Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Your Options After Death

If anything has become clear to me while doing this research, it’s that we need to start rethinking what place death, grief, and the disposition of the dead have in our culture. I would hate to lose the solitude of cemetery parks. In some cities, they are among the last vestiges of undisturbed, though manicured, green left. But cemeteries have physical boundaries and eventually all the plots will fill. Only in America do we think that if we purchase a plot, it’s ours for life, death, and afterlife.
Our country is fairly new and other countries have been dealing with this issue for centuries. In many large cities, after a certain time period had passed, allowing for natural decay, graves were disinterred so that newly dead could take their place in consecrated ground, and the bones were placed in ossuaries or charnal houses. Ossuaries allow for bones to be placed and stored in smaller boxes. In catacombs and charnal houses, the bones would often be broken up, skulls stored together, long bones stored together, etc.
Maybe we need to move away from permanent monuments and resting places. How much time do we need after death? How many generations pass until no one remembers us? Why bury your loved ones in a cemetery if you never visit them there? As an amateur genealogist, I have spent many afternoons reading and searching for the tombstones of my ancestors. I have felt the joy and thrill of discovering their resting places. But there are too many of us, to each own a piece of land for life.
I will have no descendants. And I will have no gravestone. So I need to rethink what I need and what I want. As well as what to leave behind to best serve those who love me when I die.
Funerals serve many purposes. They confirm the reality of death for those left behind. In theory, they aim to provide a contained environment for the living to come together and process through grief and mourning. It is a time for the living to remember and pay their respects to the dead, bringing closure to that life. It is the end to a story.
Most people don’t think about the details of planning a funeral until they are thrust into the crisis of death. In that moment, we don’t think to shop around and we are easily talked into traditional standards. So think about it now. Choice of funerals and services are largely influenced by family preferences, religious beliefs, and traditions. If you start the dialogue now, you could pre-empt any squabbling between loved ones after the fact. So, what do you want for your body when you die?

A Smattering of Options
You could find a place that would allow you to put yourself in the ground in a simple box, or natural fiber blanket or shroud. The purpose of a green burial is to return to the way things used to be; returning the body to the ground in a manner that does not hinder decomposition. Natural burial is where the body is returned to the earth to decompose in the soil. It has been practiced in Islam for almost 1500 years. It was reintroduced to the UK in the 1990s by Ken West and has gained popularity in Australia, China, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, and North America. Find more information at The Green Burial Council and The Natural Burial Movement 

You can try your hand at a home funeral, where states allow. You can care for your dead and tend to their body yourself, seeing the entire process through, reconnecting to the event as a rite of passage. All but eight states in the U.S. have won the right to home funerals if they want them. Check out the Home Funeral Directory and the Home Funeral Alliance

This is a good article about a family who took on a performing a natural burial in 2007. It chronicles the choices they made, how they went about it, and how the different family members responded to it. It’s very thought provoking. Click on this Smithsonian article to read a real-life story of people finding closure in tending their own dead.

Thinking Outside the Box
One of the options available is to send your loved ones’ cremains to be pressed and heated into jewelry. You can have them made into earrings or rings, big gems for yourself or smaller gems to divide up into separate pieces for you and children or other loved ones. I like this idea, because you can leave a legacy, an heirloom that can be passed down through the family. No need for a tombstone, you become a travelling wearable memorial. You can read more about it, including testimonials, at the lifegem website.

You could merge your ashes with the seed of a tree and find new symbiosis as you feed its growth. You can truly become one with nature in a way we couldn’t in our bodies. At least until the tree dies and becomes something else. But trees are good. There aren’t enough of them anymore and they feed off of our carbon dioxide and provide us with oxygen. Do you want to Become a Tree After Death? If you want more of the metaphor, this other version, though pricey, allows you to see a visual shift as the tree grows, cracking the ceramic cover of the cremains, found at the Spiritree site.

You can simply scatter the ashes of your dead. Check out the laws here.

For something different, if you’re really invested in feeding the earth, you can have your body turned into liquid fertilizer. Not kidding.

You could gift your body to medical science. It’s important to note that most facilities have a weight cut-off limit. Some can’t accept a body more than 170 lbs max and others top out at 250 lbs. It’s something more people are looking into, as the facility will cremate the body for you, free of charge, when they are done, and send them to you, though you may have to pay for shipping or pick it up yourself. When used for medical science, your body must be embalmed and the formaldehyde adds a lot of weight. Many facilities don’t have the equipment or manpower to lift and shuffle around the bodies. They have to be easy to store and move. Check out the options at Life Legacy or Science Care or Bio Gift.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.