Myths and Misunderstandings

Myths and Misconceptions about Green Burial

1. Green burial will contaminate groundwater. Not true. Local authorities regulate how far any burial must be from wetlands, the water table, and underlying bedrock. In that earth is an excellent water filter, organic materials do not go far. The few cases of contamination from cemeteries have been from materials buried with the body, such as embalming fluids. It is much more likely that groundwater will be contaminated by lawn fertilizers and pesticides, which green burial grounds do not use. 

To put this into perspective, a decomposing body releases about 12 gallons of liquid. But the average household releases a good 250 gallons of water, much of it containing infectious materials, every day. In rural areas, this infected water goes to a septic tank just 10 or 20 feet from the house. 

 

2. Animals will dig up the body. Not true. There are no recorded cases of an animal digging into a grave. Animals can’t smell the body because it’s under at least two feet of soil. Also, not many animals are even capable of digging a hole more than two feet deep. 

 

3. Bodies must be embalmed and in a casket before they are buried. Not true. No state requires embalming. However, many cemeteries do require it, along with casket and vault. Also, in a few, very rare cases of certain infectious diseases, or if an unrefrigerated body is not to be buried soon after death, embalming may be required. 

 

4. Green burials are cheaper than other burials. Possibly true. Most of the costs of a conventional burial are related to the price of the plot, embalming, the casket, transportation, and any services provided by a funeral home. A green burial plot may be more expensive because the cemetery is probably on land recently purchased at modern prices. Plot prices will reflect the cost of the land. The green casket is probably less expensive than a fancy, finished, hardwood casket. Obviously embalming is a cost not incurred in a green burial. Transportation is an unavoidable cost. 

 

5. Green burial is less expensive than cremation. Probably not true. This will depend on the current cost of fuel, whether a casket is also cremated, transportation to a crematorium, and the cost of a green burial plot. 

 

6. I can have a green burial on my own land. Mostly not true. Getting a burial site approved will involve a lot of legal fees, local permits, and approval by a funeral director. While in some cases legally possible, it is not something to attempt on short notice. 

 

7. A casket or coffin is required for all burials. Not true. Yes, most cemeteries require a coffin or casket, green burials allow a shroud of natural material. 

 

8. Caskets have to be airtight and watertight. Not true. Caskets and shrouds for green burials are not air- or watertight. They are designed to facilitate decomposition. 

 

9. Concrete or steel vaults are required for all burials. Not true. Cemeteries usually require a vault so that the earth does not settle and leave a depression in the land. This is only for purposes of aesthetics and lawn-mowing. Green burials replace all displaced earth, leaving a mound that gradually settles. 

 

10. Funeral homes cannot arrange a green burial. Not true. A funeral home can arrange green burials if it wants to. While a green burial may not generate the revenues of a embalming and burial in an expensive casket, green burial can be more profitable than cremation. 

 

11. Any cemetery will accept a green burial. Sometimes true. A few modern cemeteries, known as “hybrid cemeteries,” accept green burials, sometimes in a separate section, sometimes right in line with other graves. Some accept the green burial coffin or shroud but require a vault. Finding such a cemetery may take some time. 

 

12. Green burial is too new to be trusted. Not true. People used green burial for tens of thousands of years before embalming became commonplace during the U.S. Civil War. Thousands of green burial grounds—that is, pre-1860 cemeteries—are located in downtown areas or beside churches. 

 

CGBG Seeks Land

Connecticut Green Burial Grounds is looking for land——a place of serenity and just the right geological and topographical characteristics. Thanks to the glaciers of yore, Connecticut has a wide variety of land. CGBG will find a place. The only problem is that it has to be in Connecticut.

Why is that a problem? Because land in Connecticut is expensive. CGBG needs to add at least $50,000 to its current funds. Raising so much money will be difficult but by no means impossible.  Thousands of people believe in green burial, that it's the right thing to do—for families, for the deceased, for nature, for Connecticut, for future generations, and for the Earth. 

You can make a difference here. In fact, you have to make a difference.  Green burial isn't going to happen in Connecticut without your help. Your donation will make a difference. It's more than funds for a good cause. It's a vote for a good cause, It's a clear voice speaking up for what is right, for what must be done. 

Please, go to our donation page and contribute what you can. For a better world with a better future. 

Heuristic Quiz on Your Afterlife

 

Heuristic Quiz on Your Afterlife

Which ice cream best represents death?

    a.    plain vanilla

    b.    rocky road

    c.    melted

    d.    double pickle

    e.    java mint chip cookie dough with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, crushed nuts, and a cherry on top

    f.    dirt (-flavored)

Which of these reincarnated entities would you prefer to become?

    a.    a puppy

    b.    a kitten

    c.    a redwood tree

    d.    a sperm whale

    e.    a presidential tapeworm

    f.    a babe in the Black Hole of Calcutta

Which kind of person is most likely to be reincarnated as a gypsy moth? 

    a.    slimeball toadies

    b.    yellow-bellied backstabbers

    c.    slicked-back evangelicals

    d.    pot-bellied congressional sellouts 

    f.    timber rustlers and their ilk

    e.    stinkers of ill repute

What do you figure’s at the end of the Great White Tunnel? 

    a.    72 virgins 

    b.     your mother

    c.    St. Peter

    d.    The Prince of Darkness in a bridal gown

    e.    an immigration official

    f.    a gleaming, dazzling, whistling sphincter

Which makes most sense about the reincarnation deal?

    a.    You get what you deserve but never know why.

    b.    You are assigned a random life form somewhere between amoeba and zebra.

    c.    You become the tree that taps into your posthumous nutrients.

    d.    You end up back where you were before you were born—Nowheresville. 

    e.    Next time you will read the instructions.

    f.    Your life will be the opposite of what it is this time around.

Where can you find answers about the afterlife?

    a.     The Bible

    b.     The Talmud

    c.    The Oracle at Delphi

    d.     The Merry Burial blog

    e.    Written on the subway walls

    f.    The twilight tootle of a wood thrush

Which would be your preferred afterlife?

    a.     Eternity in a paradise of unrelenting bliss.

    b.    Haunt the earth, able to see but not touch.

    c.    Take your chances at a random human rebirth.

    d.    The oblivion of nonexistence.

    e.    Become a leprechaun with the power to influence lives.

    f.    Take all your possessions to an ethereal gated community of the rich and famous.

Would you rather return as…

    a.     a man or a woman?

    b.    a Mexican or a Palestinian?

    c.    a swamp oak or a coconut palm?

    d.    a police dog or a widow’s cat?

    e.    the child of a Democrat or a Republican?

    f.    Charlemagne, Jesus, Hefner, Trump, or Liberace?

Which are advantages of green burial?

    a.    You return to nature what nature is due. 

    b.    Your survivors will have a shady spot to remember you in. 

    c.    It beats burning 28 gallons of fossil fuel and contributing to the misery of upcoming generations.

    d.    You will be remembered for your wisdom, not your greed. 

    e.    You will at last have done something right. 

    f.    Your death will exemplify your life. 

Which will have the biggest impact on your afterlife destiny?

    a.     your virtues

    b.    your sins

    c.    your suffering

    d.    dumb luck

    e.    the way you were buried

    f.    your deathbed confessions

Speaking of deathbed confessions, you’d best list a few before it’s too late. 

    a.

    b.

    c.

    d.

    e.

    f.    Other

The Sad, Green Burial of Pilgrims in 1620.

The Pilgrims of Plymouth had to resort to a particularly sad burial practice during their first winter in the New World. Due to complications getting underway back in England, they didn’t arrive at Plymouth until the middle of November, 1620. It was too late to find a place to live and build houses to get them through the winter. A hundred and two passengers had to spend the next several months in their tight, cold, damp quarters on the gun deck of the Mayflower. Sharing the space with a small sail boat, a few cannons, some farm animals, and bundles of carry-on luggage, they barely had enough room to all lie down at the same time. 

In December they started to take sick. They thought it was scurvy, but it was more likely influenza or pneumonia. It afflicted everyone. They were so weak they could hardly get up. When individuals died, they spent days right where they were, right next to people suffering the same symptoms the newly deceased had suffered. William Bradford and Myles Standish were among the few who were able to do anything about the dead. 

Removing the corpses was a challenge. They had to be hauled up onto the main deck, then lowered into a boat that could be rowed to shore. It’s also possible the bodies were passed out through small portholes on the gun deck that would have been used for cannon fire in the event of attack. 

The landing craft was too big to actually to reach the sandy shore. Those assigned burial duty had to wade the last few yards through the frigid winter water of Cape Cod Bay, dragging the bodies after them. 

Since it was winter, the ground beyond the beach was frozen solid. The only alternative was a sandy hill just above the beach, where the sand could be easily dug. So there they opened the graves, and not very deep. “Six feet under” wasn’t a requirement then any more than it is today. And of course it would have been impossible to build coffins. impossible. It’s unlikely the bodies were even wrapped in a shroud. 

There were Indians in the area, and in one skirmish shortly after the Mayflower arrived, the Americans and immigrants exchanged gunfire and a barrage of arrows. The Pilgrims had reason to worry, and by January they had reason to hide the fact that they were dying off at a rapid rate. So once a dearly departed had been laid to rest, the burial crew smoothed off the sand to make it look like plain, unconsecrated beach. Nothing marked the spot, not even a cross. By spring, nobody knew exactly who was where. Not that it mattered. Their bodies were to be at one with nature, their souls departed to wherever it was that Pilgrim souls went.

Stuff to Know about Cremation

Stuff to Know about Cremation

First of all, it isn’t spelled creamation any more than the process takes place at a creamery. It takes place in a cremator, which is an industrial furnace at a crematory, which is the operational center of a crematorium. But it’s where you end up if you get creamed by a car, asteroid, or ice cream truck, so the confusion is understandable. 

Creamers are fake cream. A cremulator is a machine that pulverizes incinerated remains. Some cremulators are like blenders, others like grinders. Either way, it takes a good twenty minutes, and the results are the same: four to six pounds of remains, perhaps a little more for individuals who spent too much time chowing down at a creamery. These scant pounds represent just 3.5 percent of the human body. The other 96.5 percent is blowing in the wind. 

It’s considered politically incorrect to call the remains “cremains,” which is seen as slangily disrespectful of the person they used to be. “The cremated remains of the late So-and-So” is preferred. “Ashes” in the same phrase would be also acceptable even if technically inappropriate. Anything resembling ash has been incinerated into smoke. What remains has the color and consistency of sand from a beach where nobody wants to go. 

A word of caution: certain implants must be removed prior to cremation. It is the funeral director’s job to see that this happens. A pacemaker can explode so powerfully that it could damage the cremator, even injure people standing nearby. Other little bombs in the body include spinal cord stimulators, bone nails, and implanted drug reservoirs. Breast implants are not a problem. Titanium hips, tooth fillings, and other metals must be separated after cremation lest they damage the cremulator. 

Cremation offers a few advantages over burial. It’s less expensive than embalming, vaults, caskets, a burial plot, and the interment process. Cremated remains are a lot easier to transport than whole bodies. And generally speaking, survivors can cast the ashes close to home or in an appropriate place. 

Cremation is not as environmentally benign as some believe.  Bodies are cremated individually, each requiring the burning of some 28 gallons of fuels during the 90- to 120-minute process. The combustion releases some 540 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere of an overheating planet. Embalmed bodies release chemical residues, and even the unembalmed release whatever toxins, such as heavy metals, the body accumulated during a lifetime in a polluted environment. Some but not all of these toxins are captured by abatement equipment. If a casket is incinerated along with the body, it, too, may release vaporized chemicals. The trees that died for the casket’s wood will not be generating oxygen, and their combusted carbon contributes to global warming. In the case of mahogany and certain other fine woods, the trees may have been taken from a rainforest and shipped thousands of miles. 

Natural burial is the most benign means of posthumous disposal. No fossil fuels are burned except in transporting the body to the grave site. (Some cemeteries offer a horse-drawn carriage for this trip.) The body is hastened into the ecosystem. Heavy metals and other corporeal contaminants remain in the ground, in many cases rendered harmless by decomposition and plant uptake. The body, its clothes, and the casket or shroud, all of biodegradable material, soon become a plant or animal. Who knows, maybe they will become grass, and then a cow might eat it and turn it into cream. And there you go: creamation. Maybe it should be a word after all. 

 

Posthumous Preferences

Close your eyes. Imagine you’re dead. You’ve been privileged to receive a green burial. A tree has been planted above you, and it’s already taken you up and grown large enough to be of interest to squirrel, birds, and people in need of shade. Your spirit hovers nearby, waiting to see your family and friends come around to visit, remember, and celebrate. 

But you know how some of your friends are. And some of your extended family, too. They’re all visiting with the best of intentions and the fondest of memories, but some of them could probably use a list of rules—the dos and don’ts of graveside behavior.

So which of these (subject to sexton approval) would go on the Please Do side of your list, which on the Please Don’t

• Carve your name in my bark.

• Scatter native wildflower seeds all around me. 

• Pick one wildflower and take it home. 

• Yank up any bittersweet, loosestrife or poison ivy that arises. 

• Burn a tire right here over my dead body. 

• Pour a libation of decent wine into the ground. 

• Leave a tidy pile of litter for somebody else to pick up. 

• Take home a nut, fruit, or leaf that fell from me. 

• Make love, right here. 

• Leave a pile of peanuts for the squirrels. 

• Lean against me and take a selfie. 

• Take a group picture with everybody in it. 

• Spend the night. 

• Remain totally sober. 

• Talk to me. 

• Climb me. 

• Eat my toadstools.

• Ask the sexton if you can hang a bird house on me. 

• Detonate thunderous fireworks. 

• Take pictures of me in summer, fall, winter, spring. 

• Slow-dance on my grave. 

• Bury something small, biodegradable and symbolic under an inch of soil. 

• Leave a bouquet of plastic flowers in a styrofoam pot.

• Do that special thing you do: paint, knit, sing, write, sculpt, tinker, whatever…

• Park right here next to me and change your oil. 

• Do something illegal that doesn’t hurt anybody. 

• Write me a letter. 

• Read a poem with my eyes. 

• Listen to a bird and imagine that’s me reminding you of something. 

• Spread out a blanket and have a picnic with your friends.

• Get to know my neighbors.

• Spray pesticides all over the place. 

• Smell my soil. 

• Forgive yourself. 

• Forgive me. 

• Pray. 

• Laugh.

• Cry.

• Whine. 

• Try to explain this to a small child.

Wake up, America!

Buried alive? You’ve got a real problem and not much time to solve it. If you’ve been embalmed, of course, your problems are over. You are more than dead. Not even a worm would eat you. You’re going to be more than dead for a long, long time. 

But if you should find yourself in the situation of awakening in a coffin, first ask yourself how you know you’re in a coffin and not just some dark, horizontal telephone booth. Do you remember dying? If so, odds are you aren’t in a coffin. You’re in bed and you’re asleep and having a bad dream. Try waking up. 

If waking up doesn’t work, try going to sleep. That will minimize your consumption of oxygen. You’ll live longer. And then die. Like everybody else. Just be glad you weren’t embalmed. 

But you may be too excited to fall asleep. Who could blame you? It’s like your first day on a new job. You’re confused. You’re nervous. You want to do things right, but you haven’t received proper training. They're thrown you into a new situation, and you’ve hit the ground running. Or in this case, lying down. 

Relax. You’ve got enough oxygen for a couple of hours. You’ll wake up in time. Because really, you’re just dreaming all this. 

With a little luck you’ll dream you were buried with your cell phone. This is far more likely than being buried alive. Of course it’s also likely your battery’s dead. (That’s why they buried it with you! Ha, ha—just a little coffin humor.) Of course if you were so fortunate as to have received a green burial—which may be why you weren’t embalmed—they wouldn’t bury you with a phone, not unless it’s organic. 

But maybe they forgot it was in your pocket, and the battery is no deader than you, and you aren’t in a concrete vault six feet under, just four feet under and no vault and an organic cardboard casket in a cemetery not far from a cell tower. Try calling 9-1-1, see if they believe you. Then call the most dependable person you know who owns a shovel or, better yet, a backhoe. Tap your head gently on the bottom of the coffin, and then harder and harder as you listen to the detailed instructions on how to leave a message. Make sure your message mentions that you’re leaving it after the funeral. 

Try texting. Text your entire list of contacts. And pray—pray that you aren’t doing this in your sleep. Which you probably are. And they will never let you forget. And for the rest of your life, you’re going to wish you were dead. And someday you will be—hopefully before you’re buried.

Frequently Asked Questions about Posthumous Matters

Must I embalm my loved-one? 

No. No state laws in the United States require embalming. Some states require embalming or refrigeration if the body is not buried or cremated within a reasonable period of time. Some require embalming if the body is to be on public display. Immediate burial with no such treatment is always an option. 

Is there such a thing as “Bring Your Own” coffin?

Yes. Under rules established by the Federal Trade Commission, you are allowed buy or even make a coffin, casket, shroud or urn. They are available on the Internet from many sources. You can have the container shipped straight to the funeral home. You don’t have to be there when it arrives, although the funeral home may ask you to inspect the casket.  You will not have to pay anything to the funeral home for using a unit bought elsewhere. 

What’s the difference between a casket and a coffin?

A casket is essentially a rectangular box, though some are oval. The traditional coffin has sloped shoulders.

What is a green casket? 

A green casket or coffin is made entirely of biodegradable materials, with no nails, synthetic glues, paint, varnish, or synthetic cloth. Common materials include bamboo, hemp, wool, cotton, cork, teak, willow, rattan, seagrass, banana leaves, and organic cardboard. 

Is a coffin necessary for cremation? 

No, though many states require a rigid container for cremation.

Do I need to buy a cemetery plot before I die? 

No, but if you have a preferred place, you’d best buy it beforehand. You can contact a cemetery directly, or you can ask a funeral home to help. In some cases the cemetery is operated by a church or cemetery association (such as Connecticut Green Burial Grounds), in some cases a municipality. You can contact CGBG through this site. 

Is there such a thing as a used/rental casket?

Yes. A funeral home can rent you a nice but previously occupied casket from which the interior has been removed and replaced for each previous occupant,. These caskets are usually used for viewing or a funeral service. Afterward the deceased can be removed to a more affordable or appropriate unit.

Can I get a casket emblazoned with the icons and trademarks of the band known as Kiss? 

Yes. See memorials.com. Click on “Unique Caskets.” Other options are the names and logos of sports teams, even the ones that suck.  Your funeral home of choice can help you with your unique wishes.

How much does a coffin cost?

The sky’s the limit! And so is the ground. A tricked out upper-end casket of mahogany with all the bells and whistles can cost $20,000 or more. An average range of funeral home offerings start around $700 and goes up from there. A cardboard casket made of 25-35% recycled material produced in a bleach-free process and held together by a starch-based glue can be had for $300. Caskets of organic woven fibers such as banana leaf, willow, seagrass, or rattan, cost between $1,500 and $3,000. A simple pine box can be had for around $1,000. Plus, of course, if there’s anything as inevitable as death and taxes, it’s shipping and handling, but that’s between the buyer and seller, not the funeral home. 

What’s cool about a cardboard casket? 

People can write messages on it. Children can draw pictures on it. It blots up tears and it cycles into the ecosystem more quickly than other materials. 

Can I be buried in my back yard? 

Maybe, but it’s extremely complicated. The rules vary from state to state. Generally, if a Zoning and Health Department approves, you can do it. But wherever you are, you’re going to need a very large yard, a very good lawyer, and a very cooperative Zoning Department and Health Department. 

Is burial at sea an option? 

Sure! Anchors aweigh! But you have to be at least 3.5 miles from shore and the water has to be at least 600 feet deep. The body and any container must be prepared to sink directly. A funeral director will know the rules, which are determined by whichever state has jurisdiction. Of course if you’re in international waters, you can do whatever you want. U.S. Navy veterans and their dependent families are entitled to burial at sea at no cost. 

Can Connecticut Green Burial Grounds handle all my funeral arrangements? 

No. As a cemetery association, CGBG can offer only the plot, the burial, maintenance of the burial ground, and burial records. By law (in Connecticut) a certified funeral director must sanitize the body and certify proper burial. A funeral home must also handle transportation and necessary permits and paperwork.

Arboreal Burial

Connecticut Green Burial Grounds is unique in that it allows a tree to be planted over a grave. In a short time, the sapling’s roots tap into the body below. Nutrients from that body become the tree. 

If you could be a tree, what tree would you like to be? What characteristics would you like to become? 

Would you like to be an oak—black, white, red, scarlet, pin, live, scrub, swamp, overcup, chestnut, chinkapin, which?—tall and strong, symbol of endurance, the stuff of the hull of the Mayflower, the species where the Charter of Connecticut once hid? 

Or are you more the maple type, lush in summer, glorious in fall, flush with sweet sap, the tree kids most prefer to climb?

Perhaps you’d like to be reborn into magnificence, a beech with overarching foliage as big as a house, a stout trunk of silver where lovers carve their hearts. 

You could be a linden, ever-so aromatic, beloved by bees, seeds favored by chipmunks, known by friends as basswood, quick to grow, going up a hundred feet to blossom in the sun. 

Why not for once be slender and beautiful, a stem or pair of stems of birch—white with bark that burns hot, black that tastes a minty sweet, paper all covered with curls—your leaves serrate, petiolate, stipulate, and feather-veined? In winter you would be beautiful in snow. 

Or would you sum your life as a weeping willow, your hair hung low around your grave, the space around you cavernous and cool? With every breeze you’d sway a slow and lovely dance. 

Or are you evergreen—cedar, hemlock, spruce or pine? Or ash or elm, chestnut, cherry, hawthorn, hickory, sassafras, mulberry or gum? So many trees to choose from, but you only get one. It's kind of like life, when you think about it. 

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* Banner image from "Every Common Sight: Paintings by Colleen Hennessy" NLLibrarium.com/hennessy