26 April 2006

if i should die before i wake

Today in the mail, I got my first-ever pamphlet from a cemetery about burial options. Okay, so it's addressed to "Resident", but that applies to me. So I thought I'd write a slightly morbid blog post about what should happen to my body when I die.

I've never been into the idea of traditional burial -- it seems kind of meaningless to me. I've attended many a funeral, and visited many a burial site, without ever feeling a shred of emotion or attachment to the place, to that hole in the ground, nor have I ever needed that physical location to remember and honor my deceased loved ones. I always kind of thought I'd like to be cremated, and have my ashes scattered, this being for a long time the only alternative I knew of to burial. But it turns out that cremation releases harmful gasses into the air, and burial leaks harmful chemicals into soil and water. So what's an eco-friendly girl to do? Why should we have to pollute to dispose of our dead?

I didn't really think about this much, though, until I read Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach (recommended, if you're into that sort of subject matter -- I found it really interesting), which talks about the variety of things done to bodies once their occupants have died. The idea of donating my body to science appealed to me at first, until I found out that some donated bodies are used for practicing plastic surgery, among other things. Call me shallow, or superficial, but there will be no plastic surgery performed on my dead face.

And then I read a really attractive idea, which may sound kind of terrible if you haven't heard of it before: human composting, a method developed by a Swedish ecologist (read about the process here). Then, thanks to my random pamphlet, I was doing some internet searching on burial options, and found out about green burials. What better way to spend death than to become part of the earth and help new life to grow and flourish? I've always thought cemeteries were a tremendous waste of space that could be turned into public housing or something. I do enjoy cemeteries such as Rochester's own Mt. Hope Cemetery (the resting place of Susan B Anthony and Frederick Douglass), which was designed (in the Victorian Era) to be a park and picnic area as well as a burial place, complete with gardens, picnic tables, benches, fountains, and a gazebo -- it's a lovely and fascinating place to visit. But so many cemeteries are not like that -- they're empty, silent, lonely. I love the idea of the green cemeteries mentioned in the article linked above -- "nature preserve first, cemetery second".

So someday, should all go as planned, my body will be laid to rest in an ecologically-friendly way. Of course, I'm an organ donor, so that'll be taken care of first, but then a green burial, or composting, should it become available in the US by the time I die. I do feel a little odd for thinking about this in so much detail, and actually researching it a bit, when I'm only 24 and I hope to live at least, oh, let's say 70 more years, to be optimistic. But I do think it's interesting in a larger sense to think about the land use, the pollution, and the impracticality of the traditional burial procedure. And I suppose it never hurts to be prepared.


ren said...

Didn't "Stiff" mention green or eco-cemeteries as well? I really liked that idea because, as you know, I do like cemeteries, but I definitely prefer them parklike and visitable, and if they can be without enbalming fluids in the soil too, well that's even better!

Heidi said...

"Stiff" may have mentioned green cemeteries; I don't remember it very well. Most of what I remember of the book is mentioned in this post -- I have a terrible memory for content and details.