Beginnings and Endings

It has been a great joy being part of the Sussex Green Living community over the years and it has led me into many unusual situations!  For example, last week I found myself decorating a cardboard coffin with butterflies and meadows, to be used as a funeral director’s window display in Horsham during Great Big Green Week.  

In our culture we tend to celebrate beginnings, but not the end of a cycle and death may be shrouded in mystery with discussion around it often avoided.  Now we have a new question to consider in amongst all the choices…What is the best way of leaving our planet in a good state when it’s our turn to go?

The most ecological form of returning our body to nature is to be buried in a natural burial ground; a haven for wildlife, a peaceful place to sit and remember, safe from property developers, sequestering carbon safely in the ground, as is the natural cycle of living things.

Composting is what usually happens in the natural environment to plants and animals.  It creates humus, the organic matter in soil that is formed by the decomposition of plant and animal matter and enables us humans to literally become the earth, to become part of nature again. 

In other cultures, death is celebrated as closure, or as merely moving to a different physical state so families regularly gather around the burial sites with food and delicacies, candles and music so the loved one is not forgotten and the entire family can celebrate being together, as is done in Mexico.

There are so many other possibilities other than cremation or burial.  With land becoming ever more scarce, cremation may be preferred by local authorities, although despite strict legislation, an enormous amount of heat and toxins are released in the cremation process.  Many harmful emissions are released into the air from plastics and glues in conventional coffins, mercury from tooth fillings, as well as embalming fluids, carbon dioxide, furans, dioxins and other dangerous, cancer-causing which are extremely damaging to the environment. 

If cremation is chosen, a few steps you can take to be more planet-kind are:

  • Choose a coffin made from natural materials such as bamboo, willow, wool felt or cardboard and avoid plastic handles
  • Maybe simply use a shroud made of strong natural fabric like linen or wool rather than a coffin 
  • Dress or wrap the deceased in clothes made of natural materials such as cotton
  • Not embalming 
  • If you have flowers, purchase locally grown wreaths instead of imported blooms and avoid using oasis which contains formaldehyde; or for a more personal touch, invite friends to bring along posies from their own gardens  
  • Plant a memorial tree somewhere- or better still, a copse.

Ten years ago, I realised that my party and wedding planning experience lent itself perfectly to arranging unique funerals, and I was ordained with the One Spirit training programme on my 73rd birthday in 2012.  To explore all the options we have, I will be running a joyful Last Wishes day workshop in the Billingshurst Centre on June 30th which will cover all aspects and choices including the impact that our final choices have on the planet, with proceeds from these Last Wishes workshops paid directly to SGL.

Great Big Green Week starts on June 10th.  To see Jean’s colourful coffin see Ballard and Shortall at Wellington Road, Horsham.

By Jean Francis