A Little 'Green Burial' Philosophy
The concept of green or natural burial in the form that we know it, only started in 1993 and so is still fairly new. Its principles, far from being set in tablets of stone, are still evolving and developing as the movement grows. There are one or two notable pioneers in the field, and in particular one organisation: The Natural Death Centre, which has led the way in developing attitudes towards dying and coping with death; and their affiliated organisation The Association of Natural Burial Grounds which helps the owners and managers of natural sites in planning and legal isues. The whole is still a broad subject and may be approached from various different angles, be it commercial, social or charitable. There are two main themes which seem to be common to all these approaches:
EnvironmentThe widespread adoption of cremation in the last century was accompanied by the notion of 'save the land for the living' i.e., don't fill up our land with cemeteries which is literally 'dead' ground.
Today green burial is an extension of this idea in that it promotes the natural life/death cycle of nature, encouraging new habitats to develop over the graves. Trees and flowers are planted, and as the woodland matures, wildlife increases and people come to visit and relax in the natural surroundings and feel at one not only with the deceased for whom they have come to pay their respects, but also with nature. This continuation or cycle of life is often represented in the ancient Tree of Life symbol, which in turn is often represented by an oak tree. It should be noted that not all Green Burial sites involve creation of woodland; there are also meadow or field sites, where the principles are the same, but a different habitat is created. In other places trees are planted as memorials, but away from the burial area. These are merely different expressions of the same basic idea.
The aim is that not only should natural materials should be used in the burial process, but there should be as little impact on the ground and in the air as possible. Thus the body should not be embalmed, as this involves the use of chemicals which could subsequently be released in the ground, possibly damaging the flora. The depth of the grave is important: the shallower it is the quicker the coffin and body will break down, providing nutrients for the trees and flowers growing above; obviously in practice a reasonable depth needs to be used even though there appears to be no legal minimum requirement. The coffin or burial shroud should be made of biodegradable materials, so that what is left in the ground is natural and unharmful. Equally there should be nothing artificial adorning the surface of the grave: no tombstones or permanent memorials. Graves are used for planting trees, shrubs, bulbs, wildflower seeds, such as are necessary to create the habitat that is intended. A burial such as this will have a neutral or positive effect on its surroundings - it's a pity the same cannot be said for cremation. Cremation by definition uses a large amount of energy (some 750 degrees for 45 minutes) to burn the body, releasing all sorts of emissions into the atmosphere as it does so. It may save space, but this cannot really be said to be environmentally friendly.
ChoiceThe funeral of a loved one is inevitably a time of sadness and grief, but it may also be seen as a celebration of a life. As such it is a very personal event, and the way it is organised should be the choice of the people involved. So it may be the choice of the family that the funeral and burial is organised by a funeral director. On the other hand they may wish to make all the arrangements themselves: what is often referred to as a DIY funeral. This may have been the wish of the deceased before he/she died. The key point here is flexibility, and this is an important element of the green burial philosophy and one we encourage here at Brocklands.
The availability of choice can have two significant effects: first, as mentioned above, having more involvement in the funeral and burial process can be therapeuticfor the family; and second, the family can have more control over how much they spend. By discussing options and taking responsibility for different parts of the funeral ('you choose the readings and I'll decorate the coffin - ') family and friends work together towards a common goal and benefit from this active particpation and sense of satisfaction and usefulness that it brings. Although a woodland burial can be as expensive as you wish, it can also be relatively cheap, if the family undertakes a lot of the preparation themselves: it is quite possible for the individual to do all the necessary paperwork, obtain the coffin, provide the transport for moving the body to the place of burial, and to perform their own ceremony at graveside if so desired. Which tree, which coffin, which music, which readings - all of these can be thought about and chosen by close family without pressure, or indeed, as has often happened here, by the deceased themselves.
Another very important part of the ethos of the Green Burial movement , and one which is often glossed over somewhat, is to help people think about and make plans for their own demise - the effect of which is to demystify the subject by confronting and discussing it openly.This is often best done when everyone is still healthy and death is not actually on the horizon. If close family and friends are involved in this discussion, then when a death does occur it is accompanied by less fear and shock, hopefully fewer family arguments, and the grieving process can be eased. The situation can also be helped by the knowledge that the burial will not only contribute positively to the creation of wildlife habitats and further the natural life cycle, but is what the deceased wanted: their final wish has been successfully carried out, and that is always a comfort to those left behind.
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