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Posts Tagged ‘death’

Eulogy

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I got my latest edition of Urban Farm the other day, packed with plenty of information to feed my growing obsession. Urban Farm magazine is awesome because it provides short, catchy articles on a wide variety of subjects: buying clothing, book reviews, growing cucumbers, local food events across the country, milking goats…I’d be able to offer more examples but Patrick is asleep on my current issue.

One of the articles that I found to be particularly unique and thought-provoking was one about green burials. According to Mary Woodsen, president of Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve, every year America’s cemeteries are responsible for burying a huge amount of toxic substances, straight into the ground: over 800 gallons of embalming fluid, 30-million feet of hardwood, 1.6 million tons of concrete, and over 100k tons of steel, copper, and bronze. This doesn’t include that vast amount of chemicals that are needed to keep cemeteries looking like pristine parks. (This is where my paraphrase of the article ends.)

And for what? To package all our deceased like sardines into neat little rows, as tightly and unrealistically as possible, so that we may avoid reflecting on the realities of death as we commute past these happy grassy patches each day? When did death become something that was so unbearably grim that we have to pump it with formaldehyde and encase it in enough wood, concrete and metal to guard against any chance that our bodies will return to the earth like they are supposed to? We can’t all be King Tut, waiting in splendor for our bodies to be discovered and celebrated after a few millenia.

It’s a recent thing, this booming business of gift-wrapping death and disposing of it as nicely and as unobtrusively as possible. I still remember my grandfather when he used to say, “When I’m gone,  just stick me in the ground.” He didn’t want any hoopla, but I’m sure his funeral ended up costing thousands of dollars. It used to be perfectly acceptable for a family to prepare a loved one’s body after death, invite the relatives over for a viewing, and perform the burial ceremony in the backyard under the tree. I guess that would be considered horrific and unsanitary now.

The thing is, we seem to have developed an unhealthy preoccupation of death as an evil, unwholesome thing to be avoided at all costs. This is an interesting phenomenon that warrants more research and speculation on my part. We, as a modern Western society, have completely departed from the notion of death as a joyous thing, or even a necessary thing—a beneficial thing.

It’s no wonder we don’t want to die, considering that we will be preserved and entombed for all eternity in a dark box underground. We aren’t even afforded the opportunity to let the energy contained in ourselves flow back into the greater energy of the universe. Sound too metaphysical for you? Think of it in terms of E=mc^2. Think of how much E can be made from all the m that is your flesh and blood and bones. We are made from dust, and the laws of nature (and religion for that matter) demand that we return to it, ideally sooner rather than later in the event of our passing.

However, there’s a new trend happening these days—green burials. It’s sounds like a totally radical, hippie notion, but it’s actually gaining a mainstream acceptance as more and more natural cemeteries are popping up around the country. The body is buried in any chemical-free biodegradable covering, be it a tasteful-looking wooden casket or a favorite blanket (non-synthetic materials, of course). And instead of lying in state under six feet of concrete, topsoil, and herbicides, you get to fertilize a wildlife preserve, and grow wildflowers like you never have before.

These photos are of the Foxfield Preserve in Ohio.

I guess it’s not for everyone, but I would much rather be covered in pine needles and let my body dissolve back into the earth as quickly as possible, while contributing to the beauty of the natural world (much like my living self does already, right?).

With any luck, whoever buries me will have the good sense not to feel the need to cling to some physical representation of myself in the form of  a burial plot and gravestone in line with all the others. Much like Pop-Pop said: when I’m gone some day, please, just stick me in the ground, and be happy.

🙂

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