We are concerned that the standard funeral experience can be a day to be endured rather than an occasion to be remembered. Lacking inspiration, individuality and meaning.
In response to Marc Jahr's blog post in the NYT, October 30th 2013.
'We need cemeteries.' Agreed, but what sort is where we may differ.
Marc's answer to his presumption, 'when memory dies, the departure from life is irrevocable' is to endorse our more materialistic side and remember the dead with 'cheap marble, glass enclosed boxes and fake flowers', oh dear.
They may be endearing, to some, but they are surely not endearing our planet. Quite the opposite. Professor Christopher Coutts' blog post can be found in the same New York Times debate as Mr Jahr's, and highlights the damage being done by municipal cemeteries and traditional funerals, 'the resources that go into the ground every year associated with a typical cemetery burial translate into: enough wood to frame over 2,300 single-family homes; sufficient steel to erect almost 15 Eiffel Towers; nearly four times as much concrete as was used to build the Pentagon,' the list goes on.
At the current rate, we will have to start tearing down more mountain sides for tombstone granite, burning more fuel to ship them around the world, only to convert our meadows into cemeteries to be populated by such stones. We'll soon be living in the land of the dead. We'll be surrounded by them!
The answer then, I hear you call.
Altruism is not an ideal often linked with burial – after all, there's not much more you can do when you're dead – but to be socially, environmentally and economically responsible at the time of a funeral is a marvellous way to mark your exit, and entirely possible.
The fact that cemeteries are seen as 'parallel worlds of stone, fading photographs, diminishing memories and death' is not how it should be. On the contrary – just have a look at the galleries of our natural burial grounds. Cemeteries should be places where families feel comfortable returning, where embracing the surroundings can bring back feelings of happiness, not morbidity.
Many find that a municipal cemetery has too much to remind them of a dead relative which may be why they seek an alternative, such as natural burial. With this, a family doesn't have to tend a grave or replace faded photographs; the serenity and surrounding nature embody those buried there. Because of this, just being in the place where someone is buried can fulfil a person's need to remember their lost relative or friend. It's simple, natural and beautiful, it does exactly what it says on the leaflet. Surely a tree is more poignant than a plastic posy?
And if poignancy is what your soul is after, you only need to look at the BBC's recent survey that found of the 358 participating British local authorities, a quarter would no longer have cemetery space in less than a decade.
The argument that tombstones and mausoleums 'satisfies a deeper communal need to remember and honour the past' is no longer good enough. To say that as a man's image fades, 'the memory of him was fading, becoming indistinct, in the minds of his brothers and sisters, his children and their children' doesn't sit right either, even a little insulting.
The facts are telling us we're headed for a dead end, so let's not bury our heads in the sand, let's bury them in natural burial grounds.
The BBC's recent survey
Our natural burial grounds
Stories and thoughts from the Leedam camp.
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