The Final Resting Place
Even if a loved one is cremated, you'll need to decide what to do with the remains. For decades, burial in a standard cemetery has been the norm, but more and more people are choosing other options. Alternative resting places have actually become businesses in themselves. For those who are cremated, ashes can be spread almost anywhere — sprinkled at sea, scattered in the woods, incorporated into an art piece, even shot into space (although the latter option is not particularly environmentally friendly).
Before spreading ashes, consider whether you'll want to visit the gravesite and what might become of the property where the ashes were placed. Will loved ones feel upset if the open field where the ashes were spread later becomes a discount store?
In the Woods
Preservations are still in their infancy but are growing as alternatives to run-of-the mill manicured and landscaped cemeteries. Considered green cemeteries, preserves let nature take over, leaving many trees in place and planting others as memorials. Birds roost and squirrels skitter about, so these preserved areas are teeming with life not death. As conservation areas, most preserves allow hiking and bird watching, giving the public the opportunity to appreciate a sacred area.
Nature preserves require that the deceased not be embalmed and that only environmentally friendly caskets or shrouds be used. Caretakers can usually help interested parties find acceptable products and materials. Although embalmed bodies are generally not accepted for burial, exceptions may be made if the deceased was embalmed against their wishes. Graves are marked with simple stones or native plants and can be documented with a global positioning system. Pets can also be buried on the property, so owners and their dogs, cats, or other pets can spend eternity side by side. Trails and boardwalks offer pathways for visitors who are coming to see a grave, taking a relaxing walk, or enjoying a bird-watching expedition.
Green cemeteries are unregulated, so take care in choosing one. The Green Burial Council (www.greenburialcouncil.org) is working to begin certifying conservation burial grounds and natural burial grounds. A conservation burial ground offers a natural setting, provides for future conservation measures, and is located near parks, wildlife corridors, or permanently protected areas. A portion of the proceeds is set aside for perpetual care, and the grounds are protected by a conservation easement, which means that legally the land cannot be developed. Natural burial grounds are similar, but they only provide protection of the burial ground, not the surrounding areas.
The Glendale Nature Preserve (www.glendalenaturepreserve.org) in Florida owns more than 350 acres of countryside, allowing burials to be more natural and peaceful. The preserve includes an open-air chapel, boardwalks, and bamboo groves. Tractor-drawn hay-wagon tours are available to explore the property. The preserve also has a sawmill on the property that is used to make caskets. Burial shrouds can also be purchased through the preserve.
Other green burial locations, state laws, and more information can be found at www.forestofmemories.org.
Under the Sea
It is possible to be buried at sea without being cremated. As part of the Clean Water Act, the EPA requires that burials at sea take place at least three miles offshore and where water is at least 600 feet deep. Remains must be in a container that will not float. If remains are cremated, they must still be taken three miles offshore, but there is no minimum water depth.
Burial at sea has become its own industry, offering reef memorials and boating services. Eternal Reefs (www.eternalreefs.com) offers a concrete casting in which the remains are mixed with the concrete. Once the mixture is cast, family and friends can place their handprints or write messages on the outside of the form that will eventually rest on the ocean floor. The concrete forms can form an artificial reef and marine habitat.
Professional services can be contracted with to assist in the burial, but it is also perfectly acceptable to arrange the service personally. Loved ones' remains can be scattered from a private boat in a personal ceremony that exemplifies a tribute to their life.