My father died on 11 March 2023 at age 98. He was a good man who lived a worthy life. There’s so much I could tell you about him, but this post is intended to share what happened shortly after he died.

My parents were ecologically oriented during their entire life together so it was no surprise that when I located a graveyard close to their home that has dedicated a portion of its facility to natural burials, they signed up quickly by purchasing two plots. I was excited to see how a natural burial would unfold.

What I noticed, and was pleased by, was the easy simplicity of Dad’s burial. Really, not that much was different from a conventional burial. His non-embalmed body was refrigerated in a morgue so when we had a private family viewing a few days after he died, he looked much the same as he had when the funeral directors collected his body. I was comforted to see him one last time and to place a couple of biodegradable items from the ocean in his plain wooden casket.

A day or two later we met up once again on the hillside beside his gravesite. This time the casket was closed and we placed a special cloth on it, along with wood shavings from his workshop and soil from his beloved farm. We chose to have a small number of people present; you can have as many or as few as you wish.

A week after that we held a Memorial Meeting for Dad, guided by his faith and practice as a Quaker. Nothing about that gathering was different than it would have been if we’d chosen a different method of disposition.

Natural burial is no more demanding than a conventional burial and it’s in alignment with the rhythms and cycles of nature. No large sum of fossil fuels are expended, and no poison (e.g. embalming fluid) seeps into the earth. No exotic woods, metal plates, or cement lining are used; those resources remain above ground to benefit the living.

Remember when we used to throw everything in the garbage? We now see the folly of that approach and have created recycling and composting programs. This acknowledges that we live on a circular planet; that there is no “away” where we can throw things and forget about them. Same is true for our bodies when we no longer inhabit them. I like to think that my Dad is still giving back, this time to the planet that sustained him for almost a century.

Sylvia McMechan

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