Death goes au naturel

Pam
Pam Frampton
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"Spare me the whispering, crowded room, the friends who come and gape and go, the ceremonious air of gloom - all, which makes death a hideous show."
- Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), English poet and social critic

Let's get this straight: there's nothing funny about death. But I think we can all agree that's it's much nicer to be talking about it than actually doing it.
And it's something most of us will have to talk about at some point, no matter how unpleasant the thought might be.
So. when my parents called the other night to say they had preplanned their funerals, while the daughter in me was saddened at the thought, my practical side could see the good sense of it all.
Funerals are kind of like weddings - except that the living guy looks much better in the suit - in that they are an expression of your personality.
In my parents' case, that expression will undoubtedly be traditional.
"You wouldn't believe what they're charging for two nights (at the funeral home)," my mother confided.
"God, Mom, you make it sound like the Holiday Inn!" I said.
"I'd skip the second night," my husband advised. "Trust me, you won't get to use the pool."

Eternal alternatives

But what happens if your idea of "being at peace" is not traditional?
What if you don't find anything eternally restful about a wooden box rotting in the ground or - worse still - buying an expensive metal box that you think will never rot, and it does? Or you aren't fond of the idea of embalming fluid leaching into the earth, or going out with a big puff of crematory smoke?
Now, being claustrophobic and all, the notion of winding up at the crematorium trumps burial hands down, although I must say I find the word "crematorium" unsettling, conjuring up as it does the notion of dairy products being manufactured on the site of a funeral home. (Is it just me, or couldn't there be a better word for that? The Ultimate Incinerator. The Big Smoke. The You-Go-Bye-Bye. Something.)
That being said, there are people out there who are looking for something decidedly non-traditional when it comes to the after-death ritual, and some people actually do care about the environmental footprint they leave behind.
There are also people for whom the traditional funeral, complete with visitation, chapel service and gravesite ceremony, are both personally undesirable and financially objectionable.
Those people are demanding other options.
There are new trends in death, and while they don't seem to have reached us yet, they are worth considering.
Green burials are growing in parts of the country, including on the West Coast.
"People can now reduce their environmental footprint even after they've stopped walking the earth," announced a CanWest story on canada.com on April 16, 2008.
It went on to describe how Sands Funeral Chapel in Victoria, B.C., has started offering cardboard caskets and biodegradable urns made of compressed cotton and rice.
"Funeral service firms are joining companies worldwide providing green options for consumers," the article said.
"Europeans are ahead of the curve, providing everything from pay-per-view funerals so mourners do not have to travel to services, to a process being offered in Sweden and Germany called Promessa Organic, where the deceased is submerged in liquid nitrogen and sound waves reduce the brittle remains to powder."

Simpler times

Now, if winding up in powder form is not your thing, you might like what they're doing at Royal Oak Burial Park, a community-owned, non-profit facility also located in Victoria.
They offer plenty of options, including having your cremated remains scattered in a secure vault, having them strewn about in a forest or having them stored in a private niche.
Or, in a throwback to an earlier, simpler time, you can be wrapped in a biodegradable shroud made of natural fibres and buried in a woodlands to decompose naturally and "give back" to the earth. Instead of a headstone, your grave is marked with a planting of indigenous shrubs or flowers or a tree. With prices starting at under $3,000, it's a heck of a lot easier on the wallet, not to mention good for the soil.
Now, you might think this all sounds a bit La-La Land, and write it off as being just another granola-head notion floating out of British Columbia, but you would be wrong.
Dead wrong, as it were.
Check out the website for Natural Burial in Canada (www.naturalburial.coop/canada) and you will discover there's a movement underway to bring such burial practices to all parts of the country so that people can choose an option in death that they'd have been pleased to make in life.
I sincerely hope its time comes before mine does.
But, a word of warning to city council: if a natural burial park is ever established in St. John's and I decide to be interred there, and at some point the land gets rezoned and is paved over for a big-box supermarket - rest assured, I'll haunt ya.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. Comments welcome via pframpton@thetelegram.com or online at www.thetelegram.com. Pam also writes a death-free food blog at wininganddiningwithpam.blogspot.com

Organizations: Holiday Inn, Big Smoke, CanWest

Geographic location: Victoria, West Coast, Sweden Germany Royal Oak Burial Park La Land British Columbia Canada St. John's

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Recent comments

  • Polly
    July 02, 2010 - 13:27

    You have to pay to come into this world and you have to pay to exit . Just one long line of consumerism .

  • Maureen
    July 02, 2010 - 13:16

    A delight to read! Thanks for that and for jumping headlong into a conversation we all need to have with the people who'll want to know what we'd like to do with ourselves (not quite like graduating from college as the choices are still far narrower, but in need of a plan nonetheless.)

  • amazed
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    Sky Burial in Tibet. You can't go back to nature more than this. Pics may be tough for sensitive eyes, but you can't help but see the poetry of what they are doing and the reasons why.
    http://clipmarks.com/clipmark/412F6A33-C992-4E93-9C15-3F2101CC5FF4/

  • Polly
    July 01, 2010 - 20:15

    You have to pay to come into this world and you have to pay to exit . Just one long line of consumerism .

  • Maureen
    July 01, 2010 - 19:57

    A delight to read! Thanks for that and for jumping headlong into a conversation we all need to have with the people who'll want to know what we'd like to do with ourselves (not quite like graduating from college as the choices are still far narrower, but in need of a plan nonetheless.)

  • amazed
    July 01, 2010 - 19:46

    Sky Burial in Tibet. You can't go back to nature more than this. Pics may be tough for sensitive eyes, but you can't help but see the poetry of what they are doing and the reasons why.
    http://clipmarks.com/clipmark/412F6A33-C992-4E93-9C15-3F2101CC5FF4/