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Our final steps on the planet can be light ones

A topic hard for most people to discuss, especially with loved ones, is our plans for our bodies after we have died. My husband and I are thinking about this mainly because we don’t want to burden our only child with making this decision for us.
 
When my father passed away from cancer in 1998, my mother was going through chemotherapy for her own cancer. It was almost unbearable to watch her trying to pick out a coffin and find a plot while being hooked up to an IV.
 
She went ahead and made all the decisions for her funeral at the same time. She said, “Who knows how long I have, might as well do it now.”
 
My mom and dad are buried high above the city where they spent most of their adult lives: Toronto, Ohio. Their grave plots overlook the Ohio River. I’d like to think Dad would have approved of the setting. Because he had the final say in most things when they were both alive, it only seemed appropriate that Mom made this decision for him.
 
Since I was a kid, I always took issue with many of the rituals and practices of funerals in modern society. This may in part be due to the fact that I had to deal with death at an early age. I lost two classmates, both to cancer.
 
One of my friends was only 10 and died of stomach cancer. The other friend was our next-door neighbor and died in eighth grade from leukemia. I can still recall their funerals and thinking that neither of the bodies resembled the beautiful children I had played with and loved.
 
When questioned about what happened and why, my mom just said, “That’s the way they do it.” To this day I’ll never understand why we spend thousands of dollars on a coffin and more money on a concrete vault that will be buried in the ground.
 
As I have said before, I majored in chemistry because I am very cautious of chemicals. I wanted to know what I was being exposed to. In light of that fact, being embalmed was something I knew was not for me. There are other options, and quite frankly most are cheaper and better choices environmentally.
 
The traditional format to bury a loved one requires quite of lot of high-energy materials that will never biodegrade. There is the plastic and satin lining of the coffin, the wooden and steel structure, the concrete vault, and of course the toxic embalming chemicals.
 
In 2003 two Italian designers came up with the idea of a burial pod. Capsula Mundi, as it is officially known, means world’s capsule. The designers became aware of the environmentally unfriendly disposal problems associated with human remains while designing furniture that ended up in landfills.
 
Their original pods were made of biodegradable plastic that would hold the ashes of a loved one. A small tree is placed on top and will use the nutrients from the body to grow. This means that future cemeteries might be forests rather than rows of gravestones. Plans are being made to use corpses rather than ashes because of the environmental impact of cremation.
 
While cremation does seem a better choice than traditional coffins and vaults, some major issues surround this process. One is the intense energy required. The other issue is that in the process of volatilizing most of a human body, other foreign material also is vaporized such as mercury fillings and metals used in joint replacements.
 
Some people have had their ashes from cremation turned into a memorial diamond in a laboratory. Although this process does not require a plot, headstone, casket or embalming, the pressure and temperature needed to mimic what Mother Nature does in creating a diamond is extremely energy intensive.
 
Pressures of up to 860,000 pounds per square inch and temperatures of 2,100-2,600 F are needed to start the “seed” diamond.
 
In some cases, where a person has a strong connection to the sea (such as someone who served in the Navy), a burial at sea can be conducted. The body cannot be embalmed and must be placed in water deeper than 2,000 meters. A permit or license must be obtained as well.
 
Another option to consider is basically what our ancestors did to dispose of their dead centuries ago. They simply buried them in the ground. This is what is referred to today as a green burial.
 
A green burial requires the use of biodegradable cardboard material for the coffin. No varnish or shellacs or other chemical preservatives are allowed. In some cases the coffin can be dispensed of, and a cloth shroud can be used to wrap the body. This also must be made of natural fibers that will break down.
 
Unlike traditional funerals, no toxic embalming fluid is used. In some cases essential oils might be used but nothing with carcinogenic formaldehyde. The body is then placed in an area that is approved for green burials. In most cases small discrete markers are used but no obtuse granite headstones are permitted.
 
Green burials are becoming popular and are legal in the United States. Several facilities in Ohio have initiated green burials including the Wilderness Center in Wilmot. I find it more comforting to know that when my time comes, my last steps on the planet will be light ones.
 

Published: January 12, 2018
New Article ID: 2018180109954