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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Catching Up

I'm en route to northern California, where I'll be speaking at the annual meeting of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Humboldt. I'll report back on efforts underway in area to start a green cemetery.

In the meantime, a couple of updates:

A green burial ground opens in Maine.
I just heard from Ernie Marriner, a board member of Rainbow's End, a natural cemetery (pictured above) that takes root on a fourteen acre meadow- and pineland just south of Bangor, Maine (see my November 30th blog post of last year for more information). The board that operates Rainbow's End had last year gained approval from the state to run a cemetery but had held off on opening the ground to burial until the IRS had granted it non-profit, tax-exempt status. Ernie wrote to say that they'd gained the approval a couple of weeks ago and opened for business this past Monday, April 21.

This is the second natural cemetery in Maine. As I reported in this December 14th blog entry, Peter McHugh launched Cedar Brook, a three-acre woodland cemetery within a larger pine forest some 30 miles due west of Portland, back in the early fall of 2007.

A documentary on one man's peaceful, controlled death.
I shared a ride back from the recent, 10-year celebration of the home funeral organization Crossings with Karen van Vuuren. Karen is the founder of Natural Transitions, a non-profit group that offers home funeral education and assistance to families in the Boulder, Colorado, area. In the course of our conversation, Karen told me about Michael Miller, a retired surgeon in the area who was dying of cancer. Michael, who didn't want to die in the hospital, had decided to halt his intake of fluids and foods in an effort to induce and control his own gentle death, in his own home, and had asked Karen to document his remarkable journey to educate those he'd leave behind.

Michael died peacefully, as he'd wished, on the thirteenth day of his fast. Karen tells the story of his final parting in her new documentary film, Dying Wish. I'll report on the documentary shortly, but those of you who live in Boulder can get a sneak preview at the film's premier, on May 8 in the Normad Theatre, at 7:30. (For more information, call 303-245-4866, or e-mail The film, and other end of life resources, will soon be available at:

Funeral directors and formaldehyde.
More evidence that formaldehyde, a major ingredient in most embalming fluids, is hazardous to funeral directors. A new Harvard study shows that people who are exposed to formaldehyde are at greater risk of developing amyotropic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. ALS, for which there is no cure, is a degenerative condition that damages nerve cells and leads to paralysis.

The Harvard researchers found that exposure to formaldehyde, which the EPA declared a probable human carcinogen in 1987, increases one's risk of ALS by 34%. Longtime funeral directors, who regularly handle the chemical, would seem to be at particular risk. The study reported that workers who were exposed to formaldehyde for more than ten years were four times more likely to develop ALS.

Mark Harris
Author, Grave Matters (

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Grave Matters

Facebook page for the book on green burial, Grave Matters, with updates on the growing movement.