Regardless of whether you are Christian, Atheist, Muslim, or Buddhist, religious or non-religious, we all have one thing in common: death. Yet death is something most of us have been taught to ignore. It is a topic that many people never discuss. But we will die. And when we die, our bodies continue to make an impact on the watershed, on the atmosphere, and on the land.
Regardless of what we believe is going to happen spiritually, most of our bodies will travel through many of the same after-death activities. A funeral home or death-care professional will be called to take us to a facility where we will be embalmed with various different chemicals. While all this is happening, our grieving family members will head to a showroom to choose from different styles of high lacquered coffins and possibly even a thick steel outer box to further delay decomposition. According to the Cremation Association of North America, over 46 percent of us will be cremated; a process that traditionally happens in a fire oven that emits a couple hundred kilograms of CO2 per body.
Ashes to ashes and dust to dust can impact the environment for decades.
If we are people who grapple with how to be stewards of the earth in our day-to-day lives, are we willing to consider that our last act of watershed discipleship might actually be the responsibility we accept for our dead bodies?
If the answer is yes, then I propose that we do two things:
We need to talk about death. We must overcome the norms of avoidance, and embrace the reality that we will die. In some cases, that means talking about death with our family members (easier said than done for many of us) so that they can honour our wishes and even consider how their own bodies will make an impact on the earth.
We need to make after-death plans for our bodies. If we don’t make a plan, it is likely that the people left in charge will not be able to do what we would want done. It is stressful for people to make decisions in a short amount of time, especially while clouded by grief, shock and unfamiliarity.
The death-care industry is not filled with green options, particularly in Canada, though this is changing to some degree. When I spoke to Julie Tubman of Tubman Funeral Homes, she indicated that there are increasingly more environmental products available to death-care companies, such as biodegradable caskets and earth-friendly embalming products. In addition, certain business practices, such as casket rentals, can decrease the CO2 emissions during the cremation process. The question remains whether a grieving family is open to this type of discussion when they are coping with a plethora of decisions at a generally painful time.
In my own experience as a spiritual leader, I would suggest that green burial practices and environmentally friendly after-death considerations are not the norm and typically not part of the conversation. Traditional methods are often utilized because that is simply the way “it has always been done.” Thus, while there are increasingly more options available, pre-arranging our after-death care remains the best way that we can direct and influence the impact our own bodies will make.
I hope death will not be soon for any of us, but it will happen at some point. So while we are living here on this earth we have a choice to make: to deny or embrace the responsibility we have as watershed disciples, even over our dead bodies.
This article was originally published in Geez Magazine.