A while back, FG did a quick snippet on some eco-friendly final resting options one might consider. But if you’re still leaning towards the conventional coffin-and-underground-burial ceremony, there’s one tell-all book that sheds light on the death industry and the environmental mayhem it leaves behind. Mark Harris’s Grave Matters follows modern families as they send off their loved ones in different ways, starting from the most common (and damaging) methods up to those with the least ecological footprint.
Capping off at just under 200 pages, Harris breaks down chapter-by-chapter the experiences each particular family goes through when arranging their dead’s ceremonies.
No detail is left untouched: ambiance and overall emotional feel of each burial, average costs of each burial method and ceremony, and a cheat-sheet at the end of each story summing up what you should’ve taken from the chapter.
Perhaps one of the first book-clenching moments was a detailed segment on embalming–a practice that was for a long time rejected in the American eye as unholy and pagan. Between reading the graphic details on how embalmers stuff cotton balls in orifices in order to prevent chemical leakage, and horror stories about the scents and sights of exploding caskets caused by anaerobic decomposition, one would definitely think twice about what’s deemed a “proper burial”.
Between these episodes lies environmental evaluation at every turn. Cemetery grounds are home to a myriad of toxic chemicals including formaldehyde, heavy metals, and (lesser in newer generations) arsenic. Harris states there’s no systematic procedure for testing groundwater pollution on or around burial grounds, nor is there a standard for the amount of formaldehyde available in potable water…which should raise even more of a concern to those who frequent graves and crypts.
Luckily, explanations of ecologically-sound burials are revealed in the later chapters. Cremation, water burials, and the simple-yet-intimate on-property burial all get analyzed in this expansive, exploratory work. Both a resource and an enjoyable read, Mark Harris brings to light processes deemed too dark for mainstream discussion about better ways to tend to our dead.
Hopefully you can snag a copy of Grave Matters at your local book swap/store. If that isn’t possible, expect to pay between $12 and $14 online for this fundamental read.