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Our View: In 2020, let's rethink burial

Our View: In 2020, let's rethink burial

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Has there ever been a more apt time to think deeply about the future?

It may not feel like a time to look forward; this year’s events have had a tendency of relentlessly pulling our thoughts back to the present chaos. Still, with over 170,000 dead as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, now may be the perfect time to think about and plan for the inevitable — burial.

It’s true that no likes to read about — let alone talk about — mortality. But any counselor or planner will tell you that it’s best to have conversations about all aspects of the end of life well in advance of the reality. In the face of this year, it’s worth taking a closer look and thinking about what you want.

In fact, we would argue that to do so in 2020 would be both proactive and empowering.

To that end, Blue Ridge Green Burial is seeking land in Floyd County with high conservation value that could support a native ecosystem public park as well as a green burial ground. But the name alone begs the question: What is a green burial?

Generally, there are three kinds of burial: traditional burial, cremation and green burial. While traditional burial and cremation are relatively well-known, green burial offers benefits both tangible and meaningful in the form of lower costs, environmental efficacy, and peace of mind.

Those are advantages we can easily support.

Green burial forgoes embalming, eschews concrete vaults, reconsiders burial containers and strives to protect the natural ecosystem, according to the Green Burial Council. There is no formal definition of the process. Instead, the term applies to a series of decisions made by the individual to make burial as natural as desired.

Cost is a significant factor in the decision-making process. According to the National Funeral Director’s Association, the national median cost of a traditional funeral is upwards of $8,500. Of course, burial costs vary widely from state to state and even cemetery to cemetery. Graves in hybrid or park cemeteries for green burial cost the same or somewhat less than their counterparts, according to the Green Burial Council. However, once costs of vaults, coffins and embalming are included in traditional burial, the savings of green burial become significant.

The main reason many opt for green burial is also in the name: simply put, it’s better for the environment. Each year, Americans put 20 million feet of wood, 4.3 million gallons of embalming fluid, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete and 64,500 tons of steel into the ground through traditional burial, according to the Green Burial Council. Even cremation carries environmental costs in the form of a significant carbon footprint.

By contrast, green burial removes much of this waste from the equation by avoiding it altogether. Most bodies are wrapped in biodegradable material, such as cotton, before burial. And in the time between death and funeral, advocates say the practice offers benefits for families and communities that go beyond words.

Linda Haas, a member of Blue Ridge Green Burial, experienced the death of a close friend and watched him completely plan his funeral. He was buried in a plain wooden box that all his friends helped to decorate. Haas hopes we can “get back to the traditions where family and friends took care of death … so that we’re all more in touch with death — washing the body, carrying it, digging the grave and burying them.”

Kristy Ratcliffe, another member, put it this way: “When we can navigate death well, we can (also) navigate the death of ideas, grief about events, we can navigate rifts better. We want to embrace death so we can live better.”

Blue Ridge Green Burial is searching for land near the Town of Floyd, land that is able to support native plants, walking trails, and a spiritual environment. The ultimate goal would be an oasis: hallowed ground for loved ones and families alike.

These are uncertain times. In the face of this year’s events, it is humbling and empowering to think about a literal return to the earth. There has never been a more appropriate time to think about the future — and how we find our place of rest.

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