Are you curious about "natural and/or green burial"? What do those terms even mean?
On this episode of Voices of the Earth—A Faith in Place Podcast, your hosts Katie Maxwell and Lauren Paris discuss natural burial from a US perspective. We describe the basics of green burial and suggest many experts and their resources for learning about the topic further. We had so many links we wanted to share and not enough room to share them in the podcast's caption that we decided to make this blog post where you can find all of them.
Click here to jump to those resources below.
This week’s episode was produced by Brógan Malloy via Fiverr.
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A few important disclaimers:
Please note that the discussion does generally cover what happens to a body when someone dies. We also intentionally created this space to be one that is affirming of any choice that you or a loved one has made about burial. We are not here to pass judgment, but rather to provide an informational resource so that you the listener can make the most informed decision about what you want to have happen to your body when you die.
Okay, now here's what you have all been waiting for, the resources we mentioned in this episode!
We cannot understate our gratitude for the scholarship of the writers who have contributed their thought leadership to this topic. Of particular note is Mallory McDuff whose book,
Our Last Best Act: Planning for the End of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love, laid the groundwork for much of our podcast episode. We highly recommend you check it out.
We also wanted to make a small correction about a stat Katie misquoted slightly. She said most people earn less than 50k per year. The proportion of households below that threshold is actually 40%. McDuff writes on page 13, "Forty percent of households in the United States earn less than $50,000 a year, yet the average cost of a conventional funeral in this country is $10,000. As a single parent and a teacher, I saw the price tag of my disposition, or what happens to my body after death, as an economic justice issue as well."
For further detail on how our modern relationship with cemeteries has changed, check out this podcast episode from WBEZ Chicago’s Curious City titled, “Cycling In Cemeteries? Why Some Chicago Graveyards Are Changing Their Rules About Bicycles”.
You can learn more about the history of embalming in this Smithsonian Magazine article: “When You Die, You’ll Probably Be Embalmed. Thank Abraham Lincoln For That.” It should be noted, too, that embalming is an ancient practice that was modernized and popularized during the American Civil War.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Dr. Atul Gawande is an excellent book reflecting on the question, How do we minimize suffering at the end of our lives and when does modern medicine cause more harm than healing? If you or a loved one is facing a terminal illness, this compassionate book may provide comfort and support acceptance.
We also talked a lot during the episode about creating a death plan and why spending the time creating one is important. McDuff models this beautifully throughout her book. Another valuable resource is FiveWishes.org which sells guides that can help individuals create living wills and advanced directives about their end-of-life choices. Organizations, including Houses of Worship, can also purchase this guide on behalf of their employees and members.
Caitlin Doughty—author and host of the Ask a Mortician YouTube Channel includes a video called—Let’s Visit the Human Composting Facility!—that we talk about in this episode. Several of her titles are: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory and Will my Cat Eat my Eyeballs? Both Doughty's YouTube Channel and her books offer excellent introductions to the questions many of us have about death that we may be too afraid to voice out loud.
Doughty also coined the term “Death Positive Movement,” which you can learn about in more detail via The Sunday Read: 'The Movement to Bring Death Closer' podcast by The Daily; article version here.
Leaders of the death-positive movement are the Deathwives. Founded in 2019 by a green funeral director and a death doula, the Deathwives self-describe themselves as "a female-founded collective working to widen the narrative around death and dying. We teach others about the history and practices of deathwork and seek to honor sacred traditions, remove stigmas around death, empower collective grieving, and create a safe space for community, connection, and support." Learn more about the Deathwives on their website here and be sure to follow them on Instagram.
The Green Burial Council has many resources including maps you can use to find certified funeral providers and certified cemeteries near you.
Watch A Will for the Woods—an award-winning documentary about Clark Wang’s end-of-life wishes for a natural burial.
After recording the episode, we learned that Professor Benjamin Stewart has recently left his position at the Lutheran School of Theology. You can follow Dr. Stewart on Twitter here.
From Tricycle: The Buddhist Review comes, “Creating the New American Buddhist Funeral: How the at-home death movement can provide a dignified, personal, and meaningful send-off (whether we’re Buddhists or not).” This piece investigates the resurgence of home funerals and how Buddhists find this movement meaningful.
Finally, read the Illinois Environmental Council’s blog, "Leaving a Sustainable Legacy for Generations to Come When We Die" to learn about their visit to Illinois’ only alkaline hydrolysis facility.
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