walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_Grave Matters_ by Mark Harris

Subtitled "A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial"

I love books about death (probably the DOOM! thing again). Usually, I read books about epitaphs, suicide notes, stuff like that. For whatever foolish reason, I have not yet read Mitford's classic on the topic (altho I did read her book about birth and it was fantastic, so I'm sure I'll get 'round to it some day). I picked this up at BPL and wish I'd bought it (more or less like the Zen Center book). I may yet.

Harris has arranged this book in order of ecological correctness, so he starts with a "standard funeral": embalming, viewing, metal sealer casket, concrete vault, etc. Next up is cremation, followed by several chapters on What People Do With the Ashes. The reef balls section was particularly cool, and it was amazing to learn that you really can dump, er, bury a body at sea, still, quite legally (3 miles out in water at least 600 feet deep and you have to make sure it's weighted enough to sink). If you are military or ex-military (and not dishonorably discharged) or a spouse of or dependent child, you can have the Navy do it for you. Wow.

Anyway. The good bits were about "green burials": on your own land, on land that combines conservation with burial, etc. Nothing about composting, a la _Stiff_ by Roach, an idea which creeped the hell out of R. He is not enthusiastic about a private cemetery on our land, and I suspect the area is now a little too developed to allow it altho this


suggests we could probably fit it onto our land somewhere (assuming water doesn't mean wet, and assuming that the town didn't have rules saying we couldn't -- and somehow, I'm betting the Planning Board would look at us Real Funny if we asked to do this).

It looks like green burials have already taken off in Great Britain, and are starting to get rolling in the US, in basically the places you'd expect them to show up (think liberal enclaves). NH isn't there yet, but presumably we won't be too far behind.

Even more interesting were the stories about laying out bodies and holding vigils at home. Dry ice! It makes sense, but does take a little getting used to. Harris is great about referring the reader to other resources. Each chapter lays out the relevant information in convenient, bulleted paragraphs: how much it'll cost, where to find out more, etc. And you _can_ by a simple pine box. ;-)

I realize it's too late for one of my readers, but we're all of an age to have parents that might tip over at some point. Bonus: in addition to being less damaging to the environment, virtually every one of Harris' non-standard suggestions offers the prospect of huge savings (heck, just say no to embalming. That all by itself is a win).

On a more serious note, Harris is very empathetic in telling the stories of the people he interviewed (yeah - another one of my kind of books, where someone researches something by going around and asking questions). Some of these stories are heart wrenching, in particular, the death of Alison (http://www.crossings.net/Story.html) and what that led to. Harris writes in a way that presents these stories unflinchingly and depicts the emotional reactions of those who grieve, without becoming, I have no better word for it, icky, and without being inhumanly detached.

It's thin, it's thought-provoking, it could save you a bunch of money, it could help reduce our negative impact on the environment (it could help us _help_ the biosphere, not just mitigate harm), it's written in an engaging fashion and it's not a topic that's easy to learn about in general. Run right down to your local library and check it out if you don't care to pay hardcover prices.
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