Plant Yourself | Community Notebook | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
Pin It

Plant Yourself 

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 3:45 pm
In early September, I conducted a random poll of Hudson Valley residents. It read: “What would you like to have done with your body at the time of your death?

A. Conventional burial (embalming, expensive casket, concrete vault)
B. Cremation with embalming
C. Cremation without embalming
D. Sea burial in a metal casket
E. Green burial (no embalming, pine/wicker/cardboard coffin or cloth
shroud, burial in a natural or private cemetery)

If your choice is not listed, it’s probably illegal.”

The survey results proved interesting, as some decided to have fun with it. One individual requested burial with “a granite sarcophagus, a gold-lapis-turquoise-coral death mask, and three levels of gold outer sheathing”; another requested a backyard pyre. One friend wanted to be cremated and pressed into vinyl LPs, preferably records that he played on, that would be owned by “smokin’ nubile babes.” Another person said, “Just drag me outside and put me under one of the rocks,” and another desired to have his bones picked clean by birds: “string me up in a forest canopy that is frequented by corvids,” following his preferred method of death—tickling. Another said, “I want to be set adrift in a flaming Viking longboat”; one said “the idea of being mummified Egyptian-style appeals to my crafty side.” Finally, one individual opted for “non-embalmed cremation, preferably for the process to heat a hospital or run a generator at the same time,” or “an organic, cloth-shroud burial or birch bark casket in a thriving tree-filled park that children play in, not a stone-and-sadness-filled graveyard that takes up common green space. Compost me!”
Many who chose between the five legal options felt strongly about one of the choices, but some had difficulty deciding between two of them.

Here’s how it summed up:
Five percent requested a conventional burial, three percent wanted cremation with embalming, 39 percent wanted cremation without embalming, seven percent preferred sea burial, and a plurality, 46 percent, desired a green burial. (Keep in mind that this is Hudson Valley, and the people I encounter on a daily basis are probably more progressive and environmentally conscious than, say, the good citizens of Booger Holler, Georgia.)

The industry
An in-depth analysis of the five options in my survey would take more than one magazine article. For the curious, there are several books on the market that reveal shocking information about the funeral industry and its methods. The 1963 bestseller, The American Way of Death (Simon and Shuster) by Jessica Mitford, is a scathing critique of the modern death care business. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers (2003, W.W. Norton) by Mary Roach is morbid, fascinating, and hilarious at times. Indisputably the bible of any natural death care advocate is Grave Matters (2007, Scribner), by environmental journalist Mark Harris, which takes readers on a journey through the industry, beginning with the “tired, toxic send-off on offer at the local funeral parlor.” His detailed chapter on conventional preparation and embalming is enough to make you sick (many people are unaware that embalming is not required by law). Harris then presents chapters on more natural options: green cemeteries, sea burials, memorial “reef balls,” EXPL home funerals, and backyard burials.
Desiring more local information on what the majority of those polled are interested in, I turned to funeral directors themselves. I cracked open the Yellow Pages to discover a whopping 80+ funeral homes listed in the Hudson Valley and spent a week phoning mortuaries at random. Though some didn’t know much about green burials, others had kept abreast of, or at least knew something about, the topic. However, most rarely perform green services outside the Jewish or Muslim faiths, simply because it is not requested. (Within those faiths, embalming is generally shunned as unnatural and they often have their own private cemeteries or special sections within public cemeteries.)

I was perplexed. Nearly half the respondents to my survey desired a green burial, yet green burials are rarely performed. I surmised that the general populace believes that green burials are too complicated or non-existent. One person in my survey had said, “I’d love a green burial, but isn’t that illegal?” This made me wonder if the survey was too leading. If I had merely offered the two undetailed options of burial or cremation, most would probably have opted for cremation, not realizing that many people are first embalmed for viewing purposes prior to cremation, and thinking that “regular” burials are complicated, costly and, perhaps, environmentally unfriendly.

Pin It


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Hudson Valley Events

submit event
Science for the Future of the Hudson River @

Science for the Future of the Hudson River

Thu., June 24, 7-8 p.m. — Join Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies for a virtual science talk featuring...
Newburgh Mall Carnival @ Newburgh Mall

Newburgh Mall Carnival

Thu., June 17, 5-10 p.m., Fri., June 18, 5-11 p.m., Sat., June 19, 12-11 p.m., Sun., June 20, 12-10 p.m., Mon., June 21, 5-10 p.m., Tue., June 22, 5-10 p.m., Wed., June 23, 5-10 p.m., Thu., June 24, 5-10 p.m., Fri., June 25, 5-11 p.m., Sat., June 26, 12-11 p.m. and Sun., June 27, 12-10 p.m. — Enjoy midway fun for the whole family with rides and games for...

View all of today's events

Chronogram on Instagram

Latest in News & Politics

  • Celebrating Juneteenth 2021 in the Hudson Valley
  • Celebrating Juneteenth 2021 in the Hudson Valley

    Juneteenth marks the official end of slavery in America on June 19, 1865. Today, the holiday focuses on Black achievements and culture, recognition of inequality and systemic racism in the United States, and the ongoing fight for equal rights. 2021 brings an expanded list of ways to celebrate Black freedom and to reckon with the racial past and present of the United States.
    • Jun 14, 2021
  • Clarkson’s Beacon Institute Is Moving to Its New Home at Dennings Point This Month
  • Clarkson’s Beacon Institute Is Moving to Its New Home at Dennings Point This Month

    For over a decade, Clarkson University’s Beacon Institute has been a mainstay of downtown Beacon. From its location on Main Street, the Institute has become a leading voice in research into healthy water solutions in the region and has been an important local resource for STEM-driven educational programs for K-12 students, families, and the public alike. This June marks a major milestone for the growth of the Institute, as it officially relocates just a few miles south to Dennings Point—a scenic 64-acre peninsula that juts into the Hudson River and is part of the Hudson Highlands State Park.
    • Jun 5, 2021
  • Winnakee Land Trust Opens Vlei Marsh to the Public
  • Winnakee Land Trust Opens Vlei Marsh to the Public

    The Winnakee Land Trust opened Vlei Marsh to the public on June 1, a 165-acre nature preserve that is Rhinebeck’s second largest wetland area. Multi-looped, newly upgraded trails at Vlei Marsh take visitors through both wetland and forest, home to scores of mammals, amphibians, and birds. A 30-year-old accredited land trust and nonprofit, the WLT focuses on protecting and stewarding forests, farmland, natural habitats, and water resources from development, for both ecological health and community enjoyment. They have expanded into acquiring and maintaining land in the Hudson Valley in the past few years.
    • Jun 3, 2021
  • More »