Funerals, even cremations, are expensive. As reported at al.com, according to the National Funeral Director Association's (NFDA) 2012 Member Compensation Survey,
”The average national cost of a funeral with a vault (not including cemetery, monument or marker costs) is $8,343, while direct cremation is $2,245...”
Being a (mostly) responsible sort of person, I don't want to stick my loved ones with such an are-you-kidding-me bill when I die. Like many elders, I have been intent on prepaying my cremation and I recently looked into getting that done. Prices closely match what is quoted above.
But I have also discovered how much more (and more important stuff) there is to consider than cost in choosing burial arrangements and cremation isn't as environmentally friendly as we might have imagined.
RawStory recently reported,
”[Overall in the U.S., cremation] emits some 600 million pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. 'That’s the equivalent of more than 70,000 cars driving the road for a year,' according to UDP (Urban Death Project). 'In other words, the very last thing that most of us will do on this Earth is poison it.'”
And that's nothing compared to the biohazard that is conventional burial in a coffin in a hole in the ground. Most often, the blood of people buried in this traditional way is replaced with embalming fluid:
”...this fluid is a mixture typically consisting of formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and methanol, which is neurotoxic to animals,” reports Raw Story. “These and other chemicals in embalming fluid are creating toxic environments around cemeteries.”
Raw Story also quotes Mark Harris from his 2008 book, Grave Matters about the matter:
”The typical 10-acre swath of cemetery ground, for example, contains enough coffin wood to construct more than 40 homes, nine hundred-plus tons of casket steel, and another twenty thousand tons of vault concrete.
“To that add a volume of embalming fluid sufficient to fill a small backyard swimming pool and untold gallons of pesticide and weed killer to keep the graveyard preternaturally green.
“Like the contents of any landfill, the embalmed body’s toxic cache escapes its host and eventually leaches into the environment, tainting surrounding soil and groundwaters.”
That doesn't sound good. Whatever happened to “ashes to ashes?”
As it turns out, there is a better way: what is being called these days green burial. It is environmentally friendly, less expensive than most other kinds of burial and it is a choice that increasing numbers of people are making.
”According to Shari Wolf, founder of Natural Grace Funerals in Los Angeles, there’s one major thing that sets green funerals apart. 'The biggest difference..'is that we do not embalm the bodies,” she said.
“Instead, she and her team slow decomposition through refrigeration, then wrap the deceased in a shroud (or another simple, biodegradable container of the family’s choosing) before laying them to rest directly in the earth.”
Here is Shari Wolf further explaining further:
Since 2005, Green Burial Council has been setting standards for green burials and certifying funeral homes. You can find out more at their website where you can also search for green burial providers in your area of the U.S. and Canada.
The lawyers.com website tells us that green burials are legal in all 50 states but,
”...rules and regulations for dealing with human remains must be followed. Most state laws do not require embalming, although Alabama, Alaska and New Jersey require embalming a body that will be transported across state lines.”
They also caution readers to make arrangements for a green burial long before it is needed:
”If you want a green burial, be sure to say so in your power of attorney for healthcare. It is not enough to simply put this in your will or trust documents, since these may not be seen until days after death and burial.
“Make sure that your next of kin and your designated agent know of your wishes.
“Making thorough preparations ahead of time is important. An un-embalmed body can been cooled with gel packs or dry ice, but does not 'keep' long enough for detailed preparations to be made and carried out after a person’s death.”
As succinct as the lawyers.com webpage is, it is packed with good, clear information.
This isn't the only kind of green burial you can choose. The Urban Death Project has has made composting a new option for “safely and gently turn our deceased into soil-building material, creating a meaningful, equitable, and ecological urban alternative to existing options for the disposal of the dead.”
”Because death is momentous, miraculous, and mysterious
Because the cycles of nature help us grieve and heal
Because our bodies are full of life-giving potential”
There is much more information at the Urban Death Project website.
Many years ago, I decided on cremation. When I was forced to leave New York City nine years ago, I made it clear to those who would care when I die, that when I die my ashes should be quietly scattered at certain places in Manhattan. (Yes, yes, I know it's illegal. Too bad, and they agreed to do it.)
Now, however, as much I still like the idea of becoming a permanent part of the place on Earth I love more than any other, I have changed my mind. After doing all this research, I want my body to be returned to the Earth from whence it originally came – dust to dust – where it will help create new life.
Except, in terms of origin, Earth isn't quite it and there is another choice, athough it does involve cremation first. After that, Celestis, for a price, will
”...launch a symbolic portion of cremated remains into Earth orbit, onto the lunar surface or into deep space. Missions into space that return the cremated remains to Earth are also available.”
That deep space option is the ultimate return to home. Recall what astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson tells us – that we are all, literally, stardust: