It is an annual tradition. Not only are fallen heroes from the tragedies of war and courageous veterans who died a natural death remembered, Memorial Day is a time to place wreaths and flowers on the gravesites of family and friends.
Society shows a respect for them, but there is a way to do it reflecting greater sensitivity to the earth while celebrating life eternal.
Death comes with much ritual, ceremony, and a huge industry embalming bodies, cremating remains, and burying the departed in crypts, tombs, and sealed artificial boxes in the ground. In many ways, the death industry does not make sense. It is unnatural.
According to Greensprings Natural Cemetery Preserve (GNCP), buried with loved ones and fallen heroes are:
- 14,000 tons of steel for vaults
- 90,272 tons of steel for caskets
- 827,060 gallons of embalming fluid
- 2,700 tons of copper and bronze for caskets
- 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete for vaults
- 30-plus million board feet of hardwoods for caskets (much of it tropical)
GNCP also reports, “The average cemetery buries 1,000 gallons of embalming fluid, 97.5 tons of steel, 2,028 tons of concrete, and 56,250 board feet of high quality wood in just one acre of green.” Cremation is not much better with thousands of pounds of mercury released into the air and settling into the ground and water.
In terms of raw energy, GNCP notes a person could drive roughly “4,800 miles on the energy equivalent” of “energy used to cremate someone—and to the moon and back 83 times on the energy from all cremations in one year in the U.S.”
Eventually, many traditional cemeteries are lost to time. You can see them overgrown near roadsides, highways, and in the middle of woods and forests. New generations will arrive forgetting those who came before. Many will not maintain graves of relatives never met, or especially those they knew and never liked.
In some cases, developers build over cemeteries, though claim they have moved all the graves. Even physical death is not permanent.
Green cemeteries are cropping up throughout the nation as an alternative to pumping the deceased with chemicals and for morbid preservation in airtight, waterproof, non-biodegradable boxes. Natural resting places also are about something much more than sensitivity to the environment. They are about life.
Natural preserves cradling the deceased become parks, a place for the living. They are playgrounds for youth, picnics for families, and walking trails for the reflective. In some cases, you can have a flat, tasteful small stone placed over the grave, a tree, or both.
The body actually becomes part of the earth and helps sustain it – trees, wildflowers, and the animals needing the vegetation. Green cemeteries become an integrated part of the living, not something segregated making death frightening. Natural places of rest remind us of the soul’s natural cycle and eternal connection to the cosmos while serving as a genuine, living connection to the past.
Paul Jesep is a policy analyst, corporate chaplain, and author of “Lost Sense of Self & the Ethics Crisis: Learn to Live and Work Ethically”.