OPINION: Let’s talk about death, baby! (and eco burials)

headshot_Cameron Gorman

Cameron Gorman

 

I think a great way to get to know someone is to ask them how they’d like to be buried. Why waste time with an icebreaker about favorite ice cream flavors when you could just dive in to a common, shared experience? I might love butter pecan, and you might hate it — but someday, we’ll both be at our own funerals (or equivalent celebrations of life).

 

I really do think that the answer says a lot about a person. Do they want to be embalmed or not? Buried or cremated? Have a simple burial or go out in a hermetically sealed titanium coffin? Maybe it’s the last personal decision that can be made, or the last vain one. In any case, though, it might knock you off guard until you stop to consider it thoroughly.

 

Really, it’s inevitable. And though we aren’t nearly as comfortable with death as we were in, say, Victorian times, (human hair jewelry, anyone?) the dialogue is open. YouTubers like Caitlin Doughty, a mortician, and the late Claire Wineland, who lived with a chronic illness, have made it easier to ponder what it might be like to die. And if we’re comfortable with the fact that it will happen — and yes, sorry, it is going to happen, hopefully after a long and fulfilling life — then we can get more comfortable with the idea of how we’d like to be permanently retired. It’s likely going to be your last physical appearance. Why not start planning the outfit now?

After all, it is a personal choice, and just like your favorite Goodwill sweater, I can’t sway you from your expensive casket if that’s what your heart is set on. But let me offer an alternative thought: Why not consider an eco burial?

I’d hardly consider myself an expert in the area, but I have done some research, (It was for a speech class. Make of that what you will.), and I’m comfortable enough to say that I’ll probably opt for cremation or an eco burial when it’s my time to go. Why? Well, for one thing, why embalm? Yes, it preserves the body, but I don’t want an open casket anyway. The idea of seeing someone’s body, sans whatever made them a real, wonderful person, isn’t for me. The body is just that to me — a body — and I don’t see any reason to display my own. Especially because I’ll probably look pretty waxy. The cosmetics artists at funeral homes often do a nice job, but it can’t be perfect. I’d rather have a photograph, flowers and memories.

Besides, embalming fluids harm the earth, according to Business Insider. “According to an article published in the Berkeley Planning Journal, more than 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde are put into the ground along with dead bodies every year in the US,”

The Business Insider article, written by Julia Calderone of Tech Insider, says. The article also mentions that formaldehyde is a potential carcinogen for people — (the EPA concurs) and, well, that just doesn’t seem like something I’d want to put back in the ground.

That’s not even to mention the fact that, according to the same article, graveyards and “memorial spaces” take up a lot of resources. All you need to do to corroborate that observation is to head down to your local cemetery. Of course they are special places to visit a loved one who has passed — and, if you’re of a certain bend, a nice place to go for a quiet walk. But if you want your last bodily mark on the world to follow the same trajectory as your metal-straw-using life, there are other options.

The Green Burial Council lists some certified products on its website, from wooden caskets to shrouds. There are also other resources, like listings of green burial spaces by state.

There are alternatives to traditional burial out there if you’re interested, and though it can feel a little overwhelming to consider the idea of how you want to leave your body on this earth, why not start considering? It can only make you more prepared. When the time comes, you’ll know what you want. And there’s nothing wrong with knowing now, either.

Cameron Gorman is a columnist. Contact her at [email protected]