What We Leave Behind: Going Organic Even in Death

These days, people are starting to realize that incorporating more natural ways into their lives is very beneficial. I’ve spoken with more people in the past couple years that have reduced the amount of fast food they eat, preferring organic alternatives in the grocery store, and some even (like myself) drinking untreated raw milk (which I’d recommend for the flavor alone; it’s delicious). People are opting for more fuel efficient cars and as well as looking for more ways to help sustain the planet for the future generations. Most people I know with any kind of forward-thinking consciousness have grown to understand that organic foods, biodegradable products, and less consumption of goods and resources is not only a means of helping the environment, but can also be a way of caring for what God has given us. Some people can adopt this way of thinking into every aspect of their lives, but there remains one place where this concept of responsibility to nature suddenly drops off: death.

Even some of the foremost proponents of environmental sustainability and natural living for the sake of caring for what God has provided for us will be the first to put in their final arrangements that they wish for their body to be drained of its natural blood, to be pumped full of highly-toxic chemical preservatives, be made to look alive with post-mortem cosmetic devices and substances, placed in a sealed steel box, have that steel box placed in a concrete or other steel box, and have that planted into the ground forever. Why does one’s own respect for the Earth God gave us suddenly stop with our last breath? Why do we feel that we have outsmarted God and nature by creating a process of our own for the disposal of our Earthly remains? 

As B’nai Yisrael, it especially troubles me when a Jew who loves God, the Torah, and the people of Israel, decides upon a burial that more closely resembles that of the traditions of the Egypt that God delivered us out from under. Before I ever begin to judge, I do have to remember that most people do not know that there is another way. Most people in America today do not know that they have the ability to return to the Earth in the simple way that the Bible spells out. 

 

בזעת אפיך תאכל לחם עד שובך אל האדמה כי ממנה לקחת כי עפר אתה ואל עפר תשוב

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return.” – Genesis 3:19

In the United States today, along with the desire to eat food grown from the Earth and animals raised on the Earth without industry interfering with the process, there is also a movement of individuals that desire to allow human remains to return to the Earth in the same manner. Known widely as “green burial”, a natural burial is the means by which the body of the deceased loved one is allowed to forgo standard embalming procedures and is buried in a shroud or other biodegradable capsule (a casket made of pine, wicker, cardboard, etc.) in a natural setting without the use of a concrete vault or other style of grave liner. Not only is this method of burial substantially less expensive than a typical burial (which can range anywhere between $5,000-$10,000), but is also more in line with Scriptural standards for burial as well as being better for the environment. The body is allowed to break down naturally in the soil and becomes one with the landscape. These special “green cemeteries” are natural lands; typically meadows or nature reserves. 

No casket necessary.


Though the concept of being buried or having a loved one buried directly in the ground without any “protection” for the body seems somewhat new, it’s more of a return to the way it had been done up until around the middle of the 20th century. Green burials are not a new environmentalist fad, but rather a means of getting back to the roots of humanity and the progression of nature. For those alive around the time of the demise of the “pine-box burial”, this probably isn’t nearly a unsettling as it could be to those who live in this era of hiring professionals to carry out the process of laying the dead to rest in the earth. Then again, why are we so unsettled by the concept of burying our dead this way?

Because of the way society’s thought process has been reshaped by the funeral industry, many have been lead to believe that funeral arrangements in the form of embalming as well as burial in a sealed casket and concrete vault is a way to preserve and respect the dead. Why do we invest so much of our money into preserving that which we cannot physically hold onto? Many casket and vault makers boast about selling a product that will not leak for maximum preservation of the body inside. Many individuals grimace at the thought of groundwater or dirt leaking in to Grandma’s casket. Many feel the need to protect their loved ones from the elements when they don’t want to stop and accept the fact that no matter how hard they try, that body is going to eventually wither away into nothingness; leaving nothing but a concrete chamber and a steel box to take up space for future generations to deal with.

The standard “green” cemetery. This is a photo from one in Houston, TX.

Some people picture comfort and serenity being laying in a cushy bed adorned by silk and satin sheets. This is the reason why the inside of caskets are filled with pillows and billowy material that do nothing for the body inside. Personally, my ideal sense of serenity is laying in the tall green grass of a prairie with the soft dirt below conforming to the shape of my body while the wind whistles through the blades, birds’ songs being heard in the distance, and broken bars of sunlight jutting through the leaves in the trees. Letting the shroud function as my last picnic blanket, I would find nothing more respectful than being laid to rest in a place dug out by the sweat of familiar brows, lowered into it by the braun of those who knew me, and cuddling up with the Oklahoma soil.

If the regular way people are laid to rest these days doesn’t sit easy with you, don’t write it off as just being creeped out by death. There’s nothing natural about today’s “traditional” burial system. As natural burial (aka: green burial) becomes more popular, it is becoming more easily attainable for those who desire such arrangement for themselves or loved ones; not to mention extremely affordable in comparison to a mainstream American funeral. Do not let the funeral industry tell you that green/natural burial is not a realistic, respectful, or legal option. It most definitely is available in most states and areas.

Not only does the laying to rest of a body in the dirt serve a benefit to the environment, but also shows a special respect for the Creator’s cycle of nature as well as providing respect for the blessing of the body. It isn’t a decision to taken lightly, but then again neither is a mainstream modern-day burial. Only after much prayer and meditation is such a decision to be made. For more information about such a burial and making arrangements a natural/green burial, log on to the official website of the Green Burial Council.

For you fellow Okies out there, you have a few options. One is Dillion Smith Funeral Services in Sand Springs, OK – where green burial in a green burial cemetery is an option.  Green Haven Cemetery is also happy to accommodate you and your loved ones for burial. Because they’re a non-profit organization, there are no pushy sales tactics and burial is very affordable.


As you consider the benefits of a natural/green burial, also be thinking about the benefits of having a home funeral. Still, that is a blog for another time. 

Shalom.