Going Home Green
If we’re trying to live 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 end-of-life practices that match our values, honoring environment and community. We're reclaiming time-honored traditions, discovering some new ones, and finding local and national resources to help: follow the links here.
How would you like to live your last days?
Even if you 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. Honoring Choices MN offers ways to start the conversation. Compassion and Choices MN has "tools to finish strong," including dementia considerations.
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 and perhaps allow for visitors, too: it's permitted for up to 3 days in Minnesota. This can be a time to adjust to a new reality, make plans for a ceremony, and share stories either formally or informally. There are legal and practical needs, too, so plan in advance to meet state regulations: read the health department's Choices booklet. You might engage a local guide such as Anne Murphy of A Thousand Hands or Angela Woolsey of Inspired Journeys, 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?
Some cemeteries in our area now allow some version of green burial: you can skip embalming, use a shroud or biodegradable vessel instead of a casket and vault, and opt for a simple marker (or none). These “hybrid” cemeteries include Roselawn in Roseville, Mound in Brooklyn Center, Oak Hill in Minneapolis, and Resurrection in Mendota Heights. 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. The Land Conservation Natural Burial Project is planning for an east-metro area where 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 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 (which uses alkaline hydrolysis). Further afield, there's the Recompose process, which gently reduces the body to a compost-like material: it’s been legalized in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado so far.
The Going Home Green group will share more resources as we discover them. We meet quarterly, on Zoom for now. For info or to join us next time, get in touch:
Mindy Keskinen at email@example.com
Joan Shrum at firstname.lastname@example.org
Some resources of interest
Books & articles
Thinking about having a "green" funeral? Here's what you need to know by Sonya Vatomsky, NY Times, March 22, 2018.
The Green Burial Guidebook: Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial by Elizabeth Fournier (New World, 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).
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, 2011 (PDF).
Films & videos