Going Out Green

Charles Cowling

Rupert Callender made this observation of Dan Cruickshank’s The Art of Dying:

I was surprised by how little thought Dan had apparently given the matter. I thought everyone mused endlessly about their own deaths.

I don’t know that they do, Rupert. When, over in the US, Bob Butz was asked by his publisher to write a book about green funerals in three months, this was his response:

“Three months?” I said, incredulous. “That’s some deadline. Har. Har. But seriously, what do I know about planning a green burial? I’m no expert.”

For all his ignorance, Bob is predisposed to a green funeral:

Green burials came to interest me because, frankly, all the traditional ones I’ve seen over the years were a real drag. They left me thinking that there had to be a better way.

He’s a realist:

Although a reviewer once called me a nature writer, I’ve never been accused of being an environmentalist. I do what I can where the planet is concerned … At this point, I doubt very seriously that “going out green” will come anywhere close to rectifying the environmental mayhem I’ve wrought simply by virtue of being born

Bob embarks on his researches:

Only three weeks into this project and I’m beginning to wonder if I’m cut out for thinking about being buried all the time. For one thing, and I know this is going to come as a shock, it’s depressing.

He tracks down the Natural Burial Company, which is run by a good friend of the Good Funeral Guide, Cynthia Beal, with whom he tangles. He is withering about Ecopods:

…the Ecopod seemed to run contrary to the fundamental tenets of the natural burial movement … In the words of Jim Nicolow, “shipping a $3000 recycled coffin 5000+ miles to reduce burial’s environmental impact feels a bit like selecting the rapidly-renewable bamboo trim package to reduce the environmental impact of your Hummer.”

Bob digs his own grave—to see what it feels like. He reflects on the way people don’t discuss funerals:

I found this odd given that every other life-defining decision up to that point—getting married, having children, where to school those children—involved long and careful deliberation

He researches home funerals and embalming. He goes to see his father’s grave for the first time in years, to see how it makes him feel. He concludes:

For three months I thought about death more intensely than I think the average person should have to.But in an odd sort of way that was also the best part, too—that maybe in trying to die and be buried green I may now live my life a little bit better, too.

I hope this has whetted your appetite. This is an unpretentious and informative blunder through some of the mysteries of death and dying written by, this is important, an industry outsider. It is serious, funny and highly readable. At £11.25 it is a tad pricey—but heck, you can’t take it with you.

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Cynthia Beal
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Hi Charles, Your comment about Butz’ being ‘withering’ on the Ecopod was apt and, since there’s nothing else here to give it context, I thought I’d best reply. 1) I’ve not read the book. I did just check on amazon and there’s over 50 copies available, so I picked one up for 2.00. 2) Bob called me for an “interview” and we spoke for a long time. Throughout the conversation I found him to be a man with his mind made up, with the POVs he intended to put forth, and not really a ‘researcher’ per se, but more someone… Read more »