Most of us find it somewhat difficult, maybe even distressing to talk about death. However, talking about options and the impact of those decisions is vital and empowering to living a meaningful life. There are more than 120 decisions and pieces of information that need to be provided at the time of a death.
Colorado recently added a new choice of disposition, human composting, which is legal only in a few other states. As the director of preplanning at Feldman Mortuary, I am grateful that this option is available and have heard from many people who are interested.
Natural organic reduction is similar to green burial in that the body is not treated with any chemicals. In green burial, the unembalmed body is buried in a biodegradable casket or just a shroud; the composting happens over years in a cemetery plot.
For natural organic reduction, the composting happens above ground. The body is placed in vessel along with organic material like alfalfa and straw. Oxygen flows through to stimulate the body’s own microbes to quickly transform the body into soil. The temperature in the vessel naturally rises, sterilizing the contents as the composting occurs.
The soil is ideal for gardens and landscapes; it is fertile and teeming with nutrients. Families can create a memorial flower bed or plant a tree. They can scatter the soil in a sacred place. Quite a lot of soil is produced, about a truck-bed-full. Families can take as much as they’d like and the rest can be donated to land in need to revitalization. Colorado law forbids the sale of the soil and use of it to grow food.
For the 12 years I’ve been in this role, I have met so many people who are considering fire cremation. When I ask why, they say, “I don’t want to use up space.” They believe that by not having a cemetery plot, they are making the best option for the planet. However, fire cremation is NOT good for the earth. Cremation uses fossil fuels to burn the body and emits toxins into the atmosphere. The cremated remains (ground bone that is often called ash) absorbs the fuel used in burning and is devoid of nutrients, making it detrimental to plants.
Body composting, like green burial, gives people the ability to care for themselves or a loved one in a much more environmentally sustainable way.
We live in a society that says, “don’t talk about death, don’t think about death.” However, unless plans are made long in advance, survivors almost certainly will end up with fire cremation because it’s least expensive and well known.
If you want to care for yourself in an environmentally sustainable way, find a funeral home that offers green options. Read reviews and talk to friends to make sure you’ve found a trustworthy provider. Put plans into place now, hopefully, long before they are needed. Be sure to provide some sort of ritual to support your loved one in their grief. The funds for the services are typically held by a third party, often an insurance company.
Many of us value being in control of ourselves and making things easier on our loved ones. Planning long in advance allows you choose the disposition and pay for it in a way that is best for you. It alleviates the financial and emotional burden on the people who love you. By planning now, you will give loved ones a path to walk on when then need it most. And you can be sure that you are meeting your values in death, as you meet them in life.
Jamie Sarche is a consultant, speaker and activist. Her mission is to help people be less afraid of death.