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Category: Death

Emma Vs Stuff: Part 2

My nan died in September.

That was a little blunt, sorry. But I put it that way mainly because it still feels incredibly blunt.

In the midst of grieving and looking after my grandad, my parents and I also found that we had to clear my grandparents’ house (and a fair bit of our own) so that my grandad could move in with us.

Picture of a messy room

Now, for most people, this is already a difficult task. What do you keep as mementoes? What would your loved one want you specifically to have? ( We gave as much as we could to family members and friends, but it was all too much really. )

For us, it was made a little more difficult due to several factors, but the most difficult thing is that we didn’t just bag things up and donate them to the nearest charity shop.

Picture of someone browsing a charity shop

This was entirely my fault because, having worked in two charity shops, I know that the sector is overwhelmed with donations because of our throwaway culture. Indeed, some of the stuff, like VHS tapes and small plastic toys, just cannot be sold by most charity shops and they have to bin them.

And because I didn’t want to do that, it meant that I had to find charities or organisations that would take donations of goods, which brings us to the purpose of this article.

I put out calls on the Green Party Instagram and my personal Trash Nothing account, sent out emails to local charities, and spent several nights Googling the words “Portsmouth + charity + donations”. (It’s been a fun month.) It didn’t exactly yield the response that I hoped for, but I want to share with you what I did find.

(I should note that this list is limited to items that I personally had to donate or items that a charity did specifically request from me. Some of these are ongoing donation needs and some are one-offs, so contact the charity before you donate to check.)

Kitchen

Image of an all-white kitchen

My nan had a lot of kitchen equipment, kitchen storage, cutlery, and crockery, which we donated en-masse to Food Cycle Portsmouth.

We also donated food that no one else liked to the local Food Bank. (Pro tip: If you pop it into the donation stations at big Tesco stores, they’ll donate 20% on top.)

However, you can also donate cutlery and crockery to Two Saints, Tupperware to the Age UK cafe at the Bradbury Centre, or pretty much any usable goods to the Roberts Centre.

Bedroom

Image of a bedroom

The biggest things here were clothes, towels, and bedding, but thankfully they were pretty easy to donate.

The clothes, shoes, and accessories all went to Stop Domestic Abuse, where they will benefit survivors who may have had to leave an abusive situation without packing.

Clothes and shoes can also be donated to The Life House, while Two Saints are looking for coats at this time of year.

Towels, bedding, several spare duvets, and curtains all went to The Roberts Centre. They could also be donated at the Moving On Project.

The towels and bedding that was not good enough to be donated for use by people (i.e. it had rips or was stained or had faded) will eventually be donated the Stubbington Ark for their animals. However, at present Tamara is using it for eco house move (blog post to come).

Living Room

Image of living room

My nan had so many books, she wanted Grampy to build her a library. I’m talking over 200 books after the family had chosen the one we wanted to keep.

We donated the hardbacks to the Portsmouth Library Service and the paperbacks to Stop Domestic Abuse. They can also go to any homeless shelter.

While we’re in the living room, PARCS said that they would take part-used art supplies, i.e. pens, pencils, paints, play dough, for their art therapy.

HOPE not Hate Portsmouth will also take donations of knitting needles and dark yarn to make hats and other items for refugees, while Age UK will take donations of any wool, which volunteers use to make items for sale.

Boardgames can be donated at Two Saints.

VHS tapes can be donated at Barnardo’s charity shop, but they can’t take 100 in one go, so I am selling them at St Mark’s Church’s tabletop sale tomorrow (if you’re reading on the publishing date) to raise money for Nan’s favourite charity, the RNLI.

(Also, I know that there’s another charity shop that takes VHS tapes, but they’re anti-LGBTQ and I have a rule against helping organisations that wish I didn’t exist.)

Bathroom

Image of a bathroom

There were so many toiletries in my nan’s house that I was honestly a bit freaked out. We separated them out between two worthy causes, as shown below:

  • Wrapped soaps: Will be dropped off at various homeless shelters in December as part of a Christmas parcel.
  • Hair products, shower gels, and deodorants: Stop Domestic Abuse

As for part-used toiletries, the family have chosen to use them up ourselves, but you can donate them via Trinity Winchester’s Toiletries Amnesty. (I honestly would have done, but they never got back to me about whether I could post them.)

My nan also used Tena pants and had a big collection in her bathroom. As they were in sealed packets I donated them to the Food Bank, also using the Tesco drop-off point.) This is actually something, like menstrual products, that the Food Bank doesn’t regularly get donations of and can really help someone in need.

Furniture

Image of two chairs and a table

While we haven’t gotten around to donating the furniture yet – still not sure if we’re moving to a bigger place – we have found several places that will take it, including the Moving On Project and the Roberts Centre.

Also, for those of you who might run food-type businesses, the Age UK cafe is looking for cafe tables and chairs, as well as chilled display cases.

Office

Picture of a computer

While Nan didn’t have an office, she does have a printer and several other pieces of computer equipment, which will hopefully be donated to The Life House soon.

Unwritten postcards can be donated to Postcards of Kindness, which is volunteers writing postcards to people in carehomes.

Garden and Garage

Image of a garden shed

Nan loved her garden when I was younger, about as much as Grampy loved his workshop, so there were plenty of tools that needed donating.

We donated them to Tools with a Mission, but the Southsea Green can also take some garden equipment and Work Aid will take tools or all sorts (including sewing equipment and buttons).

There are also a lot of plant pots and broken ceramics (for drainage) that I’m currently giving away on Trash Nothing, but will give to the Southsea Green if they’re not gone by the New Year. (They had a stockpile when I called them.)

Hopefully, this has been helpful to you. I’d also like to highlight the Droppoint service, which is helpful for pinpoint specific items. If you have any other suggestions about where to donate items, comment below.

Green Death #2: Demystifying Body Disposal

Welcome to the continuation of my personal investigation into Green Death. For the last few months, I (Tamara) have been trying to figure out what is the ‘greenest’ option for my funeral and body disposal as well as generally empowering myself with end-of-life research and planning. I have spoken to funeral directors, cemetery staff, visited a natural burial site and even seen ‘behind the curtain’ of two local crematoriums.

However, trying to figure out which is the most earth-friendly option sent me spiralling down the internet rabbit hole. Dudes, I have to admit I got bogged down with stats and info on energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions in body disposal. I opened ALL the links and it was tab city all up in here!

So, as this is about my personal green journey, I hope you will enjoy my statistic-lite ramblings on Body Disposal and feel free to do your own due diligence if anything sparks your interest, and let me know what you find in the comments below.

So much choice in body disposal! Which door to choose?

The Demystification of Body Disposal Options

To be buried or to be cremated, that is the question! Actually, there are a few other interesting options I considered. But I’ll start with the most traditional option of burial.

The Traditional Option: conventional Burial

Milton Road Cemetery, Portsmouth

In my introductory post on Green Death which you can read about here, I visited the South Downs Natural Burial Site and found it an inspiring and peaceful place. Elements that appealed to me such as the rough and ready nature of the site, the lack of headstones and grave adornment and the openness to coffin-free burial are not features that will appeal to all – I’m thinking of my mother and mother-in-law particularly here. A friend of mine spoke to me about their in-law’s burial in a Hampshire churchyard a few years ago – the family viewed a traditional coffin, headstone and all the conventional add-ons as being the respectful, loving and dignified choice. Being able to visit the grave has also been essential in their grieving process.

Green space in Portsmouth is an ecological and emotional necessity on our densely populated island. Portsmouth’s cemeteries are oases of calm amid our urban landscape – the working cemeteries of Milton Road and Kingston and the historic Highland Road cemetery offer green and reflective spots to stroll and for the bereaved to visit loved ones. However, as Portsmouth is so densely populated, I have never really considered it as an option for myself or my family, especially as we do not have any particular leaning towards traditional burial.

This impression was reiterated when I met with a Portsmouth cemetery staff member to talk through the burial process. With approximately 20,000 burial spots available, Portsmouth’s two cemeteries could be full in approx 20 years.

Blossoms at Milton Road Cemetery, Portsmouth

Unlike at the natural burial site, my visit and questions were unusual to cemetery management who are more used to dealing with funeral directors.  This was made clear by management’s strong preference that a funeral director is used by the bereaved, with some religious exceptions.

Family cannot be involved in the grave preparation with only trained staff allowed to lower the body or ashes into the ground. Use of a shroud or alternative coffin-free funeral would be at the discretion of the cemetery manager and cremated remains must be buried in a wooden casket.

I left much more informed and very clear that this would not be the right option for me. There are some faiths where the deceased must be buried – as an agnostic, I am happy to leave those spots in Portsmouth’s cemeteries to those who prefer traditional burial and require it in the next 20 years.

Green Death Pros: Both Portsmouth’s cemeteries are located within the city. This means minimal emissions in transporting my body and the mourners, and for my local friends and family to visit my graveside over the years. As my husband has expressed the desire to have a spot to visit, a clearly marked graveside for the duration of the plot lease is a positive.

Green Death Cons: Portsmouth cemeteries are running out of space and so I cannot justify being buried there.  The leaching of toxic embalmed fluids into the soil and waterways can prove a danger to groundwater. Fuel and energy would be used for the long-term maintenance of my grave and the cemetery, including the use of fertilizer and pesticides. As DiY funeral elements are discouraged and the use of coffins are preferred with shroud usage unconfirmed, the element of involvement in the process would be missing.

Eco Burial Tip: Go for low-impact elements that are within your control such as a cardboard coffin, local (or no) flowers and a monument (or no) made from British stone.

the popular option: Cremation

My favourite spot at The Oaks, Havant

Now cremation is another familiar concept to most of us and is the most popular body disposal option with 77% of all deaths in the UK resulting in cremation[1]. Judging the environmental impact of cremation vs burials is not one I have found easy. Cremations use fossil fuel energy to incinerate the body and release carbon emissions and pollutants into the environment. However, burial takes up valuable land space and with an ever-growing population, we certainly can’t all be buried!

A side note is that I intensely disliked all the cremation funerals I have attended so far due to the conveyor-belt vibe. Crematoria are busy places, for example, Porchester Crematorium is a high-volume crematorium with more than 3000 cremations take place there a year.  Most crematorium services are only 20-30 minutes long, though some offer the option to book a longer slot (at a cost).

As cremation is my mother’s top choice for her body disposal, I needed to gain some clarity and address my conveyor-belt concerns. I visited my two local crematoriums – Porchester Crematorium and The Oaks in Havant, both of whom have an open-door policy, an attitude I found very refreshing in comparison to my cemetery visit.

I was given a tour around the facilities which included ‘behind the curtain’. My friend Chris, who has been with me on my death planning journey, accompanied me on this behind-the-scenes tour of Porchester Crematorium. She remarked how comforting it was to see the process, as both her parents were cremated there.  Reader, I recommend everyone does a behind-the-scenes tour of a crematorium. It was so interesting, educational, respectful and not at all frightening or macabre.

Image from Funeral Wise

Both Chris and I found the process of cremation fascinating and were walked through the stages. Here’s a debrief of the cremation process:

  • After the committal – the concluding rite of a funeral service – the crematorium has 72 hours within which to cremate the body.  
  • The body is cremated in the cremation chamber (also known as a crematory, crematorium, cremator or retort) which is essentially a large industrial furnace. 
    • Using fossil fuels (most likely natural gas), the cremator is pre-heated to around 1,400 – 2,000 degrees Farheight.
    • The coffined body is slid into the cremation chamber where it will self-ignite, taking approximately 2-3 hours for the body’s soft tissue and the coffin to burn, leaving the remains of bone fragments and metals.
    • Emissions are filtered through a flue system, collected in barrels and then disposed of as hazardous waste or recycled (though I am not sure how it is recycled or if that was green wash).
    • A magnet is used to collect metals from the bone fragments and the remains are then ground into ‘ash’. I had always assumed the body burns away completely and that the ash is like when you burn a wood fire. Boy was I mistaken – the ash is essentially ground-up human bones.
Eco Cremation Tip: I recommended these two videos of many by my death positivity crush, Caitlin Doughty of Youtube channel‘Ask a Mortician’ and founder of death-positivity movement 'The Order of the Good Death'. She is both hilarious and informative!

* All About Cremation!  
* What Happens to a Body During Cremation?  

Can cremation be eco THOUGH?

But back to the environmental considerations around cremation – technological advancements mean mercury and carbon emissions can be more effectively filtered out and by 2020, as part of the Oslo-Paris Commission (OSPAR) agreement on eliminating mercury emissions from crematoria, all crematoria within the UK (roughly 240 facilities) will need to have a zero emissions rate. This means either installing entirely new cremation equipment, and/or integrating mercury abatement systems.

With Environment Agency targets, regular monitoring and reporting and strict rules for crematoria to limit emissions, mercury emissions seem to be contained to an acceptable level.

The crematoriums can even utilise the heat generated by their cremators through a waste heat recovery system. I was inspired by the story of Redditch Crematorium – in 2011 ish, when installing new equipment  to meet the laws to reduce mercury emissions, they also installed a system to divert the waste heat, produced by the cremators that escapes from the cremator chimney, to heat a nearby swimming pool, reducing the leisure centre’s gas bill by aver 40%, equating to a saving of about £15,000 a year.

I was delighted, therefore, to read The Oaks have a heat exchange system but was disappointed to hear that it was not in use. Talks have been ongoing for four years with the nearby hospital to utilise and heat the hospital but I am not confident given The Oaks has been open for five years!

In the UK, the body must be cremated within 72 hours after the service of committal. This enables the crematorium to ‘hold over’ coffins, which basically is a more efficient way of utilising the energy generated through the pre-heating and using of the cremators by putting through as many cremations in one day as possible, rather than cremating the bodies on the same day of the funeral. 

After the cremation, metals are separated from the cremated remains for recycling. This can include hip joints, pins/ nails from the coffins and precious metals. Porchester Crematorium raise £5,000 to £6,000 a year for charity from recycling these metals.

I was interested to learn that the cremated remains are basically everything that is left in the cremator at the end of the cremation process following the removal of any metal and is essentially barren material. Though scattering of ashes takes up no land space and ashes can be buried in urns made from 100% biodegradable materials, in large amounts and scattered in sensitive ecosystems, there is an ecological impact to consider.  

Green Death Pros:  Disposing of my body by cremation means there is minimal land usage and there is no long-term maintenance of a grave and cemetery. Regulations mean mercury emissions are being more effectively filtered and with innovations in Waste Heat Recovery systems, the heat generated can be utilized somewhat. The Service Hall at The Oaks was simply breathtaking with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the semi-natural woodland beyond. And they have bees!

Green Death Cons: At the end of the day (no pun intended), I can’t get away from the fact that cremation involved high energy consumption with the burning of natural gases and fossil fuels that releases carbon emissions and pollutants into the environment. Added to this, most crematoriums insist that the body is in a coffin when incinerated. The Oaks in Havant was open to a body being cremated in a body pouch/ shroud if it is sealed from any leaks and mounted and secured onto a hard-combustible board.

Eco Cremation Tip:
Best to dress the body in natural fibres. The more synthetic the clothes, the
more emissions.

Bequeath My Whole Body to Science

I am very tempted by the idea of bequeathing my body to science as this practical use of my corpse will enable medical students and researchers to study anatomical sciences. If my body can be of use after I’m gone, well why not! Surgeons gotta learn somehow! And to parrot my dear marmar ‘When you’re dead, you’re dead!’

Conveniently, I could donate my body fairly locally to the Centre for Learning Anatomical Sciences (CLAS) at Southampton University. Here my body would be embalmed and then utilised for anatomical examination. When that is complete, the University of Southampton can arrange and pay for my remains to be cremated and have my ashes returned to my next-of-kin, or to be scattered in Southampton Crematorium’s Garden of Remembrance. If I wanted a private funeral, they will return my remains to my next-of-kin/ executor.

Green Death Pros: There are a plethora of pros in choosing to bequeath my body to science:  benefiting research and humanity, being useful even after I’m dead, a no/low cost cremation with my next-of-kin receiving my ashes. If I changed my mind, withdrawing consent is simple and easy.

Green Death Cons: There is no guarantee that my bequeathed body will be accepted post-death, so I’d need to have a back-up plan. I also couldn’t both donate large organs for transplantation and also bequeath my body to science. My hubby, The Dutchman, considers it more valuable to donate his organs for transplantation than to donate his body to science – but his organs are probably healthier than mine, to be fair! My donated body would be embalmed, which I am not keen on, and (most likely) cremated. Donating my body to science means my friends and family may miss having a traditional funeral with the body present. A contender, but I am not completely sold on the option for myself.



THE WILDCARD OPTION: Alkaline Hydrolysis


Photo by Samad Deldar from Pexels

Also known as “Water Cremation”, “Flameless Cremation” or ‘Aquamation’, alkaline hydrolysis is a new body disposal system and a challenger to flame cremation.  

My basic understanding, which comes straight from…surprise, surprise….my death guru, Ask a Mortician’s Caitlin Doughty, is that the body is placed in resomation machine that contains a high-pressure mixture of 95% water and 5% lye (potassium hydroxide/sodium hydroxide) which is heated to 365 degrees Fahrenheit (compared to the 1400 to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit of flame cremation).

The process, which takes about three hours, mimics the chemical decomposition the body would undergo if buried and leaves behind bone fragments (about 30% more than a flame cremation) and an inert neutralised liquid of amino acids, peptides, sugars and salts, with no human DNA. The bone fragments that remain are ground down to a white ash and returned to the family, while the liquid can be repurposed as fertilizer or flushed down the drain.

The eco credentials (according to Caitlin’s sources of the Funerals Consumer Alliance), alkaline hydrolysis uses an eighth of the energy used in flame cremation.

However, though legal in 16 American states as well as three Canadian provinces, it has yet to reach the UK, though applications have been made.

“A public crematorium operated by Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council at Rowley Regis, central England, was the first to receive planning permission to offer the process but in March 2017 the local water utility, Severn Trent Water, refused the council’s application for a “trade effluent permit” because there was no water industry standard regulating the disposal of liquified human remains into sewers.”

Wikipedia

‘Ask a Mortician’s Caitlin talks about the misconceptions behind water cremation here and here and the BBC has a fascinating essay on ‘Dissolving the Dead‘.

Green Death Pros: Water cremation results in lower emissions than flame cremation and also uses fewer fossil fuels.

Green Death Cons: It’s new technology and regulation hasn’t yet caught up. The eww factor of disposing of the inert liquid is a barrier that will need overcoming.

This raised the question for me about the disposal of the blood and bodily fluids removed from a body in the embalming process. In the USA, according to my guru and LA mortician, Caitlin, it is disposed of down the drain. Try as I might, I couldn’t find out what happens to the blood and fluids in the UK. Methinks it is probably the same!


So, dear Reader, you might be wondering, where am I in my green death process? There are a few more factors I need to consider around the death acrutements – coffins, embalming, flowers, monuments/ remembrance but the actual body disposal is the main decision. Now I have done my due diligence, I’m taking some time to consider my options, chat with my family about what I have discovered and I will report back soon.


In the meantime, as you wait with bated breath for my concluding post, check out these upcoming events.


Green Death Events in Pompey

  • May 18th 2019: Free Screening of Griefwalker film at The Coastguard Studio
  • June 4th 2019: Nights of Grief and Mystery tour at The Groundlings Theatre
  • November 14th 2019: Greener Funerals with Emma Collins at Green Drinks Portsmouth at The Southsea Village

Grief Whisperer Emma Collins, is offering a free screening of the film, Griefwalker about the life of Stephen Jenkinson on May 18th at The Coastguard Studio. Click here to book a free ticket and for more information about the event.

Jenkinson, whose work in palliative care and wonderings about what might be in the way of people dying well in our culture has been very meaningful in Emma’s life. He is the author of Die Wise, the founder of the Orphan Wisdom School in Ontario, and who for five years headed the counselling team Canada’s largest home-based palliative care facility.

You can see Jenkinson on his tour Nights of Grief and Mystery in Portsmouth on June 4th at Groundlings Theatre. To book, click here.

And finally, Green Drinks Portsmouth 14th Nov @ The Southsea Village (back room).  We’ll be joined by Emma Collins who will be inviting us to dive into a discussion about what we might want to do about our own and our loved ones bodies when we die. We will be exploring the options for greener funerals and the rules about how caring for our loved ones after they die, both in the immediate hours and days after and our options for where and how we bury our dead. We will explore the costs associated with funerals, both environmental as well as financial, and wonder about whether having greater involvement with caring for the bodies of those we love might support us in our grieving and loss.


[1] According to the Cremation Society of Great Britain 77% of deaths (in 2017) resulted in cremation. https://www.havant.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/Infrastructure%20Delivery%20Plan.pdf

Enjoy this solo footnote. Never to be seen again.

Green Death #1

*This post is in honour of Mike Wines, Green Party activist and an all-round good guy. We valued your dedication to the environment, your willingness to stand up as Portsmouth Green Party coordinator and council candidate, and your dry sense of humour. You are missed. *

(Disclaimer: Unsurprisingly, the following post is about death and funerals. Please be mindful and look after yourself. I am going to say it like I see it, so be prepared!)

Let us begin at the end

I am going to die.  My loved ones will one day die. The people sat chatting around me in this café will all eventually die. You too, dear reader, will die.

Why are we so surprised by this? I (Tamara) don’t see any point in beating around the bush about this inexorable fact and I don’t understand why death is such a taboo subject; to only be discussed when one is very old or in the process of actually dying.

I think now is the perfect time to consider the shape of my funeral. I am not ill, and neither is anyone close to me. The Mothers of the Dutchman and me are in good health and happily living their lives. While friends procreate, I have the epic responsibility of a cat. The time is now!

So many of my friends have no idea what they or their parents and partners would want if they became ill or died suddenly. This baffles me but then I grew up with an outspoken Trinidadian mother whose catchphrase whenever death planning is mentioned is ‘When you’re dead, you’re dead. Just burn me – or whatever is the cheapest.’ As you can see, we don’t stand on ceremony in my family!

Death shopping is a thing. Even in death we are consumers and I am determined that my death and body disposal should be as earth-friendly as possible. When the Dutchman and I wrote our wills, about ten years ago now, we stated our preference for an ‘environmental funeral’ and thought no more about it. But recently I realised it would be useful for my friends and family to have specifics as to what I mean by ‘an environmental funeral’.

Dear Reader, I went so far down the rabbit hole with this one, this blog post will be in two parts!

My Initial Green Death Requirements

This is a No from me!
Image by ianhearse from Pixabay

I want a funeral with friends and family talking and laughing. Lots of alcohol and speeches. Basically, a raucous wake that will make my neighbours complain. No whispering allowed.  The Victorian style funeral with a black hearse and pallbearers in top hats does not appeal to me at all.

I want it to be earth-friendly with minimum impact. I don’t want it to be a conveyor belt of death and whispers. No embalming (unless absolutely necessary). I’d love my body to stay at home. Minimum death purchases – no plastic flowers, no tombstone, no crap. Locally sourced food and drink. A biodegradable coffin made in the UK.

So armed with my list, I started my research…and immediately fell into the rabbit hole that is the internet – tabs galore were opened, never to be closed. I decided to take myself out of the internet and talk to real people with knowledge about this funeral malarkey.

Friendly Funerals R Us

Also not what I had in mind.
Image by carolynabooth from Pixabay

I visited a local funeral director who kindly talked through my many random questions and allowed me to a look round the viewing room – a subdued space with low lighting and a strategically placed box of tissues. I left understanding why so many of us use funeral directors when we are amid a loss – they are experts in the mysterious ways of the funeral world, whilst most people will organise only one or maybe two funerals in their lifetime.  I can imagine it is incredibly soothing to know that it will run like clock-work with minimal stress to the family.

Not for me – I left knowing what they were selling wasn’t what I wanted. But I am aware I must be mindful of what I am asking of my loved ones who may not be able to do the DIY funeral I’d prefer. If my mother decides she needs the support of a funeral director, I hope she will go to a local independent that is understanding of my environmental wishes. I want more than just an eco-coffin, I want a lifestyle…or should that be…deathstyle?

There are so many misconceptions surrounding the funeral industry. Did you know you don’t need to engage the services of a funeral director anyway? A deceased body does not have to be embalmed within the UK and can be transported via any vehicle – it doesn’t have to be a hearse, if the vehicle is safe, a suitable size and the body is covered – you are good to go!

My biggest learning curve was the costs associated with a funeral –so unnecessary, so much gentle up-selling and so very very expensive. I hadn’t realised how much a coffin could cost. You gotta have money to die.

South Downs Natural Burial Site

Lay ME in Lavender

To bury or not to bury, that is the burning question! I have always thought burial was an unsustainable option due to the sheer impact on the land, waterways and green spaces. The earth is for the living, so why take up precious land space once I’m dead and with an ever-growing population, we certainly can’t all be buried!

Being pumped full of chemicals for short-term preservation which will leach into the soil and water, being housed in a coffin which could last longer than my decomposing body – nah mate, burial isn’t for me.

Until I went on a road trip to the South Downs Natural Burial Site with my wonderfully open-hearted friend Chris. We met the manager, Al Blake, in a dusty cluttered office for a quick-fire round of conversation and questions. It couldn’t have been more different from my visit to the friendly funeral director. Here was a natural burial expert in walking boots and jeans who understood my distaste for the conveyor-belt style funeral, wasn’t fazed by the request to have the body at home and has a database of natural burial and DIY funeral friendly Funeral Directors.

At the South Downs Natural Burial Site, embalming and cremated ashes are not allowed. To be buried here, my coffin or shroud must be 100% bio-degradable. My unmarked grave will be dug by hand and my body taken to its resting place on a hand-drawn bier or horse-drawn cart. It will be the only funeral that day. My loved ones can lower me into the earth. When I asked this of the friendly funeral director, I was told this wouldn’t be possible due to health and safety. At the natural burial site, it seems anything is possible.

Chris and I wander down to the Natural Burial Site, originally a conifer and beech plantation planted about 40 years ago by the Royal Navy, now being replanted with species that belong on the South Downs. The re-stocked woodland will consist of native species that may eventually be coppiced and harvested for rural industry and wood fuel. Coppicing is a traditional method of woodland management where trees and shrubs are cut back to ground level periodically to stimulate growth.

We meet ‘Young Chris’ who is hand-digging a grave under the cover of a flappy tarpaulin. This is too good an opportunity to miss and I leap down into the grave. It doesn’t feel scary or weird or morbid. It smells of damp earth and chalk – not surprising, considering the burial site is on chalk land. With both cemetery and national park status and the whole park belonging to Earth Trust, the 1985 bodies buried here aren’t going anywhere. Most natural burial sites shallow bury but here they dig deep into the chalk. Al comments that it might not be the most eco but with the local wildlife he considers it the most secure option.

There are considerations – I know my Mum will hate the steep walk down to the burial site. On a wet day, the chalk path is slippery. My guests will need to be prepared to rough it with walking shoes and sticks. But I don’t care – this is the place where you can stand in your sorrow and no one will rush you. I am in love.

But the price pulls me short. Back to reality. Can I really justify £2000 to be buried here? Holy guacamole, that is a lot of money. A cremation at Porchester Crematorium costs £615. Cost is my one big concern and I am still mulling it over. I will continue my death investigation into cremation and other body disposal options before I make my decision.

Let me put it this way – it’s going to take a green death extravaganza to top this.

Have you visited a natural burial site? What were your impressions? And where do you stand on funeral directors and the associated costs of death? Let us know in the Comments section.

The Second Part of my Green Death investigation will be published at the end of April. Probably. Who knows?!