A few weeks ago, I began a little study of green or natural funerals. As I am theoretically nearing the end of this journey, I have begun giving more attention to the disposal of this biological structure that I have inhabited. It has treated me well and I have attempted to do the same. As I am responsible for five lots in a rather primitive cemetery, near the town where I grew up. I have given some thought as to being buried near my parents and brother. Unfortunately, that cemetery is stuck, literally, in the stone age, requiring all of the accoutrements of a barbaric modern processing by the American funeral industry…casket, toxins, sucking of blood, plasticizing the remains, and then preventing any chance of returning to the earth for centuries, by stuffing the whole package into a concrete vault. This disgusting process bears little resemblance to what I wish for myself. As healthy as my body is, at the moment, it is filled with heavy metals and other toxins that would be released into the atmosphere through cremation. Besides, cremation was a creation of the pagan Romans. Jews and Christians always washed the body and buried it promptly in the ground or in a cave.
The little cemetery, to which I referred, may soon be managed by a local Lutheran church, and this might be an opportunity to bring a more sane perspective to the way the deceased are treated. Giving the possible situation some thought I wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper, The Advocate. My letter was published and the following week, a rebuttal appeared from the local mortician. The editor has asked me to respond, and I submitted my response this evening. Below, you will find the three responses, in the order in which they appeared in the paper. If you have a couple of minutes, you might find the whole conversation amusing…if nothing else.
It is my understanding that the Granite Lutheran Church will become the new caretaker of the Hillcrest cemetery.
Several generations of my family are buried there and I suspect, in the not too distant future, my pathetic remains will be planted there as well.
This is a wonderful opportunity for new thinking to be applied to this cemetery. For too long, it has been controlled by a funeral industry’s mentality, implementing the most primitive ideas of disposing of our remains. The requirement for vaults to keep the surface of the ground level for a mower is merely a pretense for increasing funeral costs. I certainly hope that entombing a body is not part of some primitive religious ritual with the intent of keeping all the molecules of loved ones in one place for the resurrection, or some such. I’m certain that on “that great gettin’ up mornin’” God will be able to assemble the parts for the great day of judgement.
Traditional embalming putts 800 tons of carcinogenic formaldehyde in the ground every year and cremation puts thousands of pounds of heavy metals into the atmosphere every year, without mentioning that a single cremation consumes enough natural gas to heat at least one home for a year.
There are much more natural approaches to disposing of our remains and a much more exciting environment in cemeteries than the boring plots with sentimental stone markers that get visited less and less frequently. Hillcrest Cemetery needs the option of green funerals, and cemetery that is more like a park than gloomy repositories of memories that fade into obscurity over time.
Park benches and barbecues should be strategically placed, which would provide for public usage and respect for our loved ones. Why not have a picnic among those we loved? Unless one sits on a grave stone, there is not a single place to rest one’s weary, but living bones.
More importantly, this particular cemetery should allow burial without embalming or cremation providing burial is done within reasonable state guidelines. The option of burying a body within 24 hours in a blanket or a wooden box makes returning to the earth in a natural manner a real option.
Placing a body filled with carcinogens and stuffed into a steel box entombed in another layer of cement is a contradiction, if not a violation of nature. Hillcrest has become a regulated monstrosity with its soulless appearance, (no pun intended) void of ambiance, and as cold as the stones that protrude from the ground.
Hillcrest could be so much more, with clear thinking and a futuristic view of ecology, remembrance, sentimentality, economics, and a love of the out of doors. Trees should be planted everywhere! Barren ground with unnatural stones protruding in soldier like lines are absurd. Cover the area with a wide selection of trees that are indigenous to Minnesota. Plant flowering shubs that greet the guests with color and life. Allow planting of real flowers on grave sites and forget subordinating mowing to all other significant natural embellishments. Make plastic flowers the exception instead of the rule.
I now own five plots at Hillcrest and it disgusts me to think that my remains would be placed in such a sterile and non-ecological environment. Yes, the toxins are not going to impact the permanent residents, but those toxins leach downhill where the living reside.
If my information is correct, the Granite Falls Lutheran church has a great opportunity to take care of one small part of the earth. This is its stewardship. This church can begin to define the future of death in Granite Falls. Morticians will balk at this, but they can find a new and creative way to participate in the last ceremony for the dead. It is time to reinvent the future of death and to make the dismal journey into the ground far less ominous than the thought of being filled with toxins and stuffed into a cement sarcophagus or being lit on fire and roasted to ashes.
There is a healthy alternative for this old cemetery and the Lutheran Church of Granite Falls can be a part of futuristic leadership in the burial of Granite’s dead. If a new, green and ecologically sensitive vision is implemented, people will be dying to be buried at Hillcrest!
David Paulson David
To the Editor:
I read with interest and amusement, the recent letter penned by an ‘environmentally’ concerned individual regarding current burial practices (pagan no less), and their potential detrimental effect on our environment. I thought, perhaps, after serving 40 plus years as a funeral service professional, I would be in the position to shed a bit of light on a few of the comments made.
First of all, outer containers, and/or burial vaults are required by cemeteries (not state law) for maintenance purposes. All one needs to do is observe older sections of cemeteries where these were not used and see the monuments and markers in a state of disrepair and the constant upkeep these graves need due to ground instability. No ‘higher authority’ deemed these a requirement in order to ‘increase funeral costs’. The inference sounds like an uneducated comment on some type of financial conspiracy theory. Vaults also protect the deceased from outside influences and are strictly an individual family preference. If I were a surviving family member that chose a sealed vault for my loved one, I would take utter offense at the comment made.
Second- Any chemist will tell you that an embalmed body does not put carcinogenic formaldehyde into the ground. Modern formalin based embalming chemicals serve only to disinfect and preserve tissue and once an embalming procedure has been completed, there is no ‘formaldehyde’ in that chemical structure left. In fact, many of today’s modern embalming fluids use no formaldehyde structure at all. It’s simple basic organic chemistry. I submit that placing an unembalmed, decomposing body in the ground would pose more possibility of ground water contamination and spreading of disease. Wrapped in a blanket or not.
Third- The state of Minnesota statute that requires embalming reads in essence: ‘a body must be embalmed if disposition (cremation, burial), will take place more than 72 hours after the death. If a communicable disease is present, embalming will take place, no matter what mode of disposition is chosen. That’s the law. (Even if cremation or ‘green burial’ is requested). It’s a public health concern. The use of ‘primitive’ methods to lead to a dignified and meaningful experience for those requiring the services of a funeral professional came about as a response to public demand. And if one would research, modern embalming methods had their birthplace during the Civil War as a way of making it possible for grieving families to actually see and say goodbye to their beloved. Once again, a consumer demand, not some fabricated way to increase funeral expenses.
Finally, it’s my professional opinion that a ‘green cemetery’ would be an excellent alternative for those individuals choosing that type of final disposition for their loved ones. Let’s have some educated entrepreneur step forward with the experience in assisting people in possibly the most stressful and emotionally charged time of their lives and put forward the finances necessary to establish such a final place of environmentally secure and dignified rest for the departed of our community. I would sincerely hope that such an endeavor would be offered at no cost, so as not to become an added burden financially to those choosing it for their loved ones final resting place.
Everett H. Bain
Licensed Funeral Professional
To the Editor:
My first letter to the editor was focused on natural, or what is known as green burial of the dead. This was, after all, the practice for most of our ancestors.
The primary reason that the funeral industry objects to natural burial is because of its business model. In the United States alone, in 2007, there were 22,000 funeral homes, 115,000 cemeteries, 1,155 crematories, and 300 casket sellers. The total U.S. “deathcare” industry was $11.95 billion for the year 2007. In the US there is enough embalming fluids buried every year to fill eight Olympic-size swimming pools, more steel in caskets alone than was used to build the Golden Gate Bridge, and enough reinforced concrete to construct a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit. < Funeral Service Facts. National Funeral Directors Association>
Morticians have literally taken over the funeral process from the clergy. In the manual entitled the Psychology of the Funeral Industry, “It is the ask of the funeral industry to educate the public in the right paths.”
This is the industry that every mortician is trying to defend with the elaborate so-called Christian burial. To suggest that the funeral industry has not been behind the entire propaganda of “protecting the dead body from the elements” is disingenuous at best and outrageously absurd at worst. The mortician’s primary task is the disposal of the human body, but that dismal task had to gussied up for the bereaved. And, while the loved ones are in a bereaving state, why not nip them for a few extra bucks. Disposal of the human body is an industry and the public service is an expensive guilt ridden add-on. To suggest that my understanding of the profit motive in the funeral industry is “uneducated”, is humorous.
Regarding the maintenance of cemeteries, green cemeteries have nothing to do with maintaining monuments, as monuments are not usually placed over burial site. A tilting monument is more a failure of the pedestal than a collapsing grave-site. Within less than a year, all settling would have occurred with a natural burial and a few shovels of black earth will solve the problem for eternity. It seems that there is extensive and expensive work to get the body in the ground, but minimal work to maintain the garden where the dead have been planted.
It will require cultural education to bring about sociological changes in the public’s view regarding funerals. Once the public fully understands the beauty of a natural funeral, its acceptance will be swift. If vaults last 10,000 years, it ultimately will collapse and expose the dead to the external, and natural elements…to which it should have been exposed in the first place.
The modern burial process has much more in common with the burial rites of the pagan Romans than it does with early Christianity. The Romans began the process of cremations and urns and they built elaborate stone sarcophagi, to remember the dead. The Jews always buried their dead following a simple washing of the body and wrapping it in cloth. Christians, from the earliest centuries did the same. Even though Christians preserved the bodies of the saints, the church has always believed that the destruction of the body has no relationship to resurrection. God remembers his own.
Many countries, like England, are running out of burial space. Unless the deceased was a significant historical figure, bodies are only buried for 100 years, until those who knew the departed are also dead. Then the remains are removed and ingloriously disposed of, making room for the next tenant.
As to the point of toxins in the burial process, there is little to debate. <https://www.quora.com/Is-embalming-fluid-toxic> Whether toxins remain in the body or are flushed into the sewer system is a moot point. Chemicals that preserve flesh after death are toxic to the living.
Green funerals or natural burial provides great dignity to both the bereaved and the deceased. The only major obstacle is the time factor, as a body needs to buried within a short period of time. States like Wisconsin are promoting green cemeteries, but every cemetery should have a section devoted to green burials. Actually, a green burial should be encouraged anywhere in a cemetery. An extra charge could be assessed for a funeral plot if the body was to be buried without a vault The extra charge could cover a few shovels of soil for a year or two. Ultimately, green funerals will be the future and the sooner the better, for our pocket books and our peace of mind.