Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dead Gardeners Society

 A local nursery had an advertisement offering to dig a hole and plant a tree for a certain price.  Not unusual except they offer to mix human cremated ashes into the hole first.   They call it “Tree Planting and Cremation Burial Service.”    It’s called a “green option” and as a marketing incentive to the bereaved, they state, “As the tree develops, the roots grow through and around the ashes.  The Nutrients from the ashes are absorbed into the branches and leaves of the tree and becomes a living reflection of the loved one.”  (Does anyone besides me hear organ music in the background as they read this?)

To qualify for this green burial, the body cannot have had formaldehyde-based or microbe-inhibiting chemicals prior to cremation.  FYI: actual cremains are more than ashes and include some larger pieces but I’ll use “ashes” alternately with “cremains”. 

For cemeteries allowing “natural” burial of cremains, there may be rules you want to investigate before making your pre-death tree planting burial decisions. Planting a tree and ashes on your private property may involve local regulations.  Although natural burial is gaining popularity, cemetery managers and regulators base their decisions on their knowledge of the process, their biases, imaginations, spiritual beliefs, the desire to consider new options and if they want to let go of the larger fees for traditional burials.

As the funeral industry is finding out, cremation is becoming more popular. It can be less expensive and take less space.  If there’s a new idea gaining popularity, then there’s a new buck to be made.  You can be as over-the-top environmentally friendly for cremains as you have the money to spend.

Burying or burning remains is many thousands of years old and was originally necessitated by disease and mass death.  Some religions have specifics for which method must be used.   The choices are not us vs. funeral home directors, regulators, and cemetery boards.  It’s finding out the facts and then working with these entities to find a solution for your choices.

No, you cannot infringe your ashes on others.  Sounds basic but you know there’s the one person who wants to throw ashes off the top of a skyscraper and let them float down over unsuspecting citizens.  Asking that your ashes be buried with the roots of a new tree on your own land, as a tree gift to a cemetery or park or as a part of a reforestation project are possibilities but only if it’s allowed in the way everyone agrees.

Once you come to the idea of wanting to have a natural burial in the roots of a tree, you need to do the following:

Find out where this could be accomplished.  Talking to your funeral director and/or cemetery manager of choice is a good first step.  Understanding the local regulations is another.

If your community doesn’t have a natural burial space, now is the time to work to make this happen. 

Get your family and friends on board - especially the executor of your estate.  They need to make the immediate decisions after your death to insure your burial meets your desires.  They also need to know the mechanics have already been considered and problems solved so you aren’t thrusting an impossible idea upon them during a time of bereavement.    

If you’re planted with a tree on your property, understand one day that property may belong to strangers making “visiting the site of grandma remains” impossible.  There’s the possibility the tree will die or be removed; will this be an emotional deal breaker? 

Natural burial of ashes under trees can be a gardener’s full circle of gardening tasks.  It can be the simple unselfish last task before putting away your trowel for the last time.  Is the time right for this kind of practice?  Only if you’ve investigated, solved the mechanics and made sure everyone knows of your wishes.  Go forth and fertilize!  (Did I really say that?  Sorry.)

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