Monday, 3 March 2008

Clog Popping

I was talking to my mum last night. She wanted to discuss what would happen should she “pop her clogs” as she put it. She only 71 but as she said, nobody knows when it’s going to happen and these things need to be discussed. She also asked what I wanted to happen should I be the one to go first.

Not a nice subject by any means but it’s better everybody knows what each of us wants so there’s no disputing it when we’re no longer here to have our say.

Personally I want to be buried in a wood, in a cardboard coffin, preferably with a tree planted on top of me, although that isn't always possible. Mum said she’d honour my wishes although she felt the cardboard box bit seemed a bit mean and would have liked a proper gravestone but understood that I don’t have the same views as her. As far as I’m concerned, lavish coffins are a waste of resources and cemeteries are a waste of ground. Cremations may seem like the more environmentally friendly solution in that there’s no wasted space but they cause a lot of air pollution.

When a person is cremated they literally “go up in smoke”, spewing heavy metals, hydrogen chloride, carbon dioxide, furans and dioxins into the air.

Mum wants to be cremated. I explained the eco consequences to her and that there are alternatives to a conventional coffin, which is responsible for the majority of the pollutants, mostly because the linings, handles and nameplate are made of synthetic materials, many of which are plastics. Bamboo and wicker caskets are a good alternative, preferably lined with natural fabric and no foam (do you really need to be comfy when you’re dead?). They should also have removable handles. Mum was happy to go along with that, as long as she wasn’t put in a cardboard box!

Conventional burials also pollute. Regular embalming fluid of the type used by the majority of UK embalmers contains formaldehyde, a substance known to be a carcinogen. This leaks out into the ground and often finds its way into the ground water. It certainly isn’t too good for the health of those using it, either. Fortunately, embalming isn’t a legal requirement so conventional burials can be made greener by arranging a quick funeral where embalming wouldn’t be necessary. It isn’t strictly necessary if the coffin is to remain closed, either.

As well as the pollution issue, there’s the space they take up. An increasing amount of our precious woodlands are being torn down in order to make space for dead bodies and lumps of carved stone. While it’s true that some cemeteries are home to several species of wild animal, many are just bare lawns with row upon row of jagged, marble monuments staring bleakly at a vast nothingness.

When it comes to woodland burials, there are now around 200 hundred sites in the UK, around half of which are run by local authorities. You can often choose whether you’d like to be buried with a tree, meadow flowers or a native shrub as your memorial and, for me, not only does a woodland burial seem like the most eco friendly choice, it also seems like a beautiful way to celebrate a life. Obviously, if you’re planning a double or family grave, a tree planted on the actual grave isn't a viable choice. Some sites allow a flat memorial stone to be laid while others prefer to keep things as natural as possible.

No embalming fluid is used for woodland funerals and coffins must be biodegradable. To make the whole funeral event even more eco friendly, using a horse and cart to transport the coffin can generally be arranged, as can motorbike drawn hearses. I quite like the idea of a horse and cart myself, preferably decorated with wild flowers.

A list of natural burial sites can be found here: The Association of Natural Burial Grounds.

Once I can afford it, I’m buying my plot ready for the off! I'd like a nice one, close to where bluebells grow :-)

Sharon J xx


[UPDATE: Mum called this evening to say she'd changed her mind - she wants to go in the woods, too. In fact, she even wants us to share a grave if that's possible, or at least be buried close together. That's one more convert :) ]

Stumble Upon Toolbar


beanpole said...

So you want to be worm food? It makes me feel ill just thinking about it.

Do the willow ones look as nice as the wooden ones? I havent seen any because my family have always used posh ones because they say its a respect thing.

Sharon J said...

Well I guess the worms will turn me into compost that'll help fertilise the forest so I don't mind :)

The willow caskets aren't the same as the fancy wooden ones but I think they're lovely. I suppose that depends on your taste, though. You can see some examples here.

Summer by the sea said...

ten years ago, my ex husbands uncle had a woodland burial and it was the first time I had heard of such a thing, its good to have other options and I doubt many people know that there are alternatives to the traditional methods of disposing of a body! - On the subject of reusable bags, I bought a couple of string bags about ten years ago, but can count on one hand the number of times I have remembered to take them with me to the shops! - I shall hang them near the front door - that might work - Anyway thanks for popping by my blog - nice to hear from you - Natalie x

Sharon J said...

You're right, most people aren't aware of the alternative so automatically choose one of the more conventional forms of 'disposal'. My mum had certainly never heard of it and a guy I spoke to earlier today thought you had to dig through the roots of an existing tree in order to have a woodland burial - he didn't realise that it was about creating new woodland instead of traditional cemeteries.

Re the bags. How about folding one up and keeping it in your handbag or pocket? I'm pretty hopeless - even things by the front door get forgotten in my rush to get out.

Carol said...

I did read once that Crewe were thinking of trialing eco cremation, where you are not burnt at all but freeze dried and shook into little pieces

Anonymous said...

I've been a long time subscriber to a magazine called Mother Earth News, and the very first issue I ever bought was about home burials. They discussed the possibility of being buried on your own land and showed beautiful handmade coffins (I think there was even a send-away for plans) that were hand painted by loved ones. It was the most beautiful funeral I'd ever seen, and I decided then and there that's the way I wanted to be buried. Before that time I had thought cremation was the only alternative to a traditional burial, and I agree that most people are unaware of the options they have. It is a bit morbid to think about, but it's something we all need to consider, regardless of what age we are. Thanks for bringing up such a not-often-talked-about topic!


Sharon J said...

That's right, Carol. It's called 'promession' and apparently the plan is that traditional burials and cremations will eventually be replaced by this and woodland burials over the entire country as both are far more eco friendly. I did mention it to my mum but you know how some of the older generation can be, she just couldn't get her head around the idea of being frozen and then literally disappearing.

Krystal. I believe home burials can be arranged here (Princess Diana had one, after all) but there's a lot of paperwork involved and the water table level has to be checked so it isn't really a feasible alternative for most. That's apart from the fact that the majority of us just don't have enough land to even consider it. It would be nice if I lived in the countryside with lots of land, though :)