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Friday, February 26, 2010

Green Burials and Home Funerals


One of the more interesting classes I took over my trip was on the concept of Green Burial. I did not attend the class on Home Funerals, but after Barb informed me that the class changed her life and shared her notes with me, and pretty much lacking anything else interesting at the time, I went to the follow up course on Green Burial. I am very glad that I did as it was very thought provoking at the least.


At the beginning of the course, we were shown two videos on the concept of Green Burials and then Nora, the presenter went over some of the highlights from the previous class. Did you know that every year in the US, we bury 827,060 GALLONS of embalming fluid? 104,272 tons of steel for caskets and vaults? Enough to build the Golden Gate Bridge over every year! What about 1,636,000 tons of concrete for grave liners? All of these facts, and more can be found on Nora’s Website. They are kind of shocking when you look at them that way. Did you know that Embalming is not legally mandatory in most cases after death? Did you know that most funeral companies and homes will lead you to believe that it is legally mandatory? You can find links on Nora’s websites to a book that reprints every few years with the updated laws for each of the 50 states revolving around funerals and embalming. Some states have caveats that state that if a body is not buried within a specific time frame that it must be embalmed, but in most cases, the caveat gives one enough time to bury the body without the necessity of embalming.


The way in which we deal with our dead, our loved ones, has changed drastically over the years. Home funerals ARE traditional funerals. It used to be that when a loved one passed on, the family cared for them and for their body until it was time to lay them to rest, and our ancestors didn’t use embalming fluids, harsh chemical baths, and steel and exotic hardwoods. They cared for their loved ones themselves, bathing their bodies with the same soap they used every day in the shower, they dressed them in their own clothes, and they buried them in the earth in simple boxes and shrouds. In the class Nora spoke about how in times before the Civil War it was normal for families to care for their own dead. The bodies would be laid out in the parlor and the family would spend time in remembrance of their loved ones. During the Civil War, we began to hand over the care of our dead to “professionals,” which is where the first Funeral Parlors were born. Later on, advertisements in Ladies Home Journal were published stating that “No longer would any Lady have death in her home and that from here on out the Parlour would be termed the Living room.”


These days, it’s all about the bottom dollar, and while there may be some sympathetic funeral directors out there, most of them are all about the bottom dollar, preying on the grieving in their most vulnerable state with statements such as, “Shouldn’t you do the best you possibly can for your mother?” The bodies are whisked away from their families by strangers almost immediately after the death and brought to funeral homes and laid out on a cold steel slab. The body is then hosed down with disinfectant, soaped with a chemical soap, and then hosed down again. In the embalming process, all of their organs are ruptured and the bodies are then massaged to release all of the bodily fluids which are then replaced with embalming fluids including ethanol, methanol, and formaldehyde. One of the ladies in the class expressed that, being a larger woman, her greatest fear is that they would simply flop her body around and possibly even drop her after death. I’m sure it’s happened more than once. (A point was also brought up in the class by a funeral director who attended stating that the use of such harsh chemicals is to insure that the embalmer does not catch any diseases from the bodies. Nora stated that in all of the bodies she has helped wash and bury, even in the cases of some who had full blown AIDS, NO ONE has ever caught a disease).


These days there is a new movement stirring to return to Home Funerals, and Green Burials. In these cases, a home funeral guide, sometimes referred to as a Death Midwife, guides the family in taking care of the body. They body is preserved naturally with dry ice, and the family bathes and dresses the body, and employing the use of items such as coins and a scarf, they arrange the body for viewing. Nora, who calls herself a Death Midwife states that this kind of care is far from creepy and that in nearly all cases helps to facilitate the grieving process among family members.


After a home remembrance service or memorial, the families can then either seek out a funeral home that will allow un-embalmed bodies to be buried on their premises, cremate the body or bury it themselves in a green burial site. In green burial, the bodies are placed in simple boxes and there are a large variety of options including mediums such as papermache’, woven bamboo or willow, or simple woods like pine. Family members have the option of decorating the shroud in the form of art therapy, utilizing images that were favorites of the deceased, or that remind them of their loved one.


For a long time I have known that I didn’t want to be embalmed and buried in an elaborate box. When my grandmother passed a few years ago, I remember being disappointed at her viewing. She didn’t look anything like I remembered her, like she had looked in life. I felt the way they made her up with makeup was cheap and unnatural, and I found no solace or comfort in viewing her body. A few years after she passed, I began working at a Nursing Home and one of our jobs as CNA’s was to bathe and dress the residents after they had passed. Having done that on quite a few occasions, I can say that I never found it creepy or gross or any such thing. Perhaps that is just me, but *shrugs.* I found it was almost comforting in a way as it gave me the opportunity to do one more caring thing for those residents, especially the ones I was close to, and their families.


Up until this seminar, I had thought my only other option would be to be cremated, which I was fine with. However, after learning of other options, I have a lot to think about. This is something that I would prefer to do for my own loved ones, and an option I would like to explore for myself. I would much rather be laid to rest by my family and my loved ones than handled by strangers. I would much rather be lovingly and gently bathed than hosed down and disinfected. Again, maybe this is just me, but I thought I would share my experience anyway. There is so much more information on Nora’s website that is worth looking into, including what 6 forms you would need in order to insure that your wishes for green burial are carried out after your death, more facts and examples of home funerals and green burials. If you are at all interested in this option either for yourself or for loved ones, I strongly urge you to visit her website. I will say that her web page and practices could be termed as very “New-Agey” which could put some people off, but after speaking with her after the class, Nora informed me that the majority of her clients are not necessarily New Age religious people, and she has helped with several Christian faith based funerals as well, so always remember that that is an option as well. Remember, this used to be the norm for all faith bases!

10 comments:

Karen said...

I heard a story about this on NPR and I'm sort of into it. I've always said I'd rather have my body thrown into the woods or off a boat than be embalmed and buried. I love the analogy with birth & midwives.

It's Me, Theresa said...

I like it too. I feel it's very appropriate as a midwife helps to prepare mothers and their families for a new life, why not have one to prepare us and guide us through the death of a loved one?

Daphne said...

Thanks for posting this; completely fascinating. I'm all for it.

Aleta said...

OMG. I have NEVER NEVER heard of this before! It's fascinating!!! I'm going to have to research into this. If I do a blog post, do you mind if I provide a link back to your blog post??

It's Me, Theresa said...

It is very interesting, and no i don't mind if you link back to me here, but you should also link Nora's site because all of my info I got from her classes and website.

Aleta said...

Will do... I wanted to send you an email, but I didn't see where you had one available. Would you be interested in answering a few questions?

It's Me, Theresa said...

you can email me at green_woman21@yahoo.com, and I'll try my best to answer them

The Green Reaper said...

So glad to see a great article on this- we started a business catering to the new movement by using cool idea and art -check us out -
ncnaturalburial.com

It's Me, Theresa said...

I will SOOO check it out! And I love your user name! Thanks for visiting

Linds said...

I've heard of that, but didn't know if it were actually legal to do so. It sounds like such a better option than having some unknown person do things. Thanks for sharing this :)