by mbo at 7:01 PM on October 3 [9 favorites]


I can't feel any fear or disgust about what happens to my remains. It would be nice if I could be immediately useful as fertilizer rather than taking up space in a sanctified landfill, definitely. Or be used for medical research that would be fine too. I would like my no longer needed atoms to recycle in a positive way.
posted by emjaybee at 7:05 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


Is the grinding of bones into dust step non-negotiable? I want my bones in a neat pile, ossuary style.
posted by rodlymight at 7:12 PM on October 3 [6 favorites]


I want my corpse launched into space where it will be accelerated to 0.lotsofnines C and slammed back into Earth.

Possibly passing a confused whale on the way back down...
posted by Greg_Ace at 7:16 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


Not very Viking is it? If I can't go at the top of a bonfire with my crew howling around it, then I don't really want to go, y'know ...
posted by octobersurprise at 7:21 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Leader Dead?

Solution: Lye in state!
posted by lalochezia at 7:34 PM on October 3 [12 favorites]


Two words: Liquid zombies. Drains!
posted by zaixfeep at 8:05 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


Someone's missing out on a lucrative liquid soap angle. If you spin the ad copy right, you could even sell it as helping to protect your loved ones even after death. I imagine it'd be a—ahem—lifetime supply of soap, even.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 8:27 PM on October 3


all we wanna do is eat your drains
posted by zebra at 8:27 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


all we wanna do is eat your drains

♫ I got a feelin' it's gonna melt yer brains ♫
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:44 PM on October 3


Dennis Barlow: Which service have you decided on?

Mr. Kenton: Well I dunno.

Dennis Barlow: We can give you Entonement, Empirement, Dissemination, or Eternalization.

Mr. Kenton: I don't know what the hell you're talking about.

Dennis Barlow: Well, that would be embalmed, buried, scattered, or burned.

Mr. Kenton: Burned! That's good. Burned.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:03 PM on October 3


My wife says she’s going to have me cremated and my ashes turned into a diamond. They can do that. I’m a fairly decent sized American man and still only good for about half a carat.

And now it occurs to me why we’ve been carrying around all those former pets’ cremains all these years. And also my gramma’s.
posted by notyou at 9:09 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


What ever happened to the popularity of good old crucifixion or impalement? Why does no one request that anymore?
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:09 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


I like the idea of decomposition/worm and plant food, but I could see the issue of having bones laying around in the ground that could pop out in a heavy rain and scare the normies. Maybe just toss the ol carcass in the Mariana trench so I can feed the lampreys and such.
posted by Existential Dread at 9:37 PM on October 3


But cremation has an environmental cost too. To burn a single body, a cremator machine generates enough heat to warm a home in winter for a week, even in freezing Minnesota.

This opens a new debate about the impulses towards extending life during the last mile of survival, which can cost life savings and mountains of medical waste. I think there is a lot in the article to suggest that improvements can be made in all areas after someone dies. For example, in the article's table, cremation costs included a wooden coffin as half the damage, mentioned later in the article, though in the US they rarely do it that way. But what I didn't see was the detailed environmental impact of concrete and industrial digging and land use in the acts of most burials. These are reflected in the economic impact of burial which costs over 5000 dollars, not including the retail coffin racket that goes with it (though unburned wood is a beneficial carbon sink). Cremation costs well less than a thousand dollars and doesn't support the industrial footprint.
posted by Brian B. at 9:45 PM on October 3


Great now I can have nightmares about being trapped in an alkaline hydrolysisiser too. "Gimme the Deep Star Six special!" Get the fuck outta here, just throw me in the ocean.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:45 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


They finally found a way to make Don Rickles even more caustic.

Seriously though, why alkalai and not acid?
posted by zaixfeep at 10:19 PM on October 3


I was engaged to write on alkaline hydrolysis on behalf of an Australian company for a 2011 Queensland Parliamentary Committee Inquiry into the environmental impacts of burial and cremation. I can't say much about that gig or company but have always wondered when this was going to be widely available. It seemed like a good option to me.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 10:30 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Meanwhile, in Indonesia... (NatGeo, GRAPHIC PHOTOS/SUBJECT MATTER WITHIN)

"In a remote corner of Indonesia, the departed—and their corpses—remain a part of the family."

Additionally, The "Baby Trees" of the Toraja people (AncientOrigins, a few graphic photos)

"The Toraja people and the most complex funeral rituals in the world"
posted by Amor Bellator at 11:00 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


If I were to do this, it would have to be with a Vincent Price impersonator and life-size skeleton marionette recreating the ending of The House on Haunted Hill.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:02 PM on October 3


According to Fremen tradition, a person's water belonged to their tribe.
posted by glonous keming at 11:11 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


"I can't feel any fear or disgust about what happens to my remains."

Me, either. It's so interesting how people are different in this way.

I'm definitely on the eco-burial train. This sounds better than cremation, although I'd prefer my resulting fluid to be used as fertilizer, as well as my bone dust.

This article doesn't mention it, but natural burial is only available in a few locations in the entire US. People are weird about this. Which just seems bizarre to me. That's my first choice, but as it has such limited availability, and for now so does this, I suppose it would have to be cremation for me. My dad died in his sixties, so I don't expect to live much longer than that, if at all, so I've got about fifteen years left. Maybe things will be different then.

I totally understand living family's desire for a gravesite or memorial, but that seems pretty wasteful to me, and it's not that long before nobody cares. And worst is the elaborate embalming and burial in a concrete or steel container that is common in the US. That actually offends me in its hubris and waste, somehow.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 11:12 PM on October 3 [4 favorites]


ok I really want to have this done, but arrange it beforehand that they only go as far as dissolving the flesh, and then have someone wire my bones back together so my family gets my articulated skeleton. My nephews are going to LOVE IT
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:17 PM on October 3 [6 favorites]


Here is an interesting article on a sky burial done in the United States (Texas). I like the perspective from multiple sides.
posted by jadepearl at 12:35 AM on October 4


Wired ran a long piece on this a couple of months ago.
posted by rory at 3:56 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


zaixfeep: "Seriously though, why alkalai and not acid?"
Alkaline hydrolysis is the natural process your body goes through if you’re buried.
In that regard, alkali is more "natural" than acid. Not being a chemist, I can't say if there are more practical reasons.

5_13_23_42_69_666: "ok I really want to have this done, but arrange it beforehand that they only go as far as dissolving the flesh, and then have someone wire my bones back together so my family gets my articulated skeleton. My nephews are going to LOVE IT"

According to the Wired article rory linked:
Human bones that have been processed by alkaline hydrolysis crumble and fall apart to the touch.
posted by zinon at 4:38 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that needs the "leave your body out in the desert sun and gather up the bones after the vultures have finished" package. (It's a natural process...)
posted by rory at 4:44 AM on October 4


As a second choice, I want to be distributed as a music album pack-in like the late great Don Joyce.
posted by delfin at 6:09 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


What happens to the fluid afterwards?

Well, it gets turned into high energy concentrates and combined with plankton gathered from the oceans of the world.

Available in Red, Yellow or all new delicious Green.
posted by zarq at 6:49 AM on October 4 [4 favorites]


I'd prefer to be turned into a tree. It's just better for haunting.
posted by LizBoBiz at 6:57 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


Available in Red, Yellow or all new delicious Green.

Then Peter Thiel drinks you.
posted by Artw at 7:10 AM on October 4


I'm donating myself to the FBI body farm so I can sleep in the woods for a few years and then have science done on me.

(Also, speed-of-light c is lower case.
/masslessparticlevelocitypedant)
posted by sexyrobot at 7:14 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


That sounds pretty good, TBH.
posted by Artw at 7:43 AM on October 4


I used to dig graves in Denmark, and reading this article, I did not expect the biggest "what the fuck??" from this article to be about burial. But right there, near the beginning:

"In the US, graves are usually either lined with concrete or the coffin is placed in a metal or concrete vault which will not decompose."

Youse do what? Why? Why would you do that? Just sink a corpse in a simple wooden box into appropriate soil (not too much clay, neither too wet or dry) and give it a handful of decades before reusing. This concrete bollocks? Suddenly cremation and this fancy alkaline stuff make sense, if that's the alternative...
posted by Dysk at 8:03 AM on October 4 [10 favorites]


You can donate your body to the University of New Mexico's Osteology Repository, a collection of 278+ skeletons.
posted by olopua at 8:05 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


I, too, stopped at the line about there being no door on the inside. and no DNA. I'd And of course, that makes it an excellent option for disposing of bodies. I'd prefer my liquids to be used as fertilizer. Bones, too. I can think of worse legacies than beautiful ripe tomatoes or robust nasturtiums.

If my skeleton could be wired up and hauled out for Halloween and other events, I'd enjoy that. Living on a small lake, I love the idea of a Viking disposal, ideally on the 4th of July when there are lots of parties and fireworks, but it would be bad for the lake and the fish. it would be best to be cremated by going in to a star, but way too much fossil fuel is required. I expect death to be the end, and I hope I make some memories that are held in some hearts with love, and that's it.
posted by theora55 at 8:17 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


> Youse do what? This is required in some states. Partly because it's profitable, also because people are really squicked out about death, bodies, rot, etc.
posted by theora55 at 8:21 AM on October 4 [1 favorite]


Would the concrete sunken tombs be enough containment to add acid to dissolve the remains with acid after prior burial, in a way that doesn't leach into the environment, as it would in places were its just a dirt hole?
posted by biffa at 8:35 AM on October 4


My wife says she’s going to have me cremated and my ashes turned into a diamond. They can do that. I’m a fairly decent sized American man and still only good for about half a carat.

And now it occurs to me why we’ve been carrying around all those former pets’ cremains all these years. And also my gramma’s.


That'd be a great plot point for a Black Widow type killer. Wearing the carbonized remnants of her former husbands as part of the lure to attract new ones.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:47 AM on October 4 [3 favorites]


I used to dig graves in Denmark

MetaFilter, have I told you recently how much I love you?
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:14 AM on October 4 [8 favorites]


I am envisioning other options for myself. The trick is to pay for what you want by the time, your relatives need an answer. In Utah, supposedly, you need two people to sign off on a cremation. However as long as there is public land, there is always a place to take a long nap. I will tell you this, though, buy your urn at TJ Maxx. They are about $16. I saved my Mom's urn after her scattering to use for my ashes, taking the cost down to $8 per unceremony. This whole process described, fills me with claustrophobic dread, more than ground burial. Fire is nice, but there are always hungry vultures if you locate some in advance. For whatever reason, I am a fan of sky burial. Nevertheless I am not a fan of death, and leaving my children with my remains.
posted by Oyéah at 10:43 AM on October 4


I used to dig graves in Denmark … Just sink a corpse in a simple wooden box into appropriate soil (not too much clay, neither too wet or dry) and give it a handful of decades before reusing.

How long will a man lie i' the earth ere he rot?
posted by zamboni at 10:51 AM on October 4 [2 favorites]


I used to dig graves in Denmark

posted by Dysk at 8:03 AM on October 4


There is a long tradition of grave digging in my family, dating back (as far as we can tell) to 16th century England, and ending (as far as I know) with my uncle in the 1960s, in Northern Pennsylvania in the United States. There must be a Danish branch of the family we didn't know about! ;)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:12 PM on October 4


To be clear, I was employed as a gravedigger.
posted by Dysk at 2:16 PM on October 4 [5 favorites]


The medical school will cremate me after they're done pointing and laughing at, er, I mean studying my cadaver. I've asked not to have my remains returned for my sister to deal with.

My brother still doesn't have a stone on his grave; the plan was to get one there that listed both of us. The money keeps getting spent on the living, though, so we'll see.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:18 PM on October 4


How long will a man lie i' the earth ere he rot?

The answer, my friend, depends on how ye’ve sinned
The answer depends on how ye’ve sinned
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:22 PM on October 4 [1 favorite]


I had a friend in junior high school, and some into high school, too, until he dropped out. He was all the time running away from home, and not really out of any malice that I was aware of, just that Steve was sortof like a stray dog, you leave the door unlatched and he's gone. We had a pretty nice outbuilding back of our house, definitely dried in, and safe, sometimes I'd come out to go to school and Steve would step around the corner and go to school with me. Or maybe *not* go to school -- that stray dog thing again. Like a stray, he was a runner, he'd get into things, he'd piss where he pleased, not that he hiked his leg up (that I know of). They were poor people, same as mine, Steve had a broken-tooth grin, same as I did, but his smile was easier than mine. I'm telling you about Steve to tell you that one place he'd stay was in this tiny crypt in this old, old, tiny, tiny cemetery in our neighborhood. The crypt was mostly below ground level, it was constructed of flat limestone (flagstone? is that what it's called?) and had this tiny wooden door. And Steve would sleep there! He'd *live* in there! Creeee-peeee. I'd sooner sleep in a burning car. Jesus christ. Steve had jam, for sure. Didn't spook him at all.

~~~~~

I love to wander cemeteries. I love to read the names, and the dates. In the 1800s and way into the 1900s there are so often small stones -- yes, sometimes the same size as the others but often small -- small stones of children who died as infants, or toddlers. Just look at the dates. Here in the US nowadays we see death of an infant as an insult but all you've got to do is wander south of the border and you'll see these pathetic funerals, with these tiny caskets, the mothers in black, the grandmothers also.

So anyways, I like to wander old cemeteries and look at the names and the dates, try to determine wealth and status by the size of the stones or crypts, see the neglect of most any grave more than fifteen years old, definitely any graves older than 50 years old.

There is a graveyard pretty much in the heart of Austin, and all old, old graves, and I think that the landscaping is taken care of by the city. By which I mean -- it's not taken care of, mostly. Damn sure not with any particular care, the grass mown but you'd never confuse it for a golf course maintenance job, limbs down, no care of the trees at all. But that's fine by me, it's the US as it really is, with Cheeto's bags blowing through it, 40 ounce styrofoam cups from stop-n-go stores flattened by being run over 700 times blowing through, and whatever other airborne garbage is blown in off I-35, or just blown in on the wind from wherever it is that garbage blows in from. I wander it -- the graveyard, not the wind -- I wander it, looking at the comically huge stones, families that had money, but no matter how big the stone they're just as dead as the person down the line here with a stone no bigger than a loaf of bread, the only difference being that the small stone is maybe worn down from the tractor mower blade hitting it every time through. But -- the people? They're all just every bit as dead, no more life in them than in the styrofoam cups blowing by.

~~~~~

There are really great graveyards in West Texas, the desert, by Alpine and Marfa etc. You'll see a fenced off little graveyard, blink and you'll miss it, but let's say you didn't blink; pull over, and back up, and then off the road a bit, go in and look at the graves. Yet again, the smaller graves for children. If the burial is fairly recent there is a good-sized mound, but then the mound sinks in short years to considerably below ground level, until the winds out there, over time, the winds finally bring it back to stasis. Some of the older graves had wooden markers, and if they're still there they're tipped to one side or another, the names/dates blown off the wood by drifting/blowing sands, the hands of time. Some newer graves have a photo under glass adhered to the stone, showing an idealized image of the person in life, and within five years the photos are all washed to a yellowed blur of nothing, the water gets to them out there, water and sun and wind. I can't *stand* plastic flowers, they are to me remarkably tacky, and in a graveyard they're remarkably pathetic, to boot, and then completely, absolutely, totally pathetic when sunned out, bleached almost colorless by sun and sand and time.

I think that it's really something that just pulling off the road and stepping out of the warmth of the pickup, *especially* if it's a gray, chill, windy, blustery day, it's just something else that I can step into pathos, the presence of death, and time, all in a fenced-off little, bitty graveyard, smaller than your front yard. It's not in the travel guides but personally I can't recommend it highly enough.

~~~~~

I have a grave that I visit when I can. Nacodoches. East Texas. It's best if I can make it on her birthday, though Pamela's birthday was in August and it's ungodly hot and humid and her grave is in direct sunshine. I put a pot of flowers on it, not cut flowers but rather a plant that's flowering. It won't last long, damn sure not in August, and I hope that sometimes maybe one of the landscape crew there take it home before it's burnt crisp, take it home or give it to a church or a friend or I don't know what. But they'll be pretty for a few days. I never sent her flowers on her birthday when she was alive, and that gets at me, stabs at me. I write her a letter, put my love on the page, lament that I wasn't a better lover -- Pamela deserved the best. Or even the best me. And I didn't come through. It's painful. I write that, to her, though she's gone as yesterdays train. Hell -- yester-years train. She's ever so gone. So I know that the words are for me, and for me alone. Except I'm balking at that -- the words are also for her, somehow.

~~~~~

Obviously, it won't matter to me what happens to my body once I'm gone. But one thing for sure -- I'm not going through this stupid US burial thing. Screw that. Talk about a waste of time and money. I'd like for my eyes to get used, I love the idea of someone seeing their grandchild for the first time through these eyes. A grandchild or a gorgeous painting, something wildly extravagant and insanely colorful, maybe luck into a show of Hans Hoffman paintings, and some Kandinsky paintings also, but from when he was totally free, before he retreated to the safety of geometric shapes. Or just seeing their husbands smile for the first time in years. I'd like for some kids in med school to hack me up if they need a corpse to hack up, then just chunk whatever is left into the most efficient disposal method available at the time, which is not going to be anytime soon if I have any say in the matter.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:03 AM on October 5 [5 favorites]


We held a green burial recently. It was a really great experience (apart from the requirement to hold it of course). The cemetery is a beautiful nature park full of trees, wildflowers, birds and butterflies. No embalming and no open casket, so the body didn't have to be messed with too much, just gently washed. The family was very involved with lowering the body and shoveling the dirt which was cathartic. And now when we go back to visit, we take a picnic and go birdwatching and nature walking.

We hadn't thought about green burial much beforehand. When the necessity unexpectedly arose, we remembered that the park had opened near us just a few months prior. Very fortunate timing. We all feel lucky that this option was available to us when we needed it. It felt so natural and right. It's interesting to hear that this is the default burial standard in other places like Denmark. Why do so many places in the states require embalming and vaults?

The only awkward thing about it was trying to find a shroud. We had the choice of a simple casket or a shroud. We wanted the shroud but the funeral home didn't carry any - this is still a really new option in our area. We could have used a family quilt or special blanket but felt that a simple linen shroud would be perfect for this person.

Do you know how much linen is required to wrap a dead body? Yeah, us neither. Fast forward to standing at the fabric counter at JoAnn Fabrics, googling green burial websites to find out that we needed the equivalent of a king sized sheet and then trying to explain to the lady how we needed enough linen cut from the bolt to make the equivalent of a king sized sheet but we didn't really care how wide the strips would be or if there'd have to be seams. She was trying to convince us that we were approaching our craft project wrong and that we wouldn't like the sheet when it was finished. I can still see her face when we answered her question "well if you're not making a sheet, what are you going to do with it?"
posted by mosessis at 2:27 AM on October 6 [6 favorites]


I've never understood the open casket thing. The funerals I've been to in a personal rather than professional capacity, I have been very glad the coffins were closed. No I do not want to see the cold, lifeless body of my friend who committed suicide or grandparent one last time. I prefer to remember them in life. It's hard enough for me to keep any modicum of composure in that sort of situation as is.

The family was very involved with lowering the body and shoveling the dirt which was cathartic.

Also a standard part of a Danish funeral! Coffin lowered by four family members (or other funeral attendees) and the first shovelfuls of earth are thrown on by the priest (if full religious ceremony) and family as part of the ritual.

Then they all go home and some poor sap with a shovel puts the last few tons on earth on. It's hard work.
posted by Dysk at 2:39 AM on October 6 [1 favorite]


Despite my plan for an anonymous critter-feeding death-style, I am grateful for graves. and one particular cemetery.

The town I grew up in is old by Australian standards with many inscribed headstones matching the names on local places and street signs. One grave, that of four brothers who died in the same battle in WW1 plus their mother who died months later and their father and sister who lived together to die decades later within years of one another, speaks to a world of heartbreak. The graves of post war Greeks made good as traders line the Catholic section with mini-temples hosting photos behind glass, religious statues and grill holes in the marble for plastic flowers. One section of the cemetery near the bush edge is festooned with colourful whirlies and flags and assorted treasures of family love for a child gone.

When I was a kid and taking the long way home from school, I used to leave hard lollies like aniseed balls and occasionally a gob-smacker at the grave of a child who died many years prior; hiding the lollies under the small chips of white marble that covered their grave like large flakes of snow. Then I would walk the paths and hide my face from subsided graves in case I saw a hole of dark unknown.

My place of solace now is under a tree near a rubbish bin. This burial grave has no headstone; its length is mounted by deep grey marble with an inscription and cryptic symbol on top. Two names, two sets of dates with the latter in both only weeks apart, and something like an amoeba donut all originally lined in gold leaf but now worn and scratched and picked and missing.

There is no one who belongs to me in this town anymore except these two people who can never leave.
posted by Thella at 4:28 AM on October 6 [5 favorites]


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