“Where have all the graveyards gone? Gone to flowers every one. Oh, when will they ever learn?” – Pete Seeger and Joe Hickerson.
“Well, excuse me for living!” That phrase is so 20th century! In the 21st century, we’re moving toward “Well, excuse me for dying.”
Yes, green burials and conservation burial grounds show prospects of catching on like cremation as end-of-life options.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, green burials are an attempt to decrease our carbon footprint and exist more harmoniously with nature. Among other distinguishing characteristics, they call for no toxic embalming fluid, no metal casket and no concrete vault.
Conservation burial grounds also discourage traditional tombstones, opting instead for small, unobtrusive flat pieces of naturally occurring limestone or even GPS mapping of the cemetery. The latter should be okay unless our friends in Russia or China carry out some mischief with our satellites. (“Why are you standing naked on my great-grandfather’s grave? I know I’m in the right place. I can feel his restless spirit. What do you mean, that’s just your hot tub agitator?”)
I’m open-minded about the trend. That lifeless husk at the funeral home won’t be the real ME, and I’ve seen enough Egyptian mummies and desecrated tombs to know that valiant cosmetic efforts have their limitations. It’s like funeral etiquette has spent the last hundred years advertising, “Delay the inevitable AND leave a big after-death mess for future generations. It’s a two-for-one sale!”
Of course, some hardheaded traditionalists will fight to the finish against the new wave. (“Take care of Mother Nature? What did Mother Nature ever do for me? Poison ivy, wasp stings, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, the tornado outbreak of ’74…I think I want to be buried in a full-size replica of the Grand Coulee Dam!”)
Ideally, green burials will cut down on some of the competitiveness that leads to tacky monuments, mausoleums and obelisks blotting out the horizon (as people try to buy their dead parents’ love and cement their status in the community). But I’m sure some “more eco-friendly than thou” types will keep being competitive regardless, perhaps trumping the simple stone marker with a biodegradable bowl full of Fruity Pebbles.
Some undertakers will be unable to keep up with the times, while others will thrive. Especially if they brainstorm income-generators such as a “Whistling Past The Graveyard” music album, featuring not only classic songs (“Walk On By,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “I Fall To Pieces”) but also new compositions such as “I Heard It Through The Grapevine Roots,” “Remember (Decomposing In The Sand)” and “Worms Just Wanna Have Lunch.”
I just hope the subtext of the movement doesn’t generate self-destructive guilt trips. Yes, we’re subtly being told, “If you can make such an impact with your burial plans, just think how much you’d accomplish if you checked out a lot sooner.” Think of an ad campaign that asks, “You’ve won the Super Bowl. What are you going to do next?” “I’m going to smear myself with bacon grease and whistle for a pack of ravenous wolves.”
Every little bit of environmental cooperation helps, but I hope mankind’s hubris doesn’t make us overvalue our amount of control over the planet’s fate. Someday our descendants might be wearing T-shirts that proclaim, “My grandparents saved the world, and all I got was this stupid unstoppable asteroid hurtling toward earth. AIIIIIEEEEE!”