I’ve been thinking quite seriously about what I would like done with my body when I die. I’ve read a lot of books recently about the options, and learning about what to insist on and what to refuse. This information will help me if my husband dies first, so I will be a well-informed consumer.
Most of us don’t think about this at all, and that is the problem. When we refuse to face the reality of our death, we are unable to embrace the beauty of our life.
Perhaps you’ve heard the terms “green burial” or even “conservation burial”? This artwork is about my mediation on that. These burials refer to the body being put into the ground as simply as possible – no embalming, no fancy coffin, no vault.
Many modern cemeteries (often euphemistically termed “memorial gardens” these days) insist on a vault to help with subsidence. All grave sites cave in somewhat, and that makes it more difficult to mow with large equipment. Most cemetery owners don’t want to take the time that is required to maintain graves by back-filling with dirt occasionally or mowing with small lawnmowers.
Also, some consumers are under the impression that the are preserving their loved one’s body for eternity with all they do – embalming, buying a metal sealer coffin, using a cement vault. They are unaware (and often don’t want to be aware) of the reality of death – once a person has died, the body starts to decay. Nothing will prevent that. In fact nothing should prevent that. If we say “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” we should mean that. Our bodies should return to the earth when our souls return to heaven.
If people are concerned about having a pristine corpse for the resurrection of the dead at the second coming of Jesus, then they need to understand that a God who can make people out of dirt can restore us however we are. It isn’t right to try to preserve the body unnaturally. This can become idolatry, where we are more concerned with the outer shell – the body, than the inner essence – the soul.
It is not right for a family to go into debt in a vain effort to preserve their loved one’s body. In general, the funeral industry charges way too much for its services, and they often rely upon the ignorance of the consumer – the grieving family – and their guilt and social pressure to “do the right thing by their loved one” and give them the best (read – most expensive) burial possible.
The “death positive” movement is trying to make informed consumers of the public so that we don’t feel pressured into buying what we don’t need. It also aims to have people understand the very reality of death – that it is unavoidable. Choosing not to make your own funeral arrangements is to leave that inevitable decision to those you love.
Not many generations back people took care of their own dead at home, and some are reclaiming that. A number of federal and state regulations make this difficult if not impossible to do for the average person. I recommend doing research on this before the need arises if this is of interest to you.
Embalming is not required by any federal, state, or local law. Funeral directors will heavily insist upon it however if there is to be a viewing, or if the viewing is to be longer than an hour – or away from the funeral home. The longer the body is at room temperature, the more decay will occur. Most people in our generation have not seen someone look dead. They look like they are peacefully asleep. The funeral industry thinks we need this “memory picture” (their words) to help us accept death. This makes no sense, as the person does not look dead. I believe that they have as an industry lulled us into a delusion.
(Warning – this gets a little hard to read from on out, yet provides important information to consumers.)
Not everything the funeral industry attempts to push on a grieving family is a good idea.
Embalming is an unnecessary and toxic procedure, using chemicals that are known carcinogens. It is far more invasive than most of us realize. It is not just replacing the blood with embalming fluid. That is the first part. The second part involves using a tool called a trocar to puncture the organs in the abdomen, suck out the fluids in the abdominal cavity, and then refill with more embalming fluid. All that is left of the person’s body is a facade. When the second coming occurs, they won’t have a body to resurrect. You’re better off not embalming at all. Also – all the bodily fluids that are sucked out simply go down the drain, untreated, into the municipal sewer system. If prevention of the spread of communicable diseases is the concern, direct cremation is the best way.
Likewise, a sealer coffin is a terrible idea. It is promoted as a way to “keep Mother Nature out” – but by law the funeral home cannot say that it will preserve your loved one’s body. It can’t. With air unable to escape, anaerobic bacteria increase their work and the body decays that much faster.
Vaults or grave liners were originally intended to deter grave robbers. While that is not the concern it was, it has become common as part of burials. They are promoted as a way to protect the body from the elements, but they are not permanent. They often crack, letting in water. The body ends up swimming in liquid – from inside and outside. While there are no laws insisting on vaults or grave liners, most cemeteries will insist on them. This can add several thousand dollars to the cost of the burial.
Meanwhile – you might be thinking cremation is a good idea. The amount of energy required to cremate a body is equivalent to driving 600 miles. The average cremation is anywhere from 1400 to 1800 degrees, and lasts 2 to 3 hours. Afterwards, the body is NOT reduced to ash, as some might think. The bones are placed inside a machine known as a “cremulator” that crushes them into little pieces, much like a blender. All told, cremation is a violent process. Also, the emissions from that are often not cleaned – going straight into the air. Toxic mercury from fillings goes directly into the atmosphere.