For families who are very interested in preserving the environment and take steps to protect the earth, a green burial seems like an obvious choice. But concern for the world around you might actually be a secondary consideration when planning a funeral and burial for a loved one or setting out instructions for your own.
One of the reasons a family might choose a green burial is because it can provide a more loving and personal experience for saying goodbye to those who have passed away. Some green cemeteries allow mourners to participate in nearly every aspect of the burial process, from digging the grave and transporting the body, to lowering the body into the ground, and filling the grave. Many people have told us that participating in the green burial ritual gives them peace and closure in a way a conventional — and, for some, a more sterile — service does not.
In The Natural Burial Cemetery Guide, author Ann Hoffner described her experience in providing her father with a green burial and realizing he was not alone in death, surrounded by nature: “Up ahead, I see trips to the grave not to weep. . .but to see new life growing, the forest changing with the seasons and absorbing this grave plot into the larger plan.”
Other elements of the committal service for a loved one’s green burial don’t have to be any different than a traditional service. After all, every burial is a celebration of the life of the deceased, being gently returned to the ground with dignity and love. Personalize each component of the service to reflect the culture and spirit of your loved one. Plan prayers, music, readings, and anything else that honors the person who has passed away.
Another idea to consider is to scatter native seeds on and around the gravesite. Depending on the location of the site, perhaps a nature walk or hike following the service would be an appropriate tribute. You could allow mourners to help with putting the grave marker in place, whether it’s inviting them to contribute to a collection of stones or helping to plant a tree. Take that idea a step further, and personalize the experience for burial attendees by giving them a seedling to take home and plant in your loved one’s memory.
Green burials do not conflict with the beliefs of any major religions. Some faiths, such as Jewish and Muslim, even require that the deceased be buried naturally. Jewish burial practices prohibit embalming and often don’t use burial vaults. Islamic law says that the deceased must be washed and buried with only a wrapping of white cloth to preserve dignity. Green burials also conform to most Christian traditions, as well.
Think of the biblical text from the Book of Genesis often cited during funeral services: “. . .till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” In light of this, many people who choose natural or green burials feel they are laying their loved ones to rest in the way they were meant to.
If you are interested in learning more about green burials, be sure to download our free e-book, A 21st Century Guide to Green Burials, which includes information about green burial guidelines and resources for planning one.