Whole Life Magazine

April / May 2019

Issue link: http://digital.copcomm.com/i/1100899

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Page 15 of 31

16 wholelifetimes.com If you are like me, you recycle, compost, buy local and organic, and worry about your carbon footprint and global warming. Many of us are committed to green living, but what about green dying? As an End of Life Guide, Death Doula, and Home Funeral Guide, I accompany people in their last chapters of life; it is the place where Conscious Living and Conscious Dying meet. The question "have you thought about what you want (us) to do with your body after you die" is a question I ask, and the answer "who cares I'll be dead" is a familiar response. But our "not caring" often translates into our dying having a larger negative environmental impact than we realize. Yearly in the US, we bury 20 million board feet of wood for caskets, 1.6 million tons of concrete for vaults inside of graves, and 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluids containing formaldehyde, a known carcinogenic. We maintain 3 million acres of land for cemeteries, with green lawns that require millions of gallons of water and toxic fertilizers and pesticides. Cremation, often thought of as a green alternative to burial, might not be as green as you think. It takes about 28 gallons of fuel to burn a body, translating to the release of 540 pounds of carbon dioxide each time. In the US, that adds up to around 250,000 tons of CO2 a year. Did you know that embalming — a toxic, invasive, and unnecessary procedure — is not required by law? Did you also know that you do not need to purchase a casket for a cremation? And, you are allowed to wash, dress, and keep your loved one at home after death. While we are part of the natural cycle of life and death, much of what happens after death doesn't seem to honor that statement. So, is there is a greener way to go? The answer is YES! Green Burial is legal in all 50 states and uses no embalming or vaults. Bodies are placed directly into the ground, wrapped in a shroud or biodegradable casket. This old-fashioned way is re-gaining popularity and hybrid cemeteries, where part of a cemetery is designated for green burials, are becoming more common. Dedicated green cemeteries do not use headstones; instead, you may place a simple rock which doesn't affect the natural aesthetics. In some places, no markers are used, and a GPS location is given. Gan Eden, the first Certified Green Burial Area in Los Angeles, is part of Hillside Memorial and offers this service. If you prefer the desert, you may wish to consider a green burial in Joshua Tree Memorial Park. Burial at Sea has a very small carbon footprint for those living close to the ocean, and your body becomes part of the ocean's ecosystem. Burials at sea can be done with a shroud or biodegradable casket. Alkaline Hydrolysis or Water Cremation uses a pressure vessel, heated water, and lye to reduce the body to bone fragments and a sterile liquid. Loved ones receive ashes to bring home or scatter in a special place. Alkaline Hydrolysis is legal in 16 states, including California. Promession uses cryogenic freezing, liquid nitrogen, and vibration to reduce the body to small particles which are freeze-dried, sealed in a biodegradable coffin, and placed in a shallow grave to become nutrient-rich soil. Promession is not yet legal in the US. Recomposting, or human composting, involves a container with organic plant materials heated by microbes that reduce a body to soil using 12.5% of the energy used for cremation. While not yet legal in the US, Washington state may decide on legalization soon. Some of the greener options may take a while to contemplate. Just like cremation, it might take time before they are fully accepted. What to do with your body after death is your choice, and regardless of your choice, this is a time rich with opportunities for love, connection, and honoring the life cycle. Knowing your options may allow you to choose a more personal and meaningful goodbye, infused with love, gratitude, ritual, and beauty and in alignment with your beliefs, values, and love for our planet. This year, in celebration of Earth Day, be bold. Ask a friend this question: "How green do you plan to be after you die?" Gaia will thank you. Birgitta Kastenbaum is the founder of Bridging Transitions, located in Los Angeles. She can be reached at Birgitta@Bridgingtransitions.net. Visit bridgingtransitions.net. By Birgitta Kastenbaum How Green Will You Be After You Die? ECO-CONSCIOUS BURIAL spirit Photo: Courtesy of Gan Eden/Hillside Memorial

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