A curved bridge going over a stream in a peaceful forest.

A Better Death

May 2024 UPDATE: We wanted to bring you an update on the work of Transition Kamloops Green Burials team. You can see first hand how advocacy at the municipal level works and all the steps that are taken before a wish becomes bylaw. We’re grateful to City staff for being engaged in these conversations and to City Council for their encouragement. You’ll hear Heidi, a Green Burials team member, discuss the bylaw and rigid specifications surrounding burials. With just one word changed, we could be on our way to greener pastures. (I also love how cemeteries are managed by the Parks department 💚). Here’s the recording of the request to Council.

ORIGINAL POST June 2023:

I have noticed that death is not a subject that people tend to enjoy exploring in conversation. Most of us find the subject disturbing and/or frightening. We wholeheartedly celebrate the opposite end of the spectrum, birth, yet when it comes to one of the few absolutely inescapable experiences of life, many people frown, shiver and completely shy away from talking about it: the fact that we, and everyone we know, will most definitely die. For millennia, the Eastern traditions of India, China and Southeast Asia have acknowledged that the fear of dying is the biggest fear to overcome, even difficult for the very wise and enlightened. This fear seems to be a part of the human condition. Add to that the modern medical industry, the health and life-prolongation industries, and now, it would seem, we are able to buy ourselves more time to avoid facing our mortality.

I’ve been pondering a great deal in recent times about the destruction of our planet, the increasing rate of extinction of species, the increasing death count from human-caused climate change in floods, heat waves, wars, famines and the like, and wonder whether our fear of death has turned into denial to the point that we’re unable to face the mess that we are making of our home. What we are facing, and no one is seriously disputing this now, is the extinction of not only millions of other species that call the earth home, but unless some major changes happen very very quickly, the human species is quite definitively, looking down the barrel at the very same fate. Many people are afraid and wonder, “What can I do? I’m just one person.”

This climate emergency that we are “facing” — if you will allow me to put a slightly unique twist on it — is an opportunity to face our mortality, right now. There is no avoiding facing our own death at some point anyway, and I think, as deeply saddening as what we’re doing to our earth home is, and as hard as it is to look at it, if we can bring up the courage to face that reality head on, we give ourselves an opportunity to look at our fears, our grief and our denial of reality. We can begin to work through the feelings now about the dying of our life-sustaining earth environment, without which we will not survive, and intermingle that larger dying with a coming to terms with our own deaths. It might be an important shift to start new balls rolling.

One step in facing our own dying is deciding what we want to happen to our bodies after we die. And on this topic, some members of Transition Kamloops are working on a project that would allow people the choice to have what is called a “green burial.” And it is something, if it comes to fruition, that we can do about the climate crisis. A green burial is different from a regular casket burial, in that,  either there is no casket and the body is simply swathed, or the casket is one that, unlike your regular funeral parlour caskets, will break down, such as one that’s been woven from willow branches. The reasons for this type of burial are multifold: many people for quite some time now in western nations, have been opting for cremation, based on the belief that it is better for the environment — so we won’t have to take up space on the land in a graveyard. However, cremation has shown to have a quite negative impact: the greenhouse gases that are emitted when our bodies are interred by fire are equivalent to driving from Vancouver to Toronto. With the number of baby boomers slated to die in the next decade or three, that will add up to a lot of emissions, which the scientists are practically screaming need to be reduced to net zero. 

Thus, green burials. Many who choose the green burial have a tree planted on the site where they are buried, and thus the natural decomposition of their body nourishes new life. Their still living friends, families and heirs can come and sit under their “grandma” or “uncle” tree and reflect on their legacy. And one of their legacies will be having positively contributed to the environment with their physical remains. What better way to think about life beyond our own brief sojourns here? 

If you are interested in being part of a project to explore how we can make green burials available to the people of Kamloops, please get in touch!

4 thoughts on “A Better Death

  1. I have been longing for a green burial group to join in my area. I live in Clearwater and would love to be part of this sanity.

  2. The desire for a green burial was recently a topic of conversation with a friend. I am very interested in learning more.

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