Today’s another official “city-shut-down” day for government offices and many businesses in snowy Amman, Jordan; even the US embassy issued alerts to stay off the roads. My teen’s been attending online classes, and the internet allows me to work from home – but what about events that demand we be somewhere specific? This storm dropped on us Wednesday, but four days on I’m seeing slush and ice with a new perspective. Chaucer said, “Time and tide wait for no man.” He should’ve added “death”.
Just like the American postal system, neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet nor hail shall keep death from its appointed rounds. Christians whose numbers come up during inclement weather are put on ice in a mortuary until the roads reopen – but other religions don’t permit such patience. Jewish and Muslim customs require the body to be buried within 24 hours, a very sensible custom born in the hot Middle East climate where decomposition began quickly. So when an elderly neighbor of a neighbor passed away last week, we got to talking about the added misery of dealing with traditional burial requirements in the midst of a powerful storm.
Let’s not get too – well – grave, but with world population passing seven billion and an estimated 150,000 people dying daily, we ought to take a closer look at how we celebrate life’s end. Maybe explore new options that respect and celebrate the deceased as well as the planet they leave behind.
Talking about death is uncomfortable. Doubly so when modern funeral practices increasingly jeopardize the environment. Did you know most Middle Eastern funerals are inherently “green”? Ancient nomadic people with limited resources developed the simplest methods of dealing with their dead. Over centuries, traditions evolved – varying by region – but all following basic rituals that are some of the most earth-friendly practices around. So while the Western funeral industry scrambles to become less polluting, they could instead take a few pages from the burial playbook of Muslims and Jews.
Both faiths prescribe that, within hours of death, the body is carefully bathed and wrapped in a modest cloth shroud. Well-wishers pay their respects and bury the deceased in a grave, without a casket.
Cremation and embalming are forbidden – wisely, as both are proven pollutants to our air and water. In the parched Middle East, water-guzzling cemeteries carpeted with grass (kept artificially lush with toxic pesticides and weed killers) are a rare exception, and Islam tends to skip extravagant headstones.
But what if you live outside of this region? How can you buck Western trends (and in some cases, mandatory burial regulations) and stay close to planet-friendly practices? You may already be living a green lifestyle, so why not check out a more sustainable deathstyle too? Welcome to the world of green burials, where an entirely new industry competes for your funeral budget.
1. Cremation is forbidden in both Islam and Orthodox Judaism. But for those who embrace it, they can offset the serious pollutants it dumps in the air by using the ashes to form artificial reefs. Eternal Reefs create “grief balls” (lead image) mix your loved one’s remains with concrete to make new habitat for marine life. Perfect for “crabby” people.
2. Green-up cremation by burying the remains in a special flower-pot that converts ashes into a tree – just bury the fully biodegradable Bios Urna (pre-planted with soil, seeds, and human remains). The decomposing urn acts as fertilizer, literally allowing the loved one to live on in nature. That mighty oak was once a nut called Abu Ahmed!
3. Prefer a grave marker? Memorialize the deceased with a Poetree Burial Planter. Pop ashes in a biodegradable cork pot, planted with a boxwood sapling and ringed with the deceased’s inscription in ceramic. It’s a low-maintenance memorial and gentle reminder of the cycle of life.
4. Take your dearly departed to one last Arab wedding, where they can go out with a bang. A company called Holy Smoke turns the deceased’s ashes into live ammunition for pistols, rifles or shotguns. Aimed at gun enthusiasts, they offer discounts to active and retired military, law enforcement and firefighters. What a blast!
5. How about becoming an album of klezmer tunes – for eternity? A company called Vinyly will press your remains into a vinyl disc containing your fave tunes, jacketed in bespoke cover art (the deceased’s portrait!). Make multiple records from body parts: making more to share with the music lovers in your life (or death?)!
6. Sticking with burial? Fancy pictures of your last Petra visit on your casket lid? Skip high-end coffins made from exotic wood or never-degrading metal & pick one made from sustainably sourced wood. Reflections Coffins are 80% waste wood & 20% FSC-certified wood. Personalize your box with their (I’m not kidding) “design a coffin” web app.
7. The coffin market is making biodegradable coffins to die for. Bamboo and cardboard, linen and banana leaf are now common casket materials. Wool is also rising in popularity – Hainsworth, a leading British textile mill, reported a 700% rise in demand for its woolen coffins in 2011 to 2012. A brilliant way to “rest in fleece”.
8. Woven willow coffins are a popular green alternative, made from a highly renewable and carbon neutral crop that’s harvested annually with minimal machine and chemical processing. Willow also degrades rapidly in soil, and can be jazzed up in bright colors, making any funeral feel like a roadside picnic.
9. Tragedy links to comedy when you send your loved one off in a flat-pack coffin printed with personalized images. Celebrate their life or go for big laughs (how about a box of veg that reads “Rest in Peas”?). Creative Coffins are made from non-toxic carton-board and natural glues. Guaranteed the funeral guests will howl, “Stop, you’re killing me!”
10. Arab royals love their bling! Why not turn that special person into a gem for eternity? LifeGem diamonds and gemstones are created from the carbon in cremated ashes or a lock of hair. Reset your loved one into “cremation jewelry” – rings, earrings and pendants commemorate their original sparkle. (Hey, did anyone see where I left mom?)
I mean no disrespect by this story, but have you ever noticed, the first three letters of “funeral” are FUN?
All images are from respective companies’ websites