19 October 2011


Huge thanks to Sheril Kirshenbaum for introducing me to one of the most original TED talks I've encountered ~ Can We Commit Our Bodies To a Cleaner, Greener Earth, Even After Death? The reply is a resounding yes, we can. First, a little background.

I've long thought that the funeral industry of the past century is a disgraceful scam. Berieved relatives and loved ones shell out a small fortune so that someone who has recently died will be interred in a sealed metal coffin, with accompanying, non-essential services like viewing rooms, hearse processions, flowers, etc. Or, more recently, those same relatives and loved ones can pay a marginally smaller sum to have the body cremated, and the ashes placed in a memorial metal jar.

Financial predation aside, there are two problems. First, if a preserved body is buried in a sealed metal coffin, there is no way for decaying component elements to rejoin the cycle of life. Inside the artificial crypt, what should be the natural decomposition and feeding of microorganisms and other members of the food web, becomes a grotesque process of putrifaction completely removed from natural recycling. Second, if a body is cremated, it contributes particulate and heat pollution to the environment.

For many years, I've known that when I die, I want my body to be buried in a plain pine box or in cloth winding sheets, with no formaldahide or other preservatives allowed. I WANT to rejoin the earth from which I was born, and to give back as many nutrients as I can. Health laws in many cities don't allow for such a natural approach, leaving me with the option of following the lead of Edward Abbey ~ having trusted friends bury me as soon as possible after death, without embalming and in disregard of state health laws, at an undisclosed location, preferably accompanied by a celebration of my life. Failing that, when my time comes I could simply disappear into the wilderness, and spend my last conscious hours drinking in nature's beauty.

Now a new idea is afoot. Jae Rhim Lee recounts in her TED talk how even with a natural burial, toxins in our bodies are released into the environment. But rather than seal off those toxins, she proposes being buried in a special burial suit seeded with pollutions-gobbling mushrooms. Voila, the best of both worlds. Yes, I know it sounds a bit out there at first, but see if you can listen to her presentation with an open mind ~ I think you'll find that she makes eminent sense. For further information on decompiculture and alternative burial, visit The Infinity Burial Project website. I guarantee it will give you food for thought, and perhaps even a new plan for your own after-death experience.

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