Death. It is part of life. We are all going to get there eventually. Hopefully you have made plans for how you want your earthly body handled. And there are many choices to be made! Most movies and TV shows will still have you believe that the iconic fancy casket and burial at the cemetery is your one option. Not so!
You have probably heard that you can “donate your body to science”, but what does that even mean? Have you heard about “green burials” or human composting? And what about other choices, like being chemically dissolved, made into a marine reef, or launched into space? There are several options. Let’s get planning.
Donate Your Body To Science
The human body is a beautiful thing and holds answers that can help others, for generations to come. It is referred to as “whole body donation” in the field. Yes, there is an entire field of companies that will facilitate the process. Companies like Science Care help you with the process. You can either pre-register – the website boasts that it takes less than 3-minutes to register – and you can also contact them about “body donation screening” if a loved one has just passed. Here is a list of body donations, by state.
Other companies like Life Source help you with donating organs, such as kidneys, lungs, heart, pancreas, intestines, as well as tendons and tissues, veins, arteries, skin and corneas.
And, depending on the company you work with, you might be able to be an organ donor, and a body donor.
What is a green burial? According to GreenBurialCouncil.org, “Green burial is a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact that aids in the conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health, and the restoration and/or preservation of habitat.”
What it comes down to, is that there are ways for people to be buried at lower cost than what we have come to know as traditional burial, and also have minimal earthly impact.
Did you know that you can establish a cemetery on your own property? There is some preparation needed and it is best to contact a GBC, a green burial council provider, through the website linked above. You can learn why wild animals are not prone to digging up bodies; why there is no smell; why medications such as chemo will not harm the soil, and why a green buried body will not contaminate the water supply.
There is also a blended approach, which combines traditional funeral customs with elements of home funeral and/or eco-friendly burial practices, such as working with a funeral director for specific responsibilities, such as acquiring, filling out, and submitting paperwork, as well as transporting the deceased.
Related to the green burial approach, there are ways to convert your body to compost. The company Recompose calls their process “natural organic reduction” or simply put, human composting, which as of 2023, is legal in 7 US states. According to the company, “Human composting is powered by beneficial microbes that occur naturally on our bodies and in the environment.” Their process creates one cubic yard of nutrient-rich soil over, over an eight to twelve week period.
In 2019, Recompose led the passage of Senate Bill 5001. This historic bill allowed Washington State to become the first state in the world to legalize human composting. Colorado followed, as did Oregon, Vermont, California, New York, and Nevada (in order of passing bills). Human composting legislation has been introduced in Connecticut, Maryland, Illinois, Maine, Rhode Island, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico and Virginia.
Plant a tree!
The average casket costs between $900 and $10,000. That is a huge range, but it is always good to have options, such as very simple pine casket, that you can put together yourself. Casketkit.com boasts, “Build your own DIY casket in under 30 minutes with this handcrafted casket kit, delivered directly to your door.” It requires no glue and is an eco-friendly option. It assembles with wooden pegs, and you won’t even need a drill.
The kit comes with 13 wood parts, 45 wooden dowels (38 required – they give you extra!), a rubber mallet, and of course detailed step by step instructions with photos. The website has videos. It is flat packed and delivered right to your door. You do NOT have to buy a casket through a funeral home.
And, get this, they have a “Bookshelf Casket Kit”. This is a bookshelf that you can use now, and then your loved ones can turn it into your casket when the time comes. Brilliant.
Become A Tattoo
Companies such as Cremation Ink® will take cremated ashes and mix them with their custom tattoo ink. The end result can be used to create a tattoo just for you. And no, you cannot take cremated ashes and mix them with ink on your own; it will not work. According to this company it is safe and legal to get a tattoo with ink that has been properly prepared with cremated remains, which is their specialty.
“At Cremation Ink® our specialist equipment removes all the medicinal, heavy metal elements and other contaminants still held within the cremation ashes. This ensures you have a safe tattoo where your body is not impregnated with contaminants from the cremation ashes.”
Bury Your Body at Sea
If you look up burial at sea on the epa.gov website, they also link you to what they think is a related topic: ocean dumping. That aside, The EPA has issued a general permit under the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA) to authorize the burial of human remains at sea. There are no fees or applications required, but they do want a 30 day notice.
There are restrictions, such as no bodies within 3 nautical miles of shore, no non-human (pet) remains, no con-compostable materials can be attached, such as plastics or metal flowers, gravestones, tombs, etc. According to the EPA 2544 sea burials were reported in 2020, with Florida and Oregon leading the pack by far.
Create a Reef
EternalReefs.com will help a deceased body to support marine life. According to their website, “Eternal Reefs are permanent living legacies that memorialize the passing of a loved one by helping to preserve and protect the marine environment for the benefit of future generations.”
Their product, the Eternal Reef, is a structure with a flat bottom and a slightly elongated half-circle dome, which has holes all over it, which will allow marine life to swim inside and out.
For those who feel close to the sea while living, this might be a perfect choice.
Become A Crime Fighter – After Death!
By choosing to donate your body to a forensic research facility, you can contribute significantly to the education of forensic students in understanding the intricate aspects of body decomposition. Moreover, your selfless act can directly impact the guidance provided to law enforcement agencies in assessing crime scenes, potentially aiding in the resolution of actual criminal cases.
Much like donating your body to a medical school, these institutions typically bear the expenses associated with transportation and proper handling. It is important to note, however, that availability of such facilities is limited. If you happen to reside in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, or North Carolina, it may be worth considering this option. Check Everloved.com for more info on alternatives to traditional burial.
Dissolved By Chemicals
Alkaline hydrolysis is a process of using chemical to dissolve the body. Sounds horrific, however, according to cremationasociation.org it is viewed as a gentler approach. Gentle? Why is that an issue” But we digress. It is sometimes referred to as AH, flameless cremation, water cremation, green cremation, chemical cremation, liquid cremation, and aquamation. We kind of like that last one.
The process is environmentally friendly, using significantly less fuel and has an overall lower carbon footprint than traditional cremation and burial.
For those who are afraid of fire, it can be an attractive alternative.
Artist In Life? Art In Death
If you are an artist in life, why not become art in death? While everyone’s definition of art differs, we think this option is fascinating. Perhaps you have seen or heard about Body Worlds art installations? In a process called plastination, you can have your body preserved and used as art and education.
All of the bodies displayed in their exhibitions “belonged to people who declared during their lifetime that their bodies should be made available after their deaths for the training of physicians and the instruction of laypersons.”
As of December 2020, over 20,000 people have registered with the Institute for Plastination in Heidelberg, Germany to participate.
Since 1994 the company, Celestis, has been organizing “memorial spaceflights”. From their website:
“Gift yourself or those you love with the peace of mind that comes with planning your Space Memorial experience ahead of time. Then, every time your loved ones look to the evening skies, they will feel reverence and awe of knowing your memory will always be shining on them from above.
Imagine taking part in a memorial service that extends into the universe, sharing the same tribute shared by NASA, astronauts, celebrities, & others around the world to honor their most beloved departed.”
Currently they offer 4 destinations, starting at $2,495, with payment plans! The Earth Rise choice takes you into space and returns you to earth; Earth Orbit launches you into, well, the earth’s orbit; Luna involves a launch to the moon’s surface; and Voyager is comprised of a launch into deep space.
Don’t you want to join James Doohan, the Canadian actor known for his role as Lt. Commander Montgomery Scott (”Scotty”) in the television and film series Star Trek? He’s up there somewhere, along with Gene Roddenberry, the screenwriter and producer of the original Star Trek TV series, along with his wife, actress Majel Barrett-Roddenberry.
Fraser Baskets is a woman-owner basket weaving company in Turners Falls, MA. Mary Lauren Fraser explains, “I offer handmade willow caskets to my local and greater New England community. I support the growing movements of green burial and traditional home funerals in North America. Rather than shipping my caskets far and wide, I hope to inspire weavers from throughout North America to cultivate this traditional craft within their own local communities.” You can view a video on her site of her making a willow basket coffin and it is mesmerizing to watch.
You can make your own casket, or for a loved one. Mary will help you at her workshop. It takes 8 to 12 days to soak the willow, and roughly 35 to 40 hours, or four full days, to weave the coffin. You can even bring materials gathered from your own land to incorporate. She explains that plants such as grape vine, bittersweet, willow, kudzu, and others can be used within the sides of the coffins. From infant to adult size, her prices range from $500 to $4,500. She can provide pet coffins, too.
There are several companies that make diamonds from cremated remains, as well as hair. A simplified explanation is that ashes or hair are purified with very high heat, which breaks down the carbonates, which are further reduced to pure carbon in the form of graphite. This fine powder is the starter material for making a diamond.
According to the Cremation Institute, “Under the supervision of skilled scientists, the carbon is exposed to temperatures of around 2500 degrees Fahrenheit. Pressure is exerted of about 850,000 pounds per square inch. Gradually, a diamond begins to grow. It starts as some crystallization on the top of the carbon seed. Then over time this becomes a raw diamond. The most magical thing about all this is that every person’s diamond will be unique.”
The result is considered a “real” diamond, albeit synthetically produced. Cost? For a 1 carat clear colored cremation diamond, be prepared to pay anywhere from $10k to over $200k. Everdear.co is one such company. They will even make you a finished piece, such as a ring or pendant.
What Exactly Is A Viking Burial?
Maybe like us, you have heard of Viking burials and picture a wooden ship, launched from shore, holding a body, arrows ablaze with fire aimed at the ship to set everything alight, to create an on-water cremation. Sounds amazing. But probably isn’t true. History.com explains that due to the cost of building these legendary longboats, this scenario is doubtful.
Fire is documented as being favored, as the Vikings believed the fire’s smoke would help carry the deceased to the afterlife. But they also buried their dead, sometimes in groups, creating burial mounds.
So, a “Viking burial” could be a few different things. We leave you to do the research.
Music Lover In Life & Beyond
This is a perfect choice for musicians and music lovers. Cremated ashes can be pressed into vinyl. The company And Vinyly’s motto is “Live on from beyond the groove.” Or as they cheekily put it, “When the album that is life finally reaches its end, why not keep that record spinning for eternity?”
Ashes can be incorporated into a vinyl disc along with a personally recorded message, a reading of your last will and testament, a favorite soundtrack, or “just the sound of silence to hear your pops and crackles for the minimal approach.” One record can hold 20 minutes of sound. The records are playable on any standard record player. Better make sure your loved ones have one!
Mushroom Burial Suit
Did you know that the recently deceased actor Luke Perry was buried in a mushroom suit? It is like it sounds. It is a type of covering for the body, inoculated with mushroom spores. The body decomposes within the shroud.
The concept was popularized by artist Jae Rhim Lee in a TED Talk. She is the founder of Coeio, a California-based green burial company, and it was promoted as an eco-friendly and less expensive option than conventional burial. The mushroom approach cost about $1500, while typical burial costs are in the $6,000 to $9,000 range. Unfortunately, their website is no-longer operational, and they appear to have ceased mushroom suit production.
So, how do you want to go?
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