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. We're rediscovering time-honored practices and discovering some new ones. There are many local and national resources to help: follow the links here.
How would you like to live your last days?
Even if you already have an advance care directive or medical proxy document, consider talking with those close to you about how you’d like to live your final days, given the choice. Whether it's home hospice or a healthcare setting, think about what might give you comfort. Open the subject! Others are often honored to discuss it. To start those conversations, visit Honoring Choices MN. Visit Compassion and Choices MN for "tools to finish strong," including dementia considerations, and info on the 2021 End-of-Life Option Act introduced in the state legislature.
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. Allowable for up to 3 days in Minnesota, this period can include 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 state regulations are met: read the health department's Choices document. 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 group. (Public health issues may limit some options.) The Funeral Consumers Alliance of MN has many resources (including a form for After Death Arrangements), and so does the MN Threshold Network.
What's your preference for disposition?
If you choose burial, there are greener alternatives to embalming and burial in a casket and vault. Several “hybrid” cemeteries in our area now allow greener practices: 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). 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. For the future, the Land Conservation Natural Burial Project is planning for an east-metro area where visitors are welcome and burials are part of 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 ashy fragments, similar to a flame cremation. Several area funeral homes now offer it, including Bradshaw. One option for disposition of ashes (of any type) is the new Better Place Forest in Scandia, one of several memorial forests nationwide. Other options include body donation through the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic (where alkaline hydrolysis is used). Further afield, there's the Recompose process, which gently reduces the body to a compost-like substance: it’s operating in Washington State and is under consideration in states such as Colorado.
In short, more people are reclaiming their end-of-life choices. The Going Home Green group will share resources as we discover them. We meet quarterly, in March, June, September, and December, on Zoom for now.
For more info or to join us next time, you can reach us by email:
Len and Mimi Jennings at firstname.lastname@example.org
Joan Shrum at email@example.com
Mindy Keskinen at firstname.lastname@example.org
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).