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For my immersion project on being a funeral director, I found several controversial subjects within the topic. One argument could be made regarding family owned funeral homes versus corporate funeral homes. Another controversial issue stems from the basic decision of burial or cremation. A third interesting subject of pre-planned funerals versus no arrangements prior to death came to mind. I decided I was most interested in the argument between “green” (aka natural) burials and traditional burials.

First, I want to point out that while I called it a “traditional” burial, it is actually not traditional at all. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” is a phrase we are all familiar with yet modern funeral practices prevent our bodies from returning to the earth. A truly traditional burial is more of a green burial, opting for a plain pine casket or shroud and being buried in a green cemetery or even on rural land. In older times, a deceased was actually laid out in the home for relatives and friends to view. The body was not embalmed.

Money is always important in life so why would it not be an important factor in death? An average funeral costs about $10,000 whereas a green burial starts at about $2,000. It is a significant amount of money saved or spent. Many people do not pre-plan their funeral arrangements and many cannot afford the cost of a funeral service. When they pass away, it is the family members that have to take the financial burden on. Personally, even if I had enough money to blow, I would prefer my family members be able to keep and spend that money to how they see fit. I would rather that difference of a possible $8,000 be put into my grandchildren’s college fund.

The environmental impacts of funeral services are astounding. We fill our cemeteries with thousands and thousands of tons of steel, endangered wood, and toxic chemicals. We even allow our bodies to be filled with embalming fluid, which contains many cancer causing chemicals. I know I am dead, but I still squirm at the idea of all those chemicals coursing through my body. The National Cancer Institute reported that morticians have an extremely high risk of developing leukemia due to working with embalming fluid. The Environmental Protection Agency lists formaldehyde (one of the chemicals in embalming fluid) as a known carcinogen. Even with cremation, many toxins are released into the air. Remember all those fillings you got when you had cavities? Those fillings are poisonous in our air.

We plan every aspect of our life and many American trends recently revolve around being “green” and sustainable. Why do we let our future death go by the wayside? We can plan our “last party” if you will, and we can plan it to be environmentally sound. We need to protect the earth, while we are here and even after we are gone.

LINKS:
http://www.greenburialcouncil.org
http://www.greenburials.org
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17232879
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/09/0909_050909_greenburial.html

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