Be Dead Right

There are two things you want to get right. One is that all-important thing called Life. The  other is that long-term project called Death

If you’re like most people, you’ve already screwed up that first thing. Not completely, but substantively in your own personal way—that way that makes you you. And of course you’ve done some of it right, too. You did what you could. And you will continue to do so because deep down inside, you’re a pretty decent person. You want to do what’s right. 

And then you die. Maybe you can get that right, even though you (the you you) have never done it before. 

The best you can do with death is pull off a transcendental switcheroo. You can turn death into life, and in so doing, do life itself—all life—a big favor. 

Life depends on death. No big news there. It’s been going on for a long time, that perpetual renewal, that passing on of the carbon baton, that continual conversion of ash and dust into flesh and bone. This is well within your capacity. You can do this right. 

Or you can do it wrong. You can plan to have yourself gutted and pumped full of formaldehyde to preserve your appearance of rosy-cheeked vitality. You can have yourself locked into a varnished, air-tight, worm-proof box, and you can have that box isolated from earth, water, and worms in a vault of concrete or steel. You can put off the inevitable for centuries, removed from Mother Earth, all alone in the dark, lying in the clutch of your own preservatives, deader than dead, your carbon-based molecules stuck in a limbo beyond the reach of life. 

It’s understandable why some people choose to do that, or, more likely, have it chosen for them. Their loved ones want to remember them as they looked in life. It’s denial, of course, but there’s probably a reason people succumb to it. After all, what is life if not a long process of denying the inevitable. 

But that’s doing Death wrong. It’s locking away life’s nutrients from life’s cycles. It’s hardwood trees felled to make a nice box. It’s dead trees hauled hundreds or thousands of miles in a diesel truck. It’s topsoil stripped away so sand and lime could be dug up for a concrete vault, leaving a hole in the ground that will remain lifeless for about as long as an embalmed body. It’s untold gallons of fossil fuel burned to turn the sand and lime into cement that’s then hauled hundreds or thousands of miles in yet another a diesel truck. It’s yet another truck hauling in fertilizer for a grassy toupee. It’s the marble or granite for a headstone dug up a long way away and hauled to a grave. And then come the lawnmowers, grim grass reapers burning yet more fuel. 

That’s quite a stain to leave behind, quite an insult to the planet that gave the deceased so much for so many years of life. 

Cremation? Not much better. It’s 28 gallons of fossil fuel combusted. It’s nutrients and personal collection of toxins— lead, mercury, BHT, Red #5—up in smoke. It’s the gritty cremains not good for much no matter where they’re scattered. 

That’s not what you want to do. You want to do Dead right. You want to expedite your return to Life. You want to minimize your carbon footprint as you retreat into—and become—the Earth. Not trying to kid anybody by looking alive, you want your body left as it was when it died, unpolluted by carcinogenic chemicals, just wrapped in no more than a cotton shroud or a casket of local wood. You don’t want a vault just to keep the land above you level. You want the soil that you’ve displaced mounded in a bosomy tumulus. You want it to settle slowly, as it surely will. You don’t want lie under a manicured lawn; you want a beautiful blanket of autumn’s leaves and, soon enough, spring’s flowers and eventually a tree. You want to be kind to Mother Nature, who has nurtured your since your start. You want to rest in peace. You want to go gently into that good night. 


The Hardest Conversation



The Hardest Conversation: Helping a Loved One Cope with a Terminal Condition


Today's guest blog is by Lucille Rosetti, who is about to publish a book, The Hardest Conversation: Helping a Loved One Cope with a Terminal Condition. In her counsel she suggests green burial as a way of comforting the grieving, and the immanently deceased with the idea of life passing back into nature. 


Time stands still when you get the news that a loved one has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The brain has difficulty accepting such an emotionally jolting piece of news. It’s a human tendency to pray for a miracle cure or deny the truth. 

Once the full weight of the situation sinks in, there are other difficulties to confront. You may experience some initial awkwardness interacting with your loved one and a reluctance to address the situation directly. It’s important, however, to deal with the situation with honesty and candor for everyone’s good. There may be final dispositions to make, especially if no will is in effect. It’s a time for emotional sharing and loving support, but it’s also a time to make important decisions that can have repercussions for your entire family. 

Anticipatory grief

Anticipatory grief is a situation in which one copes with an expected loss before it takes place. It can be a strange, even surreal experience that leaves you feeling lost and even guilty about accepting the death of someone so close to you before it’s happened. Some people feel like they should spend the available time looking for any hope, any potential cure rather than accepting the inevitable without a struggle. Coming to terms with a loved one’s impending death helps both of you reach some kind of emotionally tenable common ground. 

Anticipatory grief feels like someone is being taken away from you a little at a time. First, their mobility and independence may be lost. If their condition involves cognitive degeneration, you may experience the loss of their personality, even their ability to recognize familiar faces. Perhaps worst of all is the loss of their future, or the loss of a future you’d always assumed the two of you would share. People often experience sorrow, depression, anxiety and denial in such a situation. It’s an agonizing situation in which it seems as though everyone’s just waiting for the end to come. 



Use the time well

You can alleviate some of that emotional suffering by making the most of the time you have left. Talk to someone who’s gone through something like this. Often, just sharing your thoughts and experiences with someone who truly understands can have a healing and liberating effect on your psyche and emotions. Do some research -- read a book about anticipatory grief and end-of-life issues. There’s a large body of literature on issues that caregivers face and how they deal with the situation. 

If possible, join a support group, which will give you a strong emotional source of support and valuable time with people who can talk you through the rough spots. You’ll learn that it’s OK to experience what you’re feeling, but that you needn’t feel guilty when it comes to accepting the inevitable. You may learn things that’ll help you better relate to your loved one and be more supportive. 

Talking about death

Perhaps the hardest thing about anticipatory grief is talking about death. Some people avoid it out of fear that they’ll undermine their loved one’s desire to keep fighting just by broaching the subject. It’s always a difficult subject, but bear in mind that people who are facing their own mortality often are looking for some kind of reassurance from a loved one. Others need someone to talk to, discussing whatever pops into their head just to fill the time. One subject that may come up is how to dispose of your loved one’s remains. 

Green Burials" are an environmental alternative to methods that involve toxic materials like embalming fluid.The idea of a person’s remains recycling back into Earth’s ecosystem, literally living again, can be of comfort. Green burial grounds often allow the planting of a tree or wildflowers over a grave. Some bury bodies in a forest where roots will eventually take up a body’s nutrients and feed them back into nature. The body is reborn into visible, palpable living beings. A Green Burial can be part of the healing process of those who remember the deceased.


Confronting the death of someone dear to you is one of the most difficult situations imaginable. Your natural inclination is to avoid the subject. However, you can be a valuable source of love and emotional support for a loved one just when they need it most. Be honest and open with your relative; be a good listener and create a soothing environment. As long as we show kindness and compassion to our loved ones throughout the process, they will be able to say goodbye with the dignity they deserve.


Courtesy of

Lucille created as a means of sharing tools to help people through the grief process. Having lost some of the people closest to her, she understands what it’s like, and how it can be an emotional roller coaster that doesn’t always seem to make sense.

How to Bury Green

Death, it has been said, is harder on the living than on the dead. The deceased’s problems are over. The only thing left for them to do is slip back into the cycle of life, nature’s unending process of regeneration. 

The living, however, have to deal with death’s manifold aftermaths. There’s grief to deal with. There are financial matters to resolve. There’s a will to execute. There are possessions to distribute or dispose of. There are family issues to work out. 

And, of course, there’s a corpse, the sadly empty shell, the abandoned flesh and bones, the mortal remains of what was, or, rather, who was. It isn’t anybody anymore, but human nature all but requires us to treat it respectfully, even tenderly. 

The legal and emotional processes of dispatching those remains varies from state to state and family to family. Few people are really sure of how it all works, and even fewer are in a mood to do it. But it must be done, and one way to do it is the green way—the relatively rapid introduction of the body to nature, the fundamental mother who makes all life possible.

Here is how a green burial works, at least in Connecticut. (Other states have other requirements.)

Funeral Director

Let’s start with the funeral director. You will need one. This person is legally required to oversee the burial or cremation. In Connecticut, the funeral director will need to sanitize the body and to provide transportation.


By federal law, embalming is not required except in a few special circumstances, and of course embalming for any reason precludes green burial. If the unembalmed body will be presented for viewing, it will need to be refrigerated until then. The funeral home may be able to rent you a coffin for the showing, kind of like a little motel room that can be used for a day, except it uses a disposable liner and is sterilized before and after use. 


Cremation is greener than embalming but less green than a green burial. Cremation burns a lot of fossil fuel, and it releases a lot of carbon dioxide and toxins into the atmosphere. It requires a rigid container with no metal parts, in most cases a special cardboard box.

Casket or Shroud?

A green burial requires some kind of biodegradable container. It can be a casket of simple unpainted pine held together with organic glue or wooden pegs. It could also be of wicker or other natural material. It could also be a shroud of natural material. These things are available online. Search for “green burial caskets.” You an pick one and have it shipped to the funeral home. Or the funeral home may have something on hand, though you are always entitled to find one elsewhere. 


The funeral director will have to handle transportation to the burial ground. If it’s a long way, the body may have to be packed in ice. Transportation within a state as small as Connecticut probably won’t require ice. 

The Burial Plot

You will need to buy a plot in a cemetery. You will buy it from the cemetery, not the funeral home. The price may or may not include “opening and closing” the grave—that is, digging it up and filling in. The funeral director can advise you on how to deal with the cemetery operators, which will be a church, municipality, or not-for-profit cemetery association. 

Burial Ground

A green burial ground allows only green burials and, possibly, the scattering or burial of cremated remains. 

A hybrid cemetery allows green burials and other burials, maybe right next to each other, maybe in separate sections. 

Some cemeteries will allow a burial that is green except for a steel or concrete vault, which they insist on so as to keep their lawn flat and easy to mow. Of course the many years of mowing and the use of fertilizers and other lawn chemicals detracts from the greenness of this sem-green burial. 


You may want to enlist the services of a cleric. If there is no wake before the burial, you may want to arrange a graveside service, giving people a chance to say a few words of remembrance and grief. You may be able to hire an “end of life doula,” a consultant who can help people through not only the burial process but the handling of grief. 

The Grave

A good green burial ground will have a grave dug by hand, though in some rocky places, that may be all but impossible. Frozen ground may also prevent digging by hand. A green burial ground may allow family members to help dig the grave. 

A green burial ground may open graves in an unforested area, then plant a tree or other plant on top. Others may open graves among trees in a forest. In either case, the grave will probably be three or four feet deep and at least a couple of feet above the water table. A deeper grave would slow decomposition due to lack of oxygen. 

Two people can be buried in a double-decker grave. The first to go is lowered to a depth of about six feet, covered with a layer of dirt, then with a layer of cedar branches or other natural, rot-resistant material. Then the remaining space is filled in with dirt. When it’s time for the second burial, the grave is opened down to the cedar. The body on the bottom bunk, of course, will take much longer to compose in its relatively anaerobic environment.

To Answer a Few Questions

No, animals won’t dig down there. No, roots won’t bring the body to the surface. No, the body will not contaminate the water table. 

Yes, you can have several people buried near each other in a family plot. Yes, you can buy a single plot or family plot in advance. Yes, you can sell an unused plot to someone else. 

No, you can’t mark the grave with a vertical stone. Yes, you may lay a local stone atop the grave, and the cemetery association may allow you to engrave it. No, the location will not be forgotten even though a forest may grow over it. The cemetery operator is required to record the precise location of each grave. 

No, Connecticut Green Burial Grounds doesn’t have a burial ground yet, but it soon will. Yes, you can reserve a plot now by contacting the organization. No, we don’t know where the burial ground will be, but yes, it will be in Connecticut and, of course, most importantly,  in that nice place we call Earth. 


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. 






    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 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"