Wrinkled Wisdom: Coffins, Cremation, or Composting?

Okay, we’re all getting up there. Guess it’s a good time to give the kids copies of our wills and final directives, and get ready for some “interesting” conversations. One of those conversations will contain a threat. If you dare use any unflattering pictures of us, we will haunt you mercilessly from the grave! Hmmm…the grave? That brings us to the big question and to our title: coffin, cremation, or composting?

Being buried in a coffin was the way it was when we were growing up.  And, there was always a family plot to ensure family members shared burial spaces. Our great grandparents were laid out in coffins at home. The wake the night before the funeral included lots and lots of alcohol.  Those traditions morphed into a viewing at the funeral home the eve of a church funeral service. Then to the graveside ceremony, often limited to family only.  

And, let’s get the terminology correct. Coffins are tapered to conform to the shape of the human form. They have removable lids. Caskets have lids with hinges and have rails to make moving them easier. The average cost of a coffin is between $2,000 and $5,000. Some go for as much as $10,000!  Eco caskets are made of materials that quickly degrade once in the ground and cost less. Good reason to go green!

But, do we really want people to see our embalmed head with bad hair and a terrible make-up job lying in an open casket?

Thankfully, cremation has burned its way into popularity.  Oh, wait. The Romans practiced cremation centuries ago. But, they did things a little differently. At a cremation funeral, the heir lit a pyre with a torch, his face averted as the fire consumed the corpse. The Romans obviously loved drama.

Cemeteries are hurting for space and the family plot is chockful. Ashes in urns are space-effective and friends and relatives can still visit you, propped up on a loved-one’s shelf. If your kids are creative, they can have some of your ashes pressed into jewelry, glass art, and sun catchers, which they can give as gifts. Just an idea!

Ashes can also become part of an artificial reef, mixed with ink for a tattoo, sent into space, buried in a biodegradable urn, or turned into a vinyl record. Yes, a vinyl record! A guy from the UK started And Vinyly, thinking of it as sort of a joke.  He realized what he had created when people started using the records not only to preserve remains, but to include their loved ones stories and memories for posterity. Cool!

Cremation scenes stole the show in lots of movies we grew up with. Remember the Big Lebowski when John Goodman is tossing a friend’s ashes out of a Folgers Coffee can and the wind blows them all over Jeff Bridges? Bridges’ look is priceless and can still be found all over the internet.

The newest trend, especially appealing to the green–minded, is composting bodies. The body is placed into a stainless steel vessel with wood chips, alfalfa, and straw. Same concept as backyard composting of food scraps and yard waste. Well, sorta. It is, after all, a dead body so we don’t recommend this at home. Microbes that naturally occur on the plant material and on and in the body then power a transformation into soil. One advocate describes it as a way to create life from death. There’s a website, Green Burial Council, dedicated to helping you find a certified professional for this after-life option.

Just know these are not body farms, where scientists study the process of human decomposition using donated, nude, dead bodies. One of their main research aims is to make it easier for pathologists to determine a corpse’s time of death. Wow!  Our dead bodies can help solve murders???

Our Wrinkled Wisdom for today?  Rethink whether you want to end up in the ground, as part of the ground, or on a shelf. Make sure you have those flattering photos saved for the party and obit —which you should write!!!  We know the kids don’t want our stuff, but make a list of what you own that’s valuable. They don’t have a clue. And, make one of them swear on your grave that they will keep your parents’ first chair or other family heirlooms. They may not be worth much, but the stories that go along with them sure are.

P.S.  In one version of Samuel Morse’s telegraph code, LOL meant “loss of life.” Guess the old saying is true: “There is nothing permanent except change.” Laugh out loud.

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