There is a small but determined number of people in Manitoba (including myself) who are interested in creating a natural cemetery. I have become more aware of and more interested in natural burial in the past few years.
After being in charge of the burial of a friend in a traditional cemetery in December, I am more determined to get a greener option available in Manitoba and sooner rather than later.
My friend had preplanned and prepaid his funeral to be buried in a traditional casket in a traditional cemetery with a traditional headstone, and as his executor, I followed his wishes. But at the time he made these plans, there was no option for a natural burial and as I write there are limited options in Manitoba.
First, what is a natural cemetery?
Imagine a natural park setting. Trees, bushes, marshes, natural grasses and wildflowers. Some small paths, maybe a picnic table or a bench. Definitely lots of wildlife: butterflies and other insects and lots of song birds in the summer, and chickadees and nuthatches in the winter; some small animals like mice and fox; and larger animals like deer and coyote and occasionally bears.
And you cannot tell, but there are bodies buried here too. It is not obvious because there are no traditional headstones and the grass is not manicured: in fact the natural grasses, wildflowers and bushes are now growing on top of the buried body.
The purpose of a natural cemetery is to allow people to return a body as naturally as possible to the earth. It is an alternative to burial in a traditional cemetery and also an alternative to cremation. It is a place to be buried ‘naturally’; not harming the earth in doing so.
Those buried in a natural cemetery are not embalmed (too toxic to the earth); I talk about embalming later in the article.
Those buried in a natural cemetery are buried in a plain pine box with rope handles (no metal handles, no un-natural finish); or in a cotton shroud (a burial cloth). And if someone has already been cremated, the cremated remains (‘ashes’) could be scattered or buried in a natural container.
In a natural cemetery there may be natural markers that don’t intrude on the landscape: a flat indigenous stone that may be engraved.
With today’s technology, the GPS coordinates would be recorded so family and friends know where the body is buried even years after the burial spot is covered by natural vegetation. And there will be careful records kept of every interment.
A natural burial is usually a less expensive option than a conventional burial. What makes a natural burial different from a financial perspective, is that the costs are better allocated, with money carrying on the legacy of the deceased by protecting green space instead of the mark-up on expensive, unnecessary materials (casket) and procedures (embalming). Cremation is typically a cheaper option, but all of the environmental costs are not factored in: it can be quite emission intensive.
If you are intrigued and interested in such a place, please let me know as it seems 2020 will be the year a natural cemetery may finally get ‘off the ground’. It’s possible a non-profit organization will be created soon to get this vision or dream in the works. If you are interested in being part of the organizing or just on the ‘contact list’ let me know.
As of right now, your options for a natural burial are limited. There is at least one municipal cemetery in Winnipeg that has ‘one corner’ of the cemetery for ‘natural burial’. But this is not really a natural cemetery since it is still in a manicured traditional cemetery.
I want to touch on the subject of embalming. I spoke of my friend who died earlier in December and was buried in a traditional casket in a traditional cemetery. One thing I held my ground on was ‘no embalming’. The funeral director initially said it was required, but I knew it was not. Even though my friend was buried six days after he died, because it was a closed casket during the service and there was no viewing, there was no need to have his body embalmed. I encourage you to find out more about what’s involved in embalming before you agree to have it for someone you love or yourself. Embalming fluids that use formaldehyde are not only expensive and terrible for the environment they are also dangerous to the morticians involved.
I will acknowledge that a natural burial will need to occur within a few days of a death (before the body starts to decay too much). The funeral home does keep the body in a very cool environment to slow down the rate of decay, but there is still limited time. If a viewing is desired, another way to slow down the decay is to place the body on dry ice.
To create a natural cemetery, there are many details to review and hurdles to overcome, but at least there seems to be many people with enough drive to finally get this dream started.
Anni Markmann is a Personal Income Tax Professional and Certified Financial Planner; living, working, and volunteering in our community. Contact us at 204.422.6631 or 36 Dawson Road in Ste Anne (near Clearview Co-op) or firstname.lastname@example.org