Do you ever think about the disposal of your body?
In the summer blockbuster movie, “Barbie,” Barbie asks, “Do you guys ever think about dying?”
I wish she had asked, “Do you guys ever think about ecologically disposing of your body after you die?” It would’ve been a different movie, with more gallows humor.
Environmental corpse disposition is a small obsession of mine.
Not to disparage anyone’s religious or spiritual beliefs about death and the rituals surrounding it, but simply as a practical matter, I don’t want to be embalmed and buried.
Funerals and burials are expensive. Cemeteries aren’t a beneficial use of land. Embalming chemicals are carcinogenic – no problem for me if I’m already dead – but bad for embalmers and the environment.
I’m always looking for a natural way to dispose of my body. Which is why my ears perked up during a Sunday football game when I heard an ad for a news story about green burials. “Learn more on Channel 5 News, Monday at 11.”
Friends, 11 on a Monday is past my bedtime, and I did not learn more. I did wonder if I could write a column about it.
Friends, I think I can.
My original exit plan was to have a Viking funeral on Georgica Pond. Then I could go back to the sea, whence our primordial souls came.
I’m sure this is illegal in East Hampton, as polluting tidal ponds with charred boats and human remains wouldn’t be up to code.
Also, what if the flaming arrow missed? What if it burned down Beyoncé’s house? Even though I’d be dead, I’d still feel guilty.
Viking funerals are not the way to “go.”
With that in mind, I began researching ecological body disposition.
The dead of some religious sects in Tibet and India have sky burials where the body is taken to a mountaintop to be exposed to the elements and eaten by vultures. Corpse clearance by carrion is environmentally friendly and efficient – but Tibet is far.
Crestone, Colorado, has the only legal, open-air, cremation facility in the country. Colorado is closer than Tibet. Unfortunately, there’s been a severe drought in that area and a stray spark from a pyre could start a wildfire. Once again, I’d be dealing with post-mortem fire guilt.
Perhaps a more controlled cremation. I like that my corpus can be charbroiled to a compact four pounds of ashes. My remains would probably be closer to five pounds, but in death I plan to lie about my weight as I do in life.
Conventional cremation has drawbacks. The titanium in my arm from a fracture years ago must be removed before I’m cremated. Items such as titanium braces and pacemakers explode in crematoriums and can cause a fire. If this happened, dead me wouldn’t be able to live with myself.
Burning anything is bad for the environment. The cremation process causes the gaseous emissions of mercury and compounds such as Sulphur dioxide and hydrogen fluoride.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, William Shakespeare told us to beware of -ides.
Aquamation, or water cremation, is a greener method. The body is placed in a steel vessel and the flow and heat of alkaline water breaks down the organic material. Then, the bones are ground into a powdered sugar consistency. This process uses less energy than conventional cremation, has no emissions of greenhouse gasses or toxic chemicals, and yields 20% more ashes, which, I’m guessing, will be 20% heavier.
Aquamation isn’t legal in New York – but human composting is.
There are currently no human composting locations in the state, so the pucks would have to ship me to Washington. There, my body would be placed in a vessel with mulch and woodchips, jacked up to 131 degrees for around 45 days. I hope the folks in Washington remember to give me a stir. I never remember to mix my own home compost.
Human composting produces a cubic yard of soil to be used in gardening and conservation projects as the family wishes.
Friends, a cubic yard of soil weighs one ton. As in 2000 pounds.
I’m not sure how many pounds I could take off a ton to fudge my weight in the hereafter. Does 1900 pounds sound plausible? How about 1850?
It’s a big ask to make the hockey pucks garden 1800 pounds of my remains. For now, I think I’ll stick with cremation.
But what to do with the ashes?
They can be sealed into large concrete Whiffle balls and dropped to the bottom of the ocean to become reefs – locatable by GPS! Or they can be heated at high pressure and formed into diamonds. Or they can be divided into four parts, placed in individual (svelte) garden gnome-shaped urns, and stored on each of the pucks’ mantels forever.
Friends, I may have made up that last one.
I’m hoping the need to dispose of my body won’t arise soon. New environmentally friendly methods are becoming available all the time. I know this because, friends, I finally did get around to watching that Channel 5 news story.
It mentioned three kinds of biodegradable caskets: wicker, wool, and mushroom. It also touted a park-like natural burial site in Parsippany, New Jersey. Perhaps my exit plan will take me to Parsippany.
Friends, I’ll keep making forays down this six-foot deep rabbit hole. And maybe, after I’m gone, you can have a séance and I’ll let you know how it all panned out.
Published in The East Hampton Press on November 9, 2023
Photo by John Thomas for Unsplash