Have you ever wondered why it is considered standard to inject the body with embalming chemicals? Why do we put the deceased in thick caskets of metal, or even wood, and place that casket inside a concrete vault, before we even think about setting it all down in the soil of the cemetery? Are we doing this to protect the body from earthworms? Or perhaps to protect the earthworms from the body?
Thinking about the beauty of Native American burial mounds and other natural burial sites, it does seem quite unnatural to prepare and bury the deceased like we do today. But what can we do? Is there another way?
Dani Lavoire is a home birth midwife who realized that the skills she employed to serve families during birth could also be employed to support families experiencing a death. She is on the board for the National Home Funeral Alliance (NHFA). Through the NHFA, and through all of her work, she promotes the idea that not only can we bury our loved ones naturally, but we can also provide after-death care for our loved ones at home. As this is no longer standard in our culture, her information can really help those who want to transition and be a part of the home death movement. A presentation she gave recently for the Grow Network covered many topics, such as:
- Laws surrounding home death care
- Safety of home funerals – is it safe to touch a dead body?
- Children’s role in the home funeral process
- 7 ways home funerals heal
- Environmental impact of conventional death care / Why 6 feet is too deep for a home burial
- How home funerals build community
- How home death care saves thousands of dollars.
In her presentation, Dani explained how our culture in the United States developed the current conventional methods of embalming and burial. She explained that the practice of embalming was first used during the Civil War, so that the bodies of soldiers could be preserved long enough for them to be transported long distances, back to their families, where they could then be buried.
Author Elizabeth Fournier also covers this history and other information regarding home death care in her book “The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial.”
Dani shows the tools employed to embalm a body with chemicals:
The picture is a bit small, but you can see the long sharp instruments at the top left of the picture, used to embalm the body with the chemicals in the bottles pictured in the bottom left.
Dani compares those sharp implements with the soothing tools used in a home death care, which include soap, washcloths, etc.
Dani also explained why concrete vaults are used in cemeteries — they are not used in an attempt to prevent the body from decaying or returning to the soil, but rather, concrete vaults became standard in order to make cemetery maintenance easier for cemetery management; however, in “green burial” cemeteries, the maintenance is extremely easy, as native prairie plants are seeded and grown, and no pesticides are applied, and no continuous mowing is needed.
As a contrast to the impenetrable metal casket pictured above, Dani shared a picture of someone wrapped in a simple biodegradable shroud (perhaps the sheet from the bed where the person lay as they died), wrapped with ribbon and flowers.
Although it may not be commonly known, home death care and funerals are legal everywhere in the United States. Dani pointed out that 9 states require a funeral director to sign a death certificate to transport the body to a cemetery, etc, but that home death care and home funerals are legal, and embalming is not required by the laws of any state. She shared the following resource for those who want to find more information about the laws in their state: http://homefuneralalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Quick-Guide-to-Home-Funerals-By-State.pdf.
Dani also shared that in a green burial site, it is important that we bury more shallow than is considered standard. Bodies don’t compose as fast when they are buried 6 feet. Shallow graves, like those pictured below, facilitate faster decomposition. To me, it is a a lovely thought to know that my body will decompose, and regenerate into soil full of microbiological life!
Dani also talks quite a bit about how preparing a loved one for burial at home, and allowing people to pay their respects in the home before burial, can be a crucial part of the grieving and healing process for many people.
A final note on cremation.
The energy consumed during cremation equals the amount of fuel needed to drive 4,800 miles. Cremation also emits mercury into the air (from amalgam fillings) and produces over 250 lbs of carbon dioxide.
It’s wonderful to know that green burial is an option, and that it is legal! Visit the National Home Funeral Alliance for more information, and look for some great books out there currently on the topic, including Elizabeth Fournier’s book “The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial.” You can also hear Elizabeth interviewed during Wisconsin Public Radio’s Central Time, by clicking here https://www.wpr.org/burials-are-environmentally-friendly. As Elizabeth explains, there are many cemeteries around the country that currently offer a “green burial” section, where one can buy a burial space. Soil is life, and soil is death. Soil is a regenerating circle. It is good, and natural! Let us embrace the soil!