To the Editor:
I’m writing in response to your Nov. 7 article titled “West Tisbury goes green on death.” Congratulations to all the residents of West Tisbury. Green burial is now an option for you. As someone who advocates for green burial across Massachusetts and the North American continent with both Green Burial Massachusetts and the Green Burial Council, I applaud your efforts and successes.
I would like to correct a few misconceptions, as brought forward by funeral director Mr. Verville of Chapman, Cole and Gleason. Yes, sometimes a concrete grave liner could collapse when a backhoe puts the outriggers out when bracing to dig a neighboring grave, but that is a rare occurrence. I’ve never heard the word “implosion” used to describe the event, although I suppose that could happen, particularly if 2,500 pounds of reinforced concrete copper or steel liner vault was used to secure the casket in the grave, but why protect something in this unsustainable way?
In a green burial, decomposition happens best in the upper soil horizons, where aerobic activity is happening, which is why that four-foot depth is noted by Ms. Rouff. Over the first year and a half or so, a simple pine casket or cardboard box will decompose, as will — human beings. Our bodies decompose and go back into the earth so new life can flourish. Green graves will subside over time. In fact, when a grave that contains a pine casket or shrouded body subsides, there is less material and extra space below ground to collapse. Some argue that subsidence of the grave is less of an issue with green burial.
As for the timing of burial, even embalming with toxic chemicals — paraformaldehyde and phenol formaldehyde — that Mr. Verville notes only preserves the body long enough to hold a wake and/or a funeral. Without embalming fluids, the burial of a body can be delayed for a few days, not the mere 24 hours that Mr. Verville suggests. Keeping the body cool either by turning on an air conditioner or using some form of ice (dry-ice or techni-ice) will provide enough time for family and friends to visit/view a loved one. There’s no need to be frightened by this natural process.
There are funeral directors across the nation who are ready and able to support families with the preparation and viewing of a body for green burial. Mr. Verville could learn from them, and begin offering a new service. There are, however, people trained as home funeral guides who can educate and guide a family through the process of bathing, clothing, and shrouding or casketing a loved one. This process is particularly important if you’ve been taking care of someone who died at home, perhaps while under hospice care. If you took care of someone in life, you can take care of that person in death.
As for home burials on your property, work with your local board of health. If your regulations say 90 days, then one needs to plan ahead. You don’t have to be actively dying to plan ahead. There are several steps you must take, including: ensure the soil is suitable (isn’t too wet), abide by setbacks for water bodies, septic systems, and wells, and locate exactly on your property where your private burial ground is, and then document it on your deed, so when it is time to sell the property in the future, the new owners know where your private burial ground is located.
Green burial brings back the simplicity of life and death. Embrace it.
Candace Currie, director
Green Burial Massachusetts