Burying a life

Beibhinn Thorsch

Imagine if there was a different way we approached death – a different way we approached funerals and burials, something different from what we are so used to now?

A green burial allows for the body to return to the earth with minimal environmental impact. The body is wrapped in a shroud or placed in a biodegradable container, and placed directly into the ground. There is no embalming, refrigeration, or aim to preserve the body long-term, yet a viewing is still available just as it is in more contemporary wakes.

Caitlin Doughty, a pioneer in the world of death-positivity and natural burials (founder of orderofthegooddeath.com) tells, in her Ted Talk, of how the focus of the contemporary funeral industry is on “protection, sanitation, and beautification”.

The contemporary funeral industry treats a natural dead body as if it is not good enough to be shown to the deceased’s loved-ones.

Natural burials have no headstone, only a simple marker, no attempt to make the ground unnaturally even, and no harmful chemicals or materials to seep into that land

The pursuit of the beautification of the dead body is what seems to lead us to this unfamiliarity and distrust of the world of green burials. The idea that the deceased still somehow have ownership of the body, or more accurately that they may “live on” inside the body leads us to the expense of elaborate funerals with grand coffins and caskets.

Bodies are drained and embalmed then filled with dyes and covered in makeup to give a semblance of what it once was. Unless death was caused by something highly infectious dead bodies are safe, but embalming is still given as a necessary step in the industry.

With an Irish burial rate of 94 per cent and cremation rate of 6 per cent, a lot of non-biodegradable material is filling up more land space. Un-coffined burials only became legal here in 2013, with the amendment of Burial Ground regulations, but  in 2010 Woodbrook Natural Burial Ground opened as the first of its kind in Ireland. “The Green Graveyard Company” is currently trying to open a number of natural burial grounds in Ireland.

During a TedxTalk, Billy Campbell tells of how each year alone an entire 90,000 tonnes of steel are buried and almost 1 million gallons of embalming fluid leaks into the ground. Even cremation contributes to fossil fuel emissions, turning the body’s nutrients into air pollution instead of having them nourish the land during decomposition.

People have been burying their dead for over 100,000 years to prevent the odour of decay, to give closure to loved ones, to prevent the witnessing of decomposition, and to give back to the cycle of life.

The Order of The Good Death website, offers a statement upon which to ponder if you are still of an unsure mind. It states:

“If we work towards accepting, not denying, our decomposition, we can begin to see it as something beautiful… ecstatic.”


Béibhinn Thorsch