My friend David died last week. He knew it was coming and had discussed the issue with friends and relatives. He would prefer a natural burial. He liked the idea of going back to the land and of being part of the natural cycle of life and death. He wanted to provide sustenance for a tree that people could come and visit better than some stone monument.
Compare this with the typical modern burial where the body is bled out and pumped full of formaldehyde and then placed in a fancy casket that is not designed to break down. Often the casket is placed in a concrete vault. The Egyptians liked the idea of preserving the body also but the procedure was pretty ghoulish.
Another consideration is the cost. Modern burials or cremations cost anywhere from $3000 up to $20,000. Friends and relatives can do all of the preparation and save thousands of dollars but the greater value is that the entire procedure aids with the grieving process. Washing dressing and preparing the body for burial, helping to carry the body, and the act of helping in the burial, even if it is just a handful of soil, gets you through the first stage of grief – denial. A deeply meaningful end of life ritual is very helpful to surviving loved ones.
One big issue is the final resting place. If you own the land or have written permission from the land owner, get permission from the planning commission, agree to keep records and disclose the burial if the land is sold, you can bury your loved one on private property. If you don't own land in the country or know anyone with land willing to have a burial on their land then there are natural burial preserves scattered through the US. You might have to do some research at natural burial sites and then drive a few hours to get to the nearest preserve.
It is critical that you obtain information and permission from local government agencies. There are public health issues and there are record keeping issues necessary to keep your loved one from being dug up in the future or being the subject of a homicide investigation.
We found out that in this area the body only needs to be buried with 28 inches of cover, depending on the type of soil. We were surprised because most people think the burial sites need to be six feet deep. I read that the six foot depth is when scavengers like wolves and bears can no longer smell the decomposition process. If you have Grizzlies in your back yard you may want to go deep, but in most soils the flora and fauna responsible for breaking down a body are found within the first three feet.
After David died calmly in his sleep, his daughter called his doctor to confirm the death and sign the death certificate. While the logistics and permits were worked out, David remained on ice for a couple of days, so friends and relatives could view the body. David was fortunate to live in an intentional neighborhood with many friends. He had the opportunity to say his good byes and many people helped ease his death and volunteered to help after his death. One family volunteered their home for a wake, others provided food, and friends had the chance to trade stories and memories.
One friend had another friend out in the country that had researched natural burials and was willing to provide the burial site. Several people helped prepare the body and wrap it in a shroud. Another friend made hand holes in a board so six people could carry the body. We held a meditation ceremony around the body, played some of David's favorite music, and then carried the body to a van and drove out to the site. We carried the body to the grave site and rescued a newt from the grave before we placed the body inside.
Several people spoke and many more cried. Many threw lilac flowers into the grave and nearly everyone took turns placing some dirt in the grave. When the grave was nearly filled in we planted a nice Japanese Maple tree in the center of the grave. Once back in town we gathered again to share lunch and stories. We will all miss David but are comforted in knowing he would approve of his final resting place.