Going Home Green
If we’re trying to live more lightly on the earth, couldn't we plan for a greener death as well? A few of us— the Going Home Green group— are learning about earth-friendly end-of-life practices that are consistent with our values, honoring environment and community. Like more and more people today, we're rediscovering time-honored practices in a variety of traditions, and discovering some new ones, too. There are many local and national resources to help: follow the links here.
How would you like to live your last days?
You may have already indicated some wishes through an advance care directive or medical proxy / power of attorney documents. But consider also talking with those close to you about how you’d like to live your final days, given the choice. Where would you like to die, and with whom nearby? Whether it's home hospice care or a healthcare setting, think about what might give you comfort. Open the subject! Others are often honored to discuss it. To start that conversation, a useful resource is Honoring Choices Minnesota.
What about your care immediately after death?
A funeral home can prepare the body for disposition, but you may have more choices and legal rights than you’re aware of— for example, the home vigil or home funeral. Today, more families are choosing to care for the body at home. Legally allowable for up to three days in Minnesota, this period can include time for visitation, community, and preparations for a ceremony. It's a time for sharing and adjusting to a new reality. There are legal and practical needs, too, so plan in advance to ensure that Minnesota regulations are met: read the Choices document published by the state health department. For support, you might want to engage a local home vigil guide such as Anne Murphy of A Thousand Hands, or consider a leader from your faith congregation. (Keep in mind that the Covid pandemic limits some current options.) Resources include Funeral Consumers Alliance of Minnesota and the Minnesota Threshold Network.
What are your preferences for disposition?
If you choose burial, there are greener alternatives to the mainstream practice of embalming and burial in a casket and vault. Several “hybrid” cemeteries in our area now allow greener practices on a portion of their grounds: Roselawn in Roseville, Mound in Brooklyn Center, Oak Hill in Minneapolis, and Resurrection in Mendota Heights. Here, you can skip embalming, use a shroud or biodegradable vessel instead of a casket, and opt for a simple marker (or none at all). Families can take a hands-on approach to the ceremony, too. That’s especially true at Prairie Oaks Memorial Eco-Gardens in Inver Grove Heights, the metro's only natural burial ground. And for the future, the Land Conservation Natural Burial Project is planning for an east-metro area where visitors will be welcome and burials are part if the land stewardship plan. Another resource: the Green Burial Council.
If you choose cremation, there’s a water-based process that emits a lot less carbon: in a few hours, alkaline hydrolosis reduces a body to "ash” fragments, similar to a flame cremation. Several area funeral homes now offer this service, including Bradshaw. One option for disposition of ashes (of any type) is the new Better Place Forest in Scandia, one of several such memorial forests nationwide. Other options include the body donation programs at the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic (where alkaline hydrolysis is ultimately used). Further afield, there's the new Recompose process, which gently reduces the body to a compost-like substance: it’s operating in Washington State and is under consideration in other states.
In short, today more people are reclaiming their end-of-life choices. The Going Home Green group plans to share resources as we discover them. We meet quarterly, in March, June, September, and December, on Zoom for now. To join us next time, send an email to MindyKeskinen@comcast.net.
Some publications of interest
Thinking about having a "green" funeral? Here's what you need to know by Sonya Vatomsky, New York Times, March 22, 2018.
The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial by Elizabeth Fournier (New World Library, 2018).
Reimagining Death: Stories and Practical Wisdom for Home Funerals and Green Burials by Lucinda Herring (North Atlantic Books, 2019).
Greening Death: Reclaiming Burial Practices and Restoring Our Tie to the Earth by Suzanne Kelly (Rowan & Littlefield, 2015).
Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death by Lisa Carlson and Joshua Slocum (Upper Access, 2011).
From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty (Norton, 2017).
Choices, Minnesota Department of Health's regulations for body disposition, updated 2011 (PDF).