Musician and owner of Countryside Memorial Park
I want to promote greater awareness to alternative, more earth-friendly options for end-of-life rituals that western culture has turned away from in recent times. I inherited this issue when my father died and bequeathed to me a “natural burial” cemetery in La Vernia, Texas, called Countryside Memorial Park. Before he passed away, my father was explicit that at Countryside, I should adhere to the tenets of “natural burial” (“green burial”), meaning we only inter bodies that can fully return to the earth without the signature impediments of contemporary burials: embalming and placement in a non – biodegradable casket.
We buried my father naturally at Countryside in 2009, and initially I was completely uninterested in the cemetery my father had left me to steward, beyond the fact that he was now resting there. I hardly recognized his conscious intention to make his last act in life sustainable and considerate to the earth as something revolutionary for this moment in history. However, as time passed, I began to comprehend what a remarkable legacy my father had left by declaring this cemetery an exclusively natural burial site. Simply giving it that distinction from a modern cemetery stimulated conversation about how our society handles death, a topic that seems to come up very little in our culture, despite it being something that every single human has in common.
Until my father’s death I had blindly accepted that the burials and funerals I had experienced previously were the only way.
A body is either embalmed or cremated, and funerals must look like some version of how they do in the movies, with caskets of laminated wood and steel lowered into concrete grave liners. In addition to never having questioned these “standard” methods of burial, I had never considered the devastating effects of them on the earth.
The material statistics of today’s death industry are staggering and not well known.
In America, each year, 4 million acres of forest, 2,700 tons of copper and bronze, 104,272 tons of steel, and 1,636,000 tons of reinforced concrete are used to make caskets and grave liners and buried in a traditional cemetery, all of which together cover over 1 million acres of land.
Despite the lining of the graves, toxins from the 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid used on bodies each year leach into the soil and waterways, poisoning wildlife in the area and beyond.
If these numbers are not enough to get you to consider another possibility, allow me to share with you a different path.
At a natural burial cemetery, a body can simply be placed in a biodegradable container or shroud, and buried at the perfect depth to facilitate a natural integration back into the ecosystem. No chemicals from embalming will seep into the water systems, no trees are cut down.
In fact, at Countryside, you are welcome to plant a tree, wild flowers or an environmentally compatible plant of your choosing over the burial site of your loved one, and watch it grow as the earth celebrates the nutrients your loved one provides.
Western culture’s willful disconnection and aversion to Death as a topic of conversation is another reflection of our disconnection to nature. Contemporary burials align with this disconnection. Death is a perfect aspect of the cycle of life. Death is a transformation.
If you would like for your body to gracefully and naturally transform and return to the earth as your final physical act, this possibility is very much available to you and your loved ones.