Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 27, 2008
Buried in the natural way
Growing movement wants to take ecology sensitivity into the graveyard
By LASHA MORNINGSTAR
This grave is little more than a hole in the ground in a natural setting.
One way, he says, is to examine the choices surrounding a green burial.
"They don't have to pump them (the dead) full of chemicals and stick them in a couple of boxes to preserve them. Decomposition and decay are natural.
"And ashes to ashes and dust to dust is really a long-standing tenet that means something. Getting in synch with the cycle that we see all around us - being born and dying and reborn - it is something that provides solace. And we need to allow people to get in synch with that cycle."
Michael Kalmanovitch, owner of Earth's General Store in Edmonton, agrees.
"These things about death - we don't talk about it much 'cause we're terrified of it."
But those who are not afraid do talk to Kalmanovitch and, like him, want to make their departure eco-friendly.
"The alternatives aren't in Alberta yet," he says. "But the writing is on the tombstone for the funeral industry - an evolution needs to happen."
A passionate environmentalist, Kalmanovitch hopes new cemeteries will provide natural areas where bodies can be placed in biodegradable containers without concrete linings.
Kalmanovitch plans to craft his own coffin of paper machete and willow with photos and cards pasted on the side with space for people to write their own words.
Burial? Hopefully on organic farmland.
"I am not going to have my son have to decide what to do. This way I deal with death realistically."
The desire to be buried in natural burial grounds is espoused by the Natural Burial Association, a non-profit group that "promotes environmental conservation by the establishment of natural burial grounds in Canada and by establishing the principles and guidelines for natural burials."
"We are in negotiations with a landowner about a site in the Greater Toronto area, and hope to encourage other groups to get natural burial grounds set up in their communities, says executive director Janet McCausland.
While natural burials may appeal, jurisdictions have specific rules and regulations cemeteries must abide by.
Edmonton Catholic Cemeteries manager Ann Glas says her organization has not received a request for a natural burial - "not a one."
To be buried in one of its five cemeteries, the top of the box must be buried two to three feet from the top of the ground - "maybe a bit lower."
While provinces do not mandate concrete liners, all city cemeteries require them for maintenance purposes, says Glas.
"We are good stewards - we use every square inch of the land," explains Glas. That means the newer cemeteries don't have tree-lined pathways and graves are tucked close to each other. So when the maintenance trucks go over the grounds and there is not the stability of a concrete box underneath, "they could just sink and we wouldn't want anything or anyone to be damaged," says Glas.
Her advice for those who want information on a green funeral? "The bottom line is funeral homes are aware of the move towards green burial, so the place to go is call your funeral home and cemetery and ask for information."
Royal Oak Burial Park gives all the info on natural burial because in one week's time this Victoria cemetery is opening a third of an acre on its 135-acre grounds to natural burial.
"The body is not embalmed," describes executive director Stephen Olson, "and it is placed into a fully biodegradable casket and buried directly into the earth. There is no grave liner.
"So the body decomposes naturally. It's a natural way for an internment to take place."
As the 255 gravesites are filled, indigenous trees and shrubs will be planted, the roads removed and replaced with pathways, and names of those buried will be inscribed on boulders placed within the site. And as the greenery matures, Olson says the natural burial site will "become just like the forest that surrounds it."
Founded in 1923, Royal Oak decided to dedicate an area to natural burial after green burial advocates approached them in 2000. After they researched what was happening in Great Britain - the founder of the re-emerging natural burial movement - Royal Oak decided to go ahead with its green plan.
"We are the first to offer this in urban Canada, " says Olson, "but similar types of funerals are often available in the small towns and rural areas."
Financially the costs are somewhat lower since there is no embalming, casket costs are lower, no liner, no vaults, no memorial marker.
Of course, there are still the expected costs such as the digging of the grave and cost of the grave itself - between $2,600 and $2,800 - and its ongoing care.
"This simple natural type of funeral is the way it used to be," says Olson. "It's an old tradition that's been lost over the years and we are just returning to it."
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