It was not a job I applied for, it was something I was assigned, as my grandfather ran the cemetery. Here is what I did when I dug a grave:
First I set down planks to mark the proper dimensions of the grave, making sure to keep it within the allocated spot. Next I removed the sod, setting it aside so it could be replaced as the top layer once the grave was filled. Then the real digging began, going down to four and a half feet. Yep, only four and a half feet, not the storied “Six feet under.”
That depth was more than sufficient, as you will soon see.
The following day, before the funeral procession arrived, a truck would come and lower a concrete vault into the grave. Once the vault was in place, the truck would move to a respectful distance.
Next came the graveside service, at the end of which the coffin would be lowered into the vault. Then the lid of the vault, also made of concrete and with a sealant around the edge, would be lowered to close up the vault.
And what was in that coffin? A human body pumped full of toxic chemicals . . . a body forever locked away from the earth.
The film The Lion King featured a song called “The Circle of Life” that has been very popular.
But the American way of dying brings the circle of life to a . . . well, a dead halt.
The real circle, for almost all forms of life, is that a creature is born, it lives, it dies, and then through a natural process of decay its body returns to the soil to enrich new life.
We have broken that circle, badly.
The current death rate in America is about 2,500,000 people per year. That means almost 7,000 funerals a day! And in the vast majority of those funerals the person who died has been sealed in a wooden box which is then placed inside a rigid, non-biodegradable “vault”, the main purpose of which is to keep the grave from collapsing so it will remain easier to mow!
Along with those two and a half million funerals we bury about 100,000 tons of steel, 10 tons of copper and brass, and 30 million board feet of hardwood timber.*
It is hard to imagine a process more removed from the natural world.
Happily, there is a better way.
We now have a growing movement for Green Funerals. Rather than removing your body from the natural cycle, a Green Funeral avoids embalming and lets you be buried in a natural container, one that will allow your body to return to the soil.
My favorite version of these burials involves planting a tree above the burial site . . . a tree that will be nourished by the gift you give of returning your body to the natural world.
I am of the world. I love the world. And I want to remain a part of the world when I die.
In my next life, let me be a tree!
Bruce Coville has written over 100 children’s books with 15 series, including The Unicorn Chronicles, My Teacher is an Alien and Magic Shop, middle grade novels like The Dragonslayers, picture books and nonfiction. Plus plays and e-stories. AND he is the founder of Full Cast Audio, which creates unabridged recordings of books for young readers. See it all at www.brucecoville.com.
* Figures from www.beatree.com