Burial or cremation, or something else?

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

It has been said that life has two certainties; death and taxes. But even those two non-negotiables of life have a multitude of variables.

When it comes to our final resting place, burial or cremation have generally been considered the two best, or even only, options.

But both are expensive, complicated and, to my mind at least, not very respectful either to the recently departed or to those of us left behind (for now).

Our bodies are dense with a lifetime of accumulated nutrients which living things, from microbes to vegetation could use.

Each standard, conventional burial costs American families between $8,000 and $25,000.

And cremation is far from the antiseptic process you might imagine.

Google it if you dare.

In the U.S., the Green Burial Council reports the custom also results in an estimated 64,500 tons of steel; 1.6 million tons of concrete; 20 million feet of hardwood; 17,000 tons of copper and bronze; and 827,000 gallons of toxic formaldehyde, methanol and benzene embalming fluid being placed underground with the deceased.

How many times have you wondered if there had to be something better than pumping formaldehyde into a loved one, encasing them in a concrete vault reinforced with rebar and burying them in a six foot deep hole?

Or had qualms about reducing one’s once-larger-than-life mama or papa, sister, brother or dear friend to a handful of grey ashes – destined for no better of an after-life than placement on a mantel or in the back of a closet?

Back to the garden – No flames or chemicals required

One less complicated, and expensive approach is to return the once-living body directly to the earth.

Washington was the first state in the U.S. to legalize human composting when Gov. Jay Inslee signed it into law in May 2019.

Colorado made the process legal with HB21-006 in May of 2021 and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed HB 2574 in June of this year. California is considering the legislation. As are a few other states.

There is a variety of non-traditional options including alkaline hydrolysis, also called water cremation or aquamation. It takes place in a pressurized vessel filled with water and potassium hydroxide, which transforms the body into a sand-like material.

Human composting (allowing the body to return to its most basic constituents) can be done through a couple local companies, with a process that takes about 30 days.

Each body is laid onto a bed of wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Over the next 30 days, everything breaks down thanks to natural decomposition. What is left is approximately one cubic yard of nutrient rich soil supplement.

As one person in the profession put it, this process does what nature has always done – just faster.

If you think about it, it is not this process that is new, radical or intrusive; formaldehyde, concrete vaults and multi-thousand dollar coffins are the odd and unnatural interlopers.

Religious objections

The Catholic Church objected to cremation for a long time, on the grounds that the body was destroyed, hence not viable for resurrection.

The Vatican ruled that Catholics may be cremated but should not have their ashes scattered at sea or kept in urns at home; cremated remains should be kept in a “sacred place” such as a church cemetery.

The Jewish tradition is that we are supposed to give back to the earth.

And many Native traditions hold that, for the spirit to rest in peace through eternity, the physical body must be laid to rest fully intact.

These human composting companies (the first in the country) respect these beliefs.

Keeping it local

Oddly enough, at least two business are operating such alternatives to burial and cremation – both in South King County. Details can be found here: recompose.life/our-model/ or https://www.returnhome.com/.

Embalming, burial and cremation are expensive and not very environment-friendly.

Here’s what life after death, at least on a physical level could look like in a few years: https://www.discovermagazine.com/environment/human-composting-how-our-bodies-can-nourish-new-life-after-death.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’d like to go out with as little fuss and expense as possible.

Or you could be a diamond

But why be cremated or buried or even turned into something as mundane as soil when you (or at least a few grams of your remains) could be made into a diamond (or even several)?

You might not live forever, but diamonds, so they say, are forever.

And if you want to be considered of value, long after you are physically gone, you might consider this option.

Who knows? Your heirs that never appreciated you before, just might fight over you after you are gone.

You can look into the fine print of this process here: https://www.discovermagazine.com/the-sciences/after-you-die-your-body-could-be-turned-into-a-diamond?.

And like, the skeleton in the photo above, you just might get the last laugh.