Video: Green Funerals and Natural Burials

There’s no shortage of “soft” euphemisms for death—terms like “slipping away” or “the big sleep.” But there are blunter words, too, like “pushing up daisies” and “feeding the worms.”

Those blunt terms aren’t as widely used, and not just because they sound a bit morbid. It’s also because they’re rendered factually inaccurate by popular funerary practices. Embalming fluid and sturdy caskets seal away remains, making it harder for them to reintegrate with worms, daisies and the rest of nature.

But as a ‘green funeral’ trend grows in popularity, more people are planning burials that emphasize an organic return to the earth.

What Makes a Funeral “Green?”

According to Shari Wolf, founder of Natural Grace Funerals in Los Angeles, there’s one major thing that sets green funerals apart. “The biggest difference... is that we do not embalm the bodies,” she said. Instead, she and her team slow decomposition through refrigeration, then wrap the deceased in a shroud (or another simple, biodegradable container of the family’s choosing) before laying them to rest directly in the earth.

Three Types of Burial Land

The lack of embalming fluid and use of biodegradable materials aren’t all that set green burials apart, however. There are also three specific types of land where bodies are buried. There are Hybrid grounds (natural burial spaces set inside of conventional cemeteries), Natural grounds (settings that look more like scenic wilderness areas than graveyards) and Conservation grounds (wilderness areas preserved through funds from the burials). In most of these settings, you won’t encounter typical headstones. “If there's a marker on top of the grave, then it would be a natural stone from that area,” Wolf said.

Family Involvement

People of all faiths and lifestyles plan green funerals. Gatherings range from traditional religious services to simple celebrations of life. But loved ones frequently participate in green burials more extensively than they would at a conventional funeral. “Families ask to be part of a natural burial very often. [It] may be even as simple as helping to fill back in the grave,” Wolf said. “People are able to embrace what they are experiencing and actually feel part of it, and… they come away with some healing and with some solace.”


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