This is the Happy Eco News and strangely enough, the top story this week is about a not so happy subject. The story was about 3x as popular as the next closest so I couldn’t just call it an anomaly. I guess it’s only human to want any type of insight into the inevitable and often unpleasant subject of death.
Plant your loved one in this egg and turn them into a tree after death is not about death so much as it is also about life and maybe rebirth. Italian design company Capsula Mundi has created a way for us to honour our loved ones and at the same time, give back to the planet. While the product is not available in all locations, the idea of remembering your loved one by visiting a beautiful tree in a beautiful forest surrounded by plants, birds and animals is compelling.
After we die, our bodies decompose. Just like a tree or any other living thing, the natural cycle is for us to nourish the land after our bodies die. Unfortunately, societal practice, be it religious or cultural, is generally to somehow either try to preserve the human body, to burn it, or to cremate it leaving ash for the next of kin to dispose of (or to use in a ceremony that hopefully makes us all feel a bit better). Personally, I find the strangest part of cremation is when people place the remains in an urn and then keep it in their home for the next few decades, a morbid reminder of death more than the life the person lived. Some cultures bury their dead in very expensive plots in the soil in designated places, using up valuable land in highly manicured, chemical intense and often sterile feeling cemeteries (there are many that are nice I know). I am sure there are other ways I don’t even know about.
Sure, you can always go and visit the person’s headstone, but what if that person loved nature? What if a fossil fuel powered fire or a cemetery with rows of graves, unsustainable irrigation, chemical fertilizers, toxic pesticides, herbicides and fossil fuel powered grass cutting machines is completely counter to what the person stood for in life?
I have heard amazing stories of how families express their loss and love for the individual by dropping the ashes from planes, or they have their whole family travel to dozens of locations around the world leaving ashes as they go, or they get sent into space, or made into diamonds. We have to remember that all of these actions are not for the person who has passed. Yes, it is a celebration of their life and while it is understandable and driven by a deep human need to feel remembered, it also seems to me to be rather pointless. The person is now dead; they really don’t care. These expensive, flashy and carbon intense rituals are for the living and we ought to know better. In our hearts, maybe we do.
The idea of knowingly adding to the world’s problems seems pretty counter intuitive to me. To be honest, I don’t want my last act to contribute anything to the global climate problems if possible. If I were to be REALLY honest, I would tell you that I’d rather have my remains placed in a forest where the animals and plants can feast upon me until there is simply nothing left (my wife and kids have a real problem with this so no, it won’t happen). Ideally, my next of kin, or those who want to remember me would then be able to go to the forest and would know that my carbon remains are now a part of the many living things that fed upon me; trees, plants, insects and animals. Morbid, I guess and far from practical (we can’t be leaving random dead bodies in just any forest), but it really gets one thinking; it seems we are already overpopulating the planet with humans. Are we so blind that we would continue a high carbon lifestyle through life and even into death? That we would make the last act that we have any say in be one of destruction?
Thankfully there is a growing trend (no pun intended) toward non-traditional or green funerals. In the award winning documentary “A Will for the Woods” the notion that we must conform and contribute to the degradation of nature even in death is challenged. The movie is available for purchase or download from a variety of sources including the iTunes Store.
From the iTunes description:
“What if our last act could be a gift to the planet? Musician and psychiatrist Clark Wang prepares for his own green burial in this immersive documentary. While battling lymphoma, Clark has discovered a burgeoning movement that uses burial to conserve and restore natural areas, forgoing typical funeral practices that stress the ecosystem.
Boldly facing his mortality, Clark and his partner Jane have become passionate about green burial, compelled by both the environmental benefits and the idea that one can remain within the cycle of life, rather than being cut off from it. The spirited pair have inspired a compassionate local cemeterian, and together they aim to use green burial to save a North Carolina woods from being clear-cut.”
The idea of being lowered into the ground with no toxic chemicals to preserve me, with minimal packaging (no coffin) and the least amount of carbon expenditure is appealing. The idea of my family and any others who might want to remember me being able to be close to me, is also appealing and knowing that the place where they will do that will be a forever protected wild area is exactly what the world needs more of.
I fear death like anyone else, but I probably fear the idea of my family’s pain over my loss more than anything. After a recent major health scare in 2019, I have had my share of self-analysis and introspection. A forced existential crisis as it were. It turned out that 2019 was not my year to pass, but for me like anyone else, tomorrow is not guaranteed.
I don’t know much about life, why we are here or even how to find meaning, but of this I am certain, when I do pass, I want a tree as my marker.
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