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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Natural Burial via the Local Funeral Home


The modern funeral can't help but work at cross-purposes with the aims of natural burial. Chemical embalming of the dead, metal caskets sealed against the elements, the burial vaults that serve, in the words of one manufacturer, "as a last line of defense against mother nature," all seek to preserve the body from the dissolution that's a natural part of the life cycle -- and from the very goal of natural return.

So, don't expect the local funeral director to cheer your request for a green burial. Particularly, as it represents the lost sale of the very goods and services that provide such a boost to his bottom line.

But that may soon change. A handful of funeral directors around the country, recognizing that there are still profits to be gained by giving families what they want, are adding green burial options to their General Price List of offerings. One of them is Steve McCowen. A licensed funeral director based in Michigan and manager of a family-friendly funeral planning organization called the Today Center (www.todaycenter.com), McCowen works with sixteen funeral homes in the state that give families just what they ask for -- and no more -- hassle-free. "We'll pick the body up from the place of death, and bring it wherever the family wants, including their home, for home funerals," says McCowen. "They can even file the death certificate on their own." Families can skip embalming and choose from a cloth-covered, pine or cardboard coffin. Cost of the basic package runs less than $4,000, roughly half as much as the standard sendoff.

You can find other family- and eco-friendly funeral providers like McCowen by contacting the Green Burial Council (www.decentburial.org). A non-profit group that's working to advance the cause of natural burial in this country, the Council directs families to providers that offer the group's green "Burial Package," which prohibits vaults and formaldehyde-based embalming, and permits only biodegradable caskets.

So far, the Council has approved providers in seven states: California, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, New York and Wisconsin. For contact information, e-mail the Council at: info@greenburialcouncil.org.

You don't have to work through the funeral home to arrange a natural burial, of course. In most cases, you can do it yourself. But for families that prefer the assistance of the local funeral parlor, the Council's burial package identifies those that understand the tenets of the eco-friendly burial -- and will help families arrange it.

By making inroads into the funeral industry, the Council hopes over time to change it for the greener. The Burial Package is one small step in that direction. Still, as McCowen himself has found, the road is long. "I called the three-county area recently to find a cemetery that would allow one family to bury their dead without a vault, and couldn't find one," he says. In that case, McCowen arranged for the dead to be transported to a natural cemetery in another state. He has also successfully pursued another option that legally allows for vautless burial in Michigan: helping families designate a parcel of their rural property as a private burial ground.

2 comments:

stevemccowen@todaycenter.com said...

Mark,

It was great working with you. I hope your readers will keep in mind that the funeral model they see today is recent. The efforts of yourself, Joe Sehee (Green Burial Council) and the great folks at Ramsey Creek are trying to help bring society back to the roots of funeral service. I would be more than happy to help any person interested in bringing these elements to their community. We will do our best to help you Mark from our website www.todaycenter.com.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

It is good that some funeral homes are seeing the light and many people want a natural burial. However, where in the world does $4000 fit into the picture? Without embalming, viewing and visitation at a funeral home, families can transport their loved ones without a hearse, no expensive casket and 'extras', so all I can think of is funeral homes are still reaching as deep into the pockets of the grieving as they can reach. Hopefully, the day will come when funerals as we have come to know them will be a thing of the past and families will take full control of caring for and disposing of their deceased loved ones in the manner they prefer. There is nothing magical about what a funeral home does except to make as much of your money disappear from your pocket and appear in theirs. It is time this rackett is put to death! pun intended...

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