Green Burials

Guest blog post by Susan Benesch – owner, and licensed funeral director, of Earth’s Option Cremation & Burial Services in Victoria, BC. Earth’s Option offers celebrations of life, funeral services, burial services, cremation services and specialize in green burials. They also provide a list of grief support resources and a pre-planning checklist on their website.

 

Green Burial has become an option available to families looking to minimize their environmental footprint when a loved one passes away. Being green and environmentally conscience has become a way of life.

What are considered alternative funeral rights and rituals?

In the past we saw traditional funerals, whereby every person was embalmed, dressed, placed in a casket and put on public display for viewing. The funeral ceremony would follow the next day with a long procession out to the cemetery. The casket would then be buried in the grave in a concrete vault and the top of the grave would have a granite headstone.

Today we see alternatives to the traditional methods of disposition of the body due to:

  • The perception of a lack of land
  • The high cost of traditional services
  • The transient nature of our communities (people no longer have roots to one community for generations)
  • The relaxation by the church to insist on traditional burial versus cremation

For these reasons greater Victoria has approximately 93% cremation – the highest in North America. As cremation deals with the disposition of the body so quickly, this affords families the ability to take their time to plan a celebration of life whereby there are no time constraints to worry about the body being present at the ceremony or service. The emphasis now is on the life lived and not on the body, as it once used to be. People are finding unique ways in which to celebrate the life of their loved one. Families are choosing to bathe the body themselves, perhaps even dress the body themselves. In addition to a more traditional funeral, some families are choosing a ‘celebration of life’ that may take on a less sombre tone, in fact, for some it can be more of a party atmosphere where often DVD videos are showing of the deceased’s life. The Internet is being widely used to share these memories with family and friends worldwide. At Earth’s Option we have been actively promoting green burial and the added involvement of family members in the process.

What is green burial?

It’s a process whereby the body is buried in a simple biodegradable container or shroud. The body is not embalmed and it is typically buried in a place of interment designated to go back to the forest or natural setting. There are no specific gravestones to mark the grave however there can be the use of a communal marker. When the burial takes place indigenous plants are placed on top of the gravesite. The fundamental idea behind a green burial is that there are no man made products in the grave or intervention in the process of the natural decomposition of the body. In greater Victoria the only designated natural or green burial site is located at the Royal Oak burial park. It is important to note that some cemeteries who claim to offer green or hybrid burials may in fact still include some man-made product’s in the grave, including caskets and/or concrete burial vaults. This is only a means to capitalize on the green movement as it is not truly green burial.

The Victoria region has been the leader in the province of BC in the green burial movement. As such, the Green Burial Society of Canada is situated in Victoria and its goal is to see green burials offered across Canada.

At Earth’s Option we offer one price for basic green burial. Additionally, one would pay for the basic shroud or the basic green burial casket. There are several choices of caskets all of which have no man-made products including lacquer, paints, metal, etc. Families are invited to consider pre-planning and preparing for the services.

 

For more information on Earth’s Option, please visit their website, visit them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

How are green burials different?

Woodlands Green Burial Site at Royal Oak Burial Park, Victoria BC, Designed by Lees and Associates. Images from Lees and Associates

One topic that really intrigues me is green burials. The  “Green Burial Council” (North America) defines a green burial as one that

furthers legitimate environmental aims such as protecting worker health, reducing carbon emissions, conserving natural resources, and preserving habitat.

I figured it was time for a field trip to check out the green burials in Victoria.

I visited the Green Burial Site at Royal Oak Burial Park  in Victoria BC. My impressions? The site was smaller than I imagined, surprisingly simple and natural in appearance – without the manicured look of a conventional cemetery. Their site is bordered by gardens and second growth forest. Lawn and gravel paths lead to a few native trees and plants in a centre garden.

The forest at the edge, burial sites in the garden, grass bordering on the edge

So where were the burial sites? Stephen Olson, the director, explained to me that the “gardens” mulched with leaves were burial sites.

Ah!

As the gardens filled with burial sites, the grass and gravel pathways would become burial sites as well. Eventually the entire area would be burial sites underground, with a native forest above. A path would wind through, linking six large local stone boulders engraved with the names of those who have been buried in the site. From a distance the green burial site will be a continuation of the forest that is already there. Stephen commented a few times that “Green Burial” is not a new invention, but rather a new discovery of an old practice.

Tell me – What are your thoughts on green burials?  Is this something you would embrace?   What else would you want to know?

Learn about Green Burials in "Death and Dying in the 21st Century

Family assisting with the burial

 

 

Stephen also opened a very interesting topic, relating stories of families that gathered and participated fully in the process and ritual of burial – a very different experience in comparsion to conventional funerals and burials.

We’ll talk more about this in the “Death and Dying in the 21st Century” online course.