What shall we do with your body after your soul transitions?
Alternative Burial Options you didn’t know existed until now.
Whether you’re healthy or have been diagnosed with a life-limiting disease, it’s never too early to consider how we’d like to be buried or the alternative burial options available. Actually, burial is no longer the proper term because there are more options than the traditional ornate casket and burial in a picturesque cemetery with a marble headstone etched with your birth date and date of your passing and a thoughtful quotation that sums up your life.
There are alternative burial options to consider, and I’d like to help you understand what they are and find the one that best represents your life.
Another term for burial is body disposition. Nope. Don’t like that one either. You’ve heard the saying, “Thoughts create emotions, emotions create feelings, and feelings create behavior.” What do you think of when you hear the term burial or body disposition?
While funeral homes will ensure it’s a dignified process, those terms don’t sit well with me. They don’t represent the years I’ve lived, the lessons I’ve learned, and the people who have loved me. That dash between my birth date and date of death is worthy of more than “burial” or “disposition”. But I’m not a wordsmith crafty enough to come up with a new term. I’m a death doula – so I’ll put it like this…
Since we are souls having a human experience, I’d like to ask you, ”What shall we do with your body after your soul transitions?”
When I drop that question down into my body, away from my head and ego, and feel deep into it and let it swirl around – it makes me feel worthy of my life. And when I feel worthy of life, I have a different outlook. I want to live a life of purpose and make different decisions.
You likely expected me to list burial options, but here we are contemplating “what shall we do with your body, after your soul transitions”. But I first wanted my readers to understand the importance of giving it more thought than the color of the casket lining.
Let’s go on that “What shall we do with your body, after your soul transitions” journey now.
TRADITIONAL BURIAL OPTIONS
Likely you’ve been to a funeral. The body is prepared, usually embalmed. The hair is styled hopefully as you did when you were alive, as is your makeup (yes, men will likely be wearing a little makeup to hide some discoloration). You are dressed in the outfit you’ve chosen. Despite all this preparation, we rarely look like ourselves. But it’s part of the process. You are placed in a beautiful casket as ornate as your dollars allow or as modest as you wish.
Some religions have a viewing or wake the night before the funeral ceremony and burial. Friends and family gather to say their goodbyes and condolences to the families. The next day there’s a funeral ceremony either at your Church or at the cemetery. It’s customary to wear black because black is the color of mourning and a tradition that dates back to the Roman Empire, when the toga pulla, made of dark-colored wool, was worn during mourning.
The casket with your body is lowered into a cement-lined plot in the ground. Dirt is then replaced, including the lush grass and flowers that adorn the gravesite until they too wilt and return to the earth.
Those who don’t wish to be buried in the ground can erect a mausoleum. It’s a stand-alone, external building containing interment space for several coffins. They are usually built for a specific family or communal where your casket (or urn with your ashes) is placed into a vault for all of eternity. I’ve visited some beautiful mausoleums in very old cemeteries in New Orleans. My favorite is located in the Metarie cemetery where the statue of a beautiful angel weeping over the tomb.
There is an entire symbol system dedicated to the symbols carved onto gravestones. My husband and I enjoy visiting older cemeteries, and during a tour of Savanah’s famous Bonaventure cemetery, we learned the symbols that adorn these very old tombstones aren’t just for decoration. They communicate the family’s grief, political or religious affiliations, or other messages. A very thorough book on the subject by Tui Snider “Understanding Cemetery Symbols”
Cremation by Fire
This method has grown in popularity recently. A new report by insurance firm Choice Mutual found that 44% of Americans plan on being cremated, a 40% increase from the 1960s. Traditional burials were the second most popular choice, with 35% of Americans preferring the method.
If you’d like a viewing or wake for your family and loved ones, your body will be prepared similarly to the above option (embalmed, dressed, placed in a casket). After goodbyes, only the body is placed in a crematorium and reduced to ashes, also known as cremains.
The cremains are placed in an urn or various urns. And the urns are displayed in your loved one’s home(s), or some or all of your ashes are scattered in a place of your choosing. One of my favorite urn manufacturers is Spirit Vessel. Their studio is located in southwest New Mexico, where each ceramic urn is handmade and mindfully crafted with love and intention.
If you wish your family to scatter your ashes, each state has laws surrounding this, so please familiarize yourself with them. The Neptune Society is a wonderful organization with a great deal of information on all things cremation.
The cremation burial option is also available at cemeteries or natural/green cemeteries, depending on whether or not chemicals were used in the cremation process.
GREEN BURIAL OPTIONS
Now we’re moving into green “What to do with my body, after my soul transitions” options. “Green burial is a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that aids in the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat.” Green Burial Council
Cremation by Water (also known as Aquamation)
Aquamation is a gentle process that uses water instead of fire to return a body back to nature. “The scientific name for this process is referred to as Alkaline Hydrolysis. It’s the same process that occurs as part of nature’s course when a body is laid to rest in the soil. A combination of gentle water flow, temperature, and alkalinity are used to accelerate the breakdown of organic materials.” You can learn more about the process by visiting their website. It gently decomposes, resulting in ashes. Actually, 20% more ashes are returned. These cremains can be handled as traditional fire cremains – placed in an urn or scattered. There’s another option available for this cremains. Since the body has not been embalmed or treated chemically, it may be scattered in a natural burial site. We’ll discuss this more shortly.
Aquamation is only available in a few states, but we are hopeful more states will be allowing this in the near future.
There are a couple of funeral homes offering human composting, also referred to as natural organic reduction. Meet, Recompose. They are a full-service funeral home that specializes in human composting.
Your body is laid on a vessel containing various organic materials. The vessel is closed, and the transformation into soil begins. The body and organic materials remain in this vessel for 30 days. Microbes change on a molecular level resulting in the formation of nutrient-rich soil. Your body will create approximately 1 cubic yard of soil amendment. It remains for another 6 weeks, then can be used to enrich conservation land, forests, and gardens. Human composting is not used for food production.
Recompose offers the opportunity to donate your soil to Bells Mountain, a 700-acre nonprofit land trust in Washington.
Recompose was the first of its kind and operates in Washington. In Colorado, The Natural Funeral is also offering this service. There is legislation being brought forth in other states to allow natural organic reduction.
Natural / Green Body Burial
Natural burial involves your body being shrouded or clothed in natural materials like cotton, linen, or hemp and placed in a chemical-free casket. These caskets can be something as simple as a burial appropriate box made of natural interwoven cardboard that can hold a deceased body. It may be left as is, or I’ve seen where families, especially those with children, decorate the casket with messages, pictures, or other forms of natural art such as drawings. One of my favorite natural caskets is the beautiful casket hand-woven of natural materials such as willow, bamboo, seagrass, and wicker.
These caskets are then buried directly into the earth (no cement-lined plot) in a Natural Cemetery and allowed to decompose into the earth. Alternatively, you may be shrouded and buried directly into the earth.
Cremation Burial Options – Sustainable Natural Burial Parks
These natural burial parks or conservations are amazingly beautiful. My local park is in Austin, TX, named Eloise Woods. I plan a tour in the fall or spring as this is an option I’m personally considering.
These natural burial parks or conservations are a great cremation burial option if you choose not to scatter your loved one’s ashes. Naturalend.com offers a list of these natural burial parks for both humans and pets across the US.
Whole Body Donation
This is also known as ‘donating your body to science” and is one of the most generous gifts you can make as you are donating your body for medical education and research. Human bodies are valuable for training new physicians and for conducting medical research in order to develop new techniques.
If this resonates with you, the Anatomical Board of the State of Florida is a well-known resource amongst the end-of-life community for finding a program for this amazing donation.
These programs vary, but I’ll give you a glimpse into what it looks like. Once the decision has been made and the program selected, they will guide you through the process, which includes paperwork and other details. Once you have died, they collect your body. These programs all have different needs, so it’s important to discuss your wishes with them and make sure their needs align with your wishes.
The bodies are treated with great respect and dignity. Once the program has utilized your body, they will at no additional cost cremate (I believe by traditional fire means) and return the cremains to your family. Some programs have been known to have beautiful ceremonies where they honor you and your family for this generous gift.
THE FINAL STEP
What will you do with your body, after your soul has transitioned?
As you can see, there are many options for you to consider. I strongly encourage you to give this thought. Let ‘What to do with my body, after my soul transitions” guide you to find the most suitable option for you. You are, after all, a unique human being. Your body’s place of rest should be given thought, and your life will likely be filled with a greater sense of purpose.
I would love to discuss these options and assist you in making a decision, as this can be overwhelming, and you may need to consider not only your wishes but those of your loved ones. Our initial 30-minute consultation is complimentary, and I offer hourly rates to help you with important end-of-life decisions.
References used in this blog