Let us look at this video demonstrating how tough the vault is.
Here is another video:
I was trained and worked in a cemetery run by one of the largest death care corporations. We had a brief training on vaults. Much of our training was brief because the purpose of a family service councilor is to sell. We were told that vaults maintain the integrity of the grave, help keep the ground level for the cemetery and lined vaults kept out the elements (or nature) from reaching the casket. We sold all kinds of vaults from the simple to the high-end precious metal lined vaults. To be quite fair, we were never trained to push the high-end vaults. Our training also made it clear that vaults were not a legal requirement, but a requirement of the cemetery.
Let us look at this video demonstrating how tough the vault is.
My first comment about this video is about their scientific process. We have no idea how long this vault remained buried before it was dug up again. We have no idea if heavy equipment rode over this spot. Finally, the casket is empty. We have no idea about the state of an occupied coffin buried for an unspecified amount of time. I realize that they are selling vaults not coffins, but to be sure coffins and vaults are used together. When I was a family service counselor, I became close to the grounds workers at the cemetery. One member of the team who had been a grave digger for many, many years, told me that whenever he has been present at a disinterment, the vaults have always been cracked or otherwise breached. Sometimes the breach was dramatic, other times, not so much. Once interred, there is very little way of knowing the quality of the structure of a vault. Some vaults are sturdier than others. I do not mean to imply that vaults are designed to break or that all vaults do not stand up to the pressure. What I am saying is no one really knows how tough any vault can be until you dig it up after use.
Here is another video:
This one plays at the heartstrings. As you know, I am all in favour of personalization of death rituals. I find it odd that personalized vault that will spend most of its time underground, and that the only people who will be seeing it again will be those who would dig up the grave. We are told in this video that a lined vault secures the casket and contents from water and insects. It makes me wonder what it is we think we are doing when we bury our loved ones. Do we really want to keep their bodies preserved for generations in hopes that one day an archeologist will dig them back up again? I think perhaps vaults are a hold over from the anti-theft devices developed for higher end burials in the 18th and 19th centuries when corpses were sometime dug up for scientists to study anatomy. It’s not a pretty thought, but there you have it. It’s not a huge leap from protecting bodies from body snatcher to protecting bodies from anything and everything.
There are solutions for vaults in graves. I suggest that vaults are not a necessity at all, providing steps are taken to prevent sunken graves. In green burial the grave is filled mounded with dirt on the graven so that once the settling of the grave takes place, the grave is not sunken. A shrouded body creates less concern for grave settling than those using a biodegradable coffin because there is much less matter be broken down. In green certified burials, care is given to maintain the ground. Green Burial does not mean haphazard burials without forethought. To the contrary, certified green burial grounds undergo extensive planning and go through a strict process for certification. Thought is given to preserving and restoring the land and in that maintaining the integrity of graves and the land in general.
I recognize that not everyone has a spiritual or religious structure in his or her life. I understand that some people do not believe in the divine. I grew up with one set of atheist grandparents, while my father was a priest. This gave me a great perspective on life. When these grandparents died it took awhile to have a memorial service for them. For each, poetry played a dominant role in the memorial. Grandpa was a poet and both were lovers of the English language. I think it took time to create these services because not everyone finds rituals easy to create. We are creatures of ritual. Sleep and waking rituals are among the most common. At the time of loss, ritual might help us put into action what we cannot yet put into words, and for this reason, I am providing a simple ritual outline for a memorial. You can make it as complicated or as simple as needed or wanted. You might add a party and either begin or end with the memorial. That is up to you. The ritual is designed to make it easy to have a memorial and give a physical expression of grief.
Candle Story Telling Memorial
When someone we love dies, it leaves a hole in our lives. We remember them in stories, and if they live big enough, those stories go down through the generations. This is a simple ritual. You need only people candles, stories, table and a place for people to gather. You might also need Kleenex. The idea is to have loved ones gather, each can bring his or her own candle, or candle holder. Someone should lead the event.
Suggested Opening Remarks:
I’m glad you all could come today as we remember Joe. We all love him and miss him. Today, we gather to remember our favourite moments, stories or poems. Feel free to step forward or speak from where you stand. After you have spoken, please bring up your light place it on the table and then the next person can speak. No one should feel obligated to speak tonight if he or she does not wish to. (Leader begins the story telling or memory.)
After a long time when no one has spoken, the leader asks if there is anyone else who wishes to speak, if not then the remainder should bring up the lights they have.
Suggested Closing Remarks:
Thank you all for coming. We will all miss Joe, but let us remember the light he gave us when he was alive and let us remember our connection to each other through knowing him. In the coming days, weeks and months, let us remember the light we shared here of what his life meant to us.
This could work for a bonfire where people add in their own sticks to the fire while they speak.
One can always add in food and music to the event, as this is also a time where sharing and storytelling takes place and gives people a sense of connection to the person who has died and to those who also loved them. The memorial can either be at the opening of the gathering or the close. You might want to up it in the middle. The point is this is a framework should make creating a memorial easier. Use it anyway that makes sense for you and those you love.
Nine of the United States (Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Nebraska, Connecticut, Louisiana, New Jersey and New York) requires each citizen to hire a funeral director at the time of death. To the casual observer, this might seem like a good idea. After all they are the professionals. What people often over look is the culture of the death care industry in this nation and how isolated it functions. As a culture, we no longer talk about death. We leave it to the last second, if at all, to talk with our family about what we want to have done for our funeral and burial. Some of us think we will never die and those around us will not either. Sometimes we walk around in almost a fog thinking that we will never have to deal with planning a funeral. The truth is most of us will have to plan a funeral of someone we love at some point in our lives. When that happens, and we have not prepared, we are likely to follow what the funeral director or family service counselor at the cemetery suggests and do what is conventional. This is not necessarily the industry’s fault. They have a client coming in that needs service and quickly and if they do not know what they want, it is easy to follow convention. Before we go further, embalming is not a requirement by law for burial or viewing of the body. These are purely the requirement of the funeral director. The same is true for vaults in cemeteries. Vaults are not required by law for burial, but are requirements of the cemetery.
From my shopping experiences with funeral directors, I noticed that even if a greener funeral is wanted, funeral directors steer the conversation to the conventional, embalming funeral. Open coffins in most funeral homes would not be allowed without embalming. Many reasons are given for this, but the truth is the funeral industry has enshrined embalming as the safe and only funeral option for those who want to follow traditional rites that involve open coffins. Embalming does not make a body safe or sanitized -diseases die with us. Embalming will not preserve a body forever- by law embalming can only be guaranteed for five days. A properly cared for natural body can be refrigerated for as many days as ten and longer and still have an open coffin. Without refrigeration, taking into consideration a variety of ways to keep the body cool, a body can be above ground for about three day. For thousands of years, people have buried and had viewings without embalming. There is no reason why we need to do this invasive and unnecessary procedure to the bodies of our loved ones.
In many states, death doulas assist families with their funeral preparation without embalming. They use tried and true methods of maintaining the body after death. They guide the family through the process assisting the family when needed and providing a smooth and simple way of dealing with the death of a loved one. In states that force their citizenry to hire funeral directors, death doulas either do not exist, or are forced to work in with a funeral director. In the end, either a family does not have access to this service or they have to pay twice for the service because the family will have to pay the funeral director the basic service fee. The basic service fee is a protected fee and unregulated that individual clients have no right to negotiate for a lower price. I have found this fee in Illinois to be as little as 995.00 or as high as 2495.00. That seems steep to me for someone who needs someone to fill out paper or for who wants to have a simple burial with little extras.
In these states, we are forced to hire a private entity and to give money to an industry, which we might not want, or need. It forces those of low income to raise money, to bury their loved ones or go into debt to pay off the end of life bills. One funeral home website states that the reason that funerals cost so much is that they are like weddings. However, if a couple wants to be married and they do not want all the fuss of a big event, they need only take themselves down to the courthouse and get married. They fill out the papers and take the vows with a judge. If we want to care for our own dead, the option of filling out our own forms and caring for our loved ones ourselves is not open to us who live in a state where we must hire a funeral director at the time of death. If we live in one of these nine states, we are forced to pay, and pay dearly for a service we want or need without the benefit of hiring who we want and having a simple funeral. This goes against free market and free enterprise where the laws of competition and demand have no bearing. The industry can set up its own regulations that do not correspond to the law. If the law states that embalming is not required for a funeral and burial, how can someone in that state get a simple funeral if no funeral director will provide that service? We are forced into an industry which does not give us what we want - a simple farewell
The average funeral in the US is 10,000.00 this is before cemetery costs where you need to purchase the right to be buried in a plot, an open and close of a grave and in most cases a vault. These laws which saddles its citizenry in such a way means they have lost touch with those of meager means in their state. Cook County’s morgue a few years back was backlogged with bodies left unclaimed. I do not wonder why. Our position is a human rights and social justice issue. How can we treat those of lesser means as lesser human because they cannot pay the high price of the death care industry? It’s an issue of common decency. It is in no way just to force a family into a financial crisis or leave their loved ones behind and unclaimed. That just is not right.
I know there are good and decent funeral directors who care for the families and want to provide good service to those in need. I know there are those who work freelance because they want to help families, but do not like the culture of the industry. I know there are people who work in cemeteries who want the family to have what they want for their loved ones at death. In the end, even for those who have a great heart and are working to provide the best service they can, no one should be forced to take their services. I do not wonder why cremation is on the rise. In cremation, the family is offered a wide variety of possibilities that are not costly and give the family flexibility to have memorial and burial services where the industry is kept out almost entirely. We should be able to fill in the proper forms and hire who we want to help our families at the most tender times in our lives, instead of dealing with an industry that may not have our values for a simple funeral and burial at heart.
We allow home births, but we do not allow for home funerals. We have trained midwives and doulas to assist the new mother as she enters into the new life with her child. We also allow women the option to have their babies in a hospital. We need to begin to look at home funerals in this manner. A death in the family is a life changing event where life as we knew it is over, and the new one, one we live without our loved one begin. Families who wish to choose a simple funeral, where people gather to share stories and be together, where death doulas help walk them through the process without the death care industry telling them what they do and do not need, should be able to choose what is best for themselves. We should have the right to choose how we want to gather and celebrate and remember the lives of our loved ones as we see fit. The state should keep their laws off the bodies of our loved one. This is not about clandestine graves or not registering deaths properly. It’s not about breaking the laws or thwarting important documentation laws. It’s about our right to choose. It’s about the rights of families to choose what is best for their family. It’s about being true to traditions and true to your heart. Call your state representative or senator and tell them you do not want this law in your state. Contact us if you need more information on this topic.
Many of us in the Midwest live in areas without access to certified burial grounds, conventional cemeteries that offer a green option, or in states that require the hiring of a funeral director at the point of death. Because of the situation we face, many of us have to make choices that are not perfect choices. Here are five simple hacks to make a funeral and burial greener. At the end of the day, we all can only do our best.
Don’t Be Embalmed That is easier said than done if you live in Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, or New York. Many funeral homes require embalming for public viewings, or wakes, or any kind of an open coffin. If you live in one of these states there might be a Death Doula close to you that will be able to direct you to a good funeral director. If you do not live near a home funeral guide, I recommend you shop around at local funeral homes. If you live in the Chicagoland area, contact us and we can provide you with contacts.
Some of us come from traditions that necessitate an open coffin for our religious rites. Some of us come from cultural traditions where viewing the body is central to the grieving process. Most funeral homes offer direct burial, but you should not have to settle for direct burial if it goes against your heart. Any funeral director should be able to offer refrigeration. An open coffin with a natural body will not spread disease, most diseases die with the body. You still need to take proper care of the body after death, but this is not a difficult process. The point is, plan ahead of time. Stand by what you know is right and what you know fits with what you need through the grieving process. Feel free to contact Midwest Green Burial Society if you need any assistance with this.
Invert the Vault. Many of us live in states where there are no certified green burial grounds. You might find yourself wanting a green burial, but have no place to bury in a green site. If you cannot find a cemetery that does not require a vault, or if you are pressed for time and are deep in grief, remember to ask that the vault be inverted. The coffin or shroud will be in contact with the earth, and might be the most natural way you can bury your loved ones. Many cemeteries will comply if you tell them that your loved one will not be embalmed and you want to make greener choices.
Low Impact Coffin or Shroud. Shrouds least impact the environment at the time of burial. You may need a board for extra support to help lower the body, but it is by far the simplest way to be buried. There are a few on-line to choose from, but remember you can make a shroud from a qulit or blanket. MGBS has a resource page with some low impact coffins and shrouds. While we love the wicker and wool coffins, we look to the amount of jet fuel to takes to get here from Europe, and we feel strongly about shopping locally.
On-line Memorial. Remember not everyone can come to a memorial event or they live far away, making travel difficult, costly and use too much fossil fuel. Create an online page for people to express their grief, and a way to share favourite stories. We live far away from each other physically, but we can come together online to be a support to each other.
Use Locally Source Flowers. Instead of using florists, who often use environmentally unfriendly practices get your flowers locally, even a home garden. For an even greener choice, contact your local conservation district office and ask which indigenous flowers or decorative branches you could use. In the winter, evergreens would be a beautiful choice. For a memory gift, consider making seed packets using seeds from Seed Savers Exchange or other local seed saving groups. We use Seed Savers Exchange seeds for our seed pack/business card. Use of these kinds of seeds promotes biodiversity.
Remember, whatever choices we made in the past were made because we thought we were being responsible. I suggest we do not beat ourselves up about the past and start today educating ourselves so that we can make better choices in the future.
Juliann Salinas is our guest author this week. Juliann is a Co-founder of the Midwest Green Burial Society and social justice advocate, holds a BA in Political Science from the University of Colorado at Boulder and an MBA from Ashford University with a specialization in Environmental Management. Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Paraguay 1994-1996)
A few weeks back I was sent another link for a time-sensitive fundraiser. A former coworker’s son had died at 16 in a tragic swimming accident, and donations were being sought to help cover the burial and funerary expenses. It was a sad reminder of the practical realities of death.
With the average cost of funeral services and internment at about $10,000, few families are able to absorb the expense of modern death, particularly sudden death, which has given rise to crowdfunding requests. Some sites, including Graceful Goodbye and Funeral Fund, have been created specifically to cater to death care expenses.
I am an advocate of, and oft-contributor to, crowdfunding requests. I feel that it is a medium that provides the average Jane or Joe the opportunity to invest in projects that express their passions and interests in a way that most middle-class investment opportunities rarely can. Getting in on the ground floor of a new restaurant, supporting a local art gallery exhibit or rock band recording, or helping launch a great small business idea used to be the realm of the rarified-air-breathing “qualified investors,” those with a cool million or so of “risk-able” money. For the rest of us who find it difficult to figure out if our 401k is sunk in to big oil or Monsanto, crowdfunding provides a straightforward exchange and often has the advantage of instant and long-term gratification – although, rarely, huge financial gains. Crowdfunding “returns on investment” are, usually, mostly intangible -such as gratitude and the not-entirely-vicarious thrill of seeing one’s supported project succeed.
Another, often unmentioned, aspect of crowdfunding is its ability to bring attention to causes, issues and concerns that are not being addressed by the status quo. Whether its investing in the exploration of solar roadways, or helping out uninsured folks upon whom tragedy has fallen, crowdfunding “asks” can highlight the cracks in the system and attempts to weave a social safety net and support structures where the free enterprise system and government fail.
Which brings me to a fundamental question – should burials be considered a basic human right and, if so, how should they be financed? Clearly an honorable burial is valued by the military for veterans, for whom they are provided at no cost, but what about every other world citizen? With our identification technology and digital cataloguing/GPS capacity there is no excuse for a nameless “paupers grave” to be the sole option for those without funds, or desire, to support the conventional, environmentally-damaging funeral practices. Why doesn’t our society have a simple, yet dignified, no cost option for all?
I propose that such an opportunity could be created through targeted investments, for vetted non-profit land conservation groups, that are specifically earmarked for the development of natural and/or conservation burial grounds. Hundreds, if not thousands, of green jobs could be created, including local urban wood/reclaimed wood coffin makers, shroud manufacturers, “death midwives” or re-trained green funeral directors, site planners, land managers, and documentarians.
Death care is a $20.7B industry. If even a tenth of that funding was made accessible to support the preservation of open space while providing a no cost burial option to all, hundreds of thousands of acres could be saved or restored, and tens of thousands of families could avoid sinking further into debt in the name of “honoring” their loved ones - instead focusing on their natural grieving process and life celebrations. That’s an investment I’d be willing to make. Time to Indiegogo?
I love trees. I love they way they dance in the sky and the color of the leaves. I love the budding of their flowers in the spring and the colors they turn in the fall. I love how the snow covers them like frosting in the winter. I love trees and understand why so many of us want to be a tree, or provide nutrients for a tree in death. I would love to be an oak tree or a maple tree. I don’t know which one I prefer. Right now in the Midwest, we struggle with having places to be buried that allows one to become a tree in death. Seems like such a simple thing to do, but it is not so. We struggle with the conventional industry, which has enshrined embalming as the only way civilized people want to care for the dead. We face conventional cemeteries that require us to be buried in a vault and promise us that our bodies will not mingle with the earth. I can’t tell you how many people have come to us telling us how they want to be buried simply beneath a tree.
Cremation is not a green process. One average cremation uses as much energy as a 600-mile trip in a car. That is a lot of fossil fuel. Cremation is not regulated, and so not all crematories have scrubbers on their stacks, so a variety of toxins can be and are released through cremation. If you want to stay green in death, think twice about cremation.
Most of us have all seen the Bios Urn. About once a month, one of my Facebook friends tag me with a photo of this urn. It makes me crazy. Bios Urns market themselves very well, and people think that becoming a tree is only possible with their product. Bios Urns talk about creating parks for these urns on their website, but to date, there are no such parks. As you can see, the Bios Urn uses cremains, but only the top of the urn provides the nutrition of the growth of the seed. The roots are then to intertwine with the cremains. This urn costs about $155 to get here from Europe. (I priced it from their site.) Cremains are inert. They in no way can provide nutrients for a tree or any living plant. All nutrients are destroyed in the cremation process. If you want to plant a tree with using cremains, you need to have peat and good soil on the top part of the grave to provide the nutrients for the tree or seedling. Anyone can make a tree grow from cremains if they follow these simple rules.
At the time of death, people may not have the peace of mind to collect everything needed to create a tree memorial for someone they love, and a kit would be an easy thing to have on hand. If you are seeking a kit, there is another choice, a memorial tree kit from Northwoods Casket. They provide everything you need for a memorial tree planting ceremony. For about $15 including shipping you can have what you need to become a tree. You have everything you need to become a tree, or plant one in memory of someone.
In certain green burial grounds, or if you have established your own family burial ground, you can plant a tree on someone’s grave and in that way become a tree yourself. I suggest planting a tree as a memorial to someone you love. I plant my garden that way, as I stated in another post. I plant trees and shrubs that remind me of people long past. Trees can act that way as well. Our goal is to one day have green cemeteries throughout the Midwest, and then we can all become trees if we want to.
Today is ten years since my father-in-law, Mile Vujadinov, died. I miss him very much. My children never met him, but we tell them stories about him all the time. He was a giant among men. Tata (Serbian for daddy) was imprisoned for three years for trying to defect from communist Yugoslavia, enduring many humiliations during that time. After his final escape, Tata became a welder by reading a book about welding on his way to Australia. He apprenticed as a blacksmith so he understood metal, but it was by reading this book that he learned how to weld. What makes this story even more fantastic was that he never went to school because his family was too poor to afford proper shoes. By the time of his death Tata could speak five languages. As you can see from the picture, he loved to dance. I miss him. Tata’s death was the first death in which I had any first hand experience with the death care industry. We had no plan at the time of his death, so we did what people do – we did our best.
Saturday we met, prayed and remembered Tata in the church. We are Orthodox Christians, and we remember the death of our loved ones all the time. We make and serve a sweet wheat dish, zito or koliva. Basically zito reminds us in death, there is life. We make it to remind ourselves of the resurrection, and the sweetness of the life-giving tomb. What I find so interesting is that there are so many different ways to make this dish. I think it is so touching that in death and grief, we serve this sweet dish to remind us not to stay too long in the bitterness, because there will be sweetness again.
Even though I have a tradition that has that allows me to have time set aside to grieve and remember, I think we all can choose to do the same. For those of us who have lost someone we love, it is good and fitting to remember them in ways that make sense to us. Why not have a mini-memorial on a big anniversary to tell stories to the younger generation? It is through the stories that they live in us. I know stories about my great-great-grandfather and mother and I never met them, but to me they are alive to me in those stories. Let us feel free to take the time, to remember those who we love and who have gone before us in ways that are meaningful for us.
When we started the Midwest Green Burial Society (then the Chicagoland Green Burial Society), my partner and co-founded, Juliann Salinas and I decided that we needed to write our plans for our funerals. We thought that if we were going to tell people get their ducks in a row, that we needed to do the same. Both of us focused on the party following the memorial or funeral. Those who know us best would probably not be surprised by this. What I found from doing this exercise, was a freedom I did not expect, a freedom to live the life I want, in the way I want to be remembered. Juliann and my husband both know where to find my plans; her husband and I know where to find her plan. It made sense to tell more than one person because you never know who will be the rock in the face of death.
Every death is as unique as the person who has died. Many families and communities have traditions to validate, and give form to grief. I believe that whether or not you come from a traditional background, you can choose to have the memorial you want. It takes planning and the courage to speak what is in your heart. Think things through, and gathering ideas, write them down and talk to the person or persons who will be in charge of you body in death.
I am allergic to forms of all kinds. When I created The Midwest Green Burial Society's form I made it free form, so that anyone could take it and make a plan that suited him or her. My partner recently took it upon herself to remind me about her death folder. I felt so uncomfortable about this as I did not like to think about her death. On the other hand, I know what it is like to have someone close to me die and not know what to do. I am honored that she wanted me to know all about her plans and hope I don't have to use them anytime in the near future. May she have many, many years.
I encourage everyone all to start this process of planning. You can modify the plan as you go along and change your wishes at any time. In the end, you may feel a sense of relief and freedom. It is a kindness we do for our loved ones. It is a gift we give to ourselves.