Going Green… Permanently, by Nicole Walton

You recycle. Every bit of plastic and paper you can find is collected and set aside on trash day because you can’t stand the thought of it sitting in a landfill for the next billion years. It just doesn’t sit right.

But have you ever considered what will happen when you shuffle off your mortal coil? How will your body or ashes commune with the earth when you’ve gone on to bigger and better things? Will your final disposition be environmentally sound?

The movement to be more earth-friendly is manifesting itself as “green burials” in today’s funeral homes. People are choosing alternatives to the traditional embalming process, caskets, and final resting place in an effort to be kinder to Mother Earth.

Mark Canale is the owner and director of Canale Funeral Homes in Marquette, Gwinn and Ishpeming. He says in a green burial the embalming fluid normally used would be replaced with one that degrades naturally. Traditional fluid contains formaldehyde, which is excellent for preservation but is also highly toxic. The casket would be made of plain wood, wicker, or bamboo, and would not be held together with any nails, bolts, or screws. It would be placed directly in the ground instead of in a concrete vault. Cremated remains would be put in some type of biodegradable urn.

Canale says he’s all for green burials, being a recycler himself. “Funeral directors sell burial vaults, but you’re putting a piece of concrete in the ground, and the concrete continues to cure for over 100 years and it will never, ever disintegrate,” he says. “So you’re putting all that stuff in the ground for what? The purpose of the burial vault was to prevent the ground from collapsing over a period of time, creating a sunken grave and additional cemetery maintenance, but I’m one for using wood caskets and putting them directly in the earth, or going the green burial route.”

Most people in the Upper Peninsula aren’t aware of the options they have when it comes to recycling their most precious possession. Canale says the green burial movement is growing in metropolitan areas, but not many of his clients in this region question him about it. He has, however, brought up the possibility of creating green spaces with local cemetery directors. “They all have plenty of acreage to set aside a little plot of land for green burial, which would mean that there may be walkways but there can be no bituminous or concrete, no roadways, no grass to mow,” he says. “So if you buy a little section of land for your eventual burial place, you receive a GPS coordinate.” Some green burial areas don’t allow any markings at all, but others will let people indicate the spot where the remains of their loved ones lie with a simple, natural stone.

As far as money is concerned, going green would cost less than a traditional burial. Canale says he doesn’t know exactly how much a lot would be since area cemeteries don’t offer green space as yet. He’s guessing it would range from $1,000 to $1,200. A traditional casket costs roughly $800, and dispensing with the vault is a $1,300 to $1,400 savings. Canale says some cemeteries may even allow a body to be placed directly into the earth without a casket; it depends on what the cemetery draws up in its bylaws for green burial.

If it’s not a traditional burial, is it any less sacred? Not according to Canale. “No. If anything, it’s probably a little bit more sacred and has every bit of meaning because that’s where your loved one is interred—their early remains—so whether it be in a fancy cemetery with a well-manicured lawn and a fancy granite marker, or whether it’s in an area where there are plenty of trees and the leaves fall and they’re never raked up, it’s still sacred ground,” he says.

Should you want something a bit larger than a stone for a marker, something that will contribute to the earth’s well-being, you now have the option of purchasing a biodegradable “egg” and planting a tree above it.

Capsula Mundi was created by two Italian designers who wanted to give people a different approach to the way they think about death. Their project focuses on the biological cycle of transformation. According to their website, “In a culture far removed from nature, overloaded with objects for the needs of daily life and focused on youth, death is often dealt with as a taboo. We believe that this unavoidable passage, so meaningful, is not the end, but the beginning of a way back to nature. Inspired by these reflections, we decided to redesign the coffin – an object entirely left out of the design world – using ecological materials, and [non-religious] and universal life symbols, such as the egg and the tree.”

A small, egg-shaped pod made from an organic plastic holds ashes of the deceased. It’s buried like a seed in the earth, and a tree of the person’s choice is planted above it to serve as a memorial. The pods’ designers envision cemeteries allowing space for “sacred forests” that connect the sky to the earth, where family and friends continue to care for the tree and honor the departed.

Capsula Mundi for the body is still in the beginning stages, as that type of burial isn’t legal in all countries. The body of the deceased is placed in the fetal position inside a large pod and is buried just like the urn. For more information, go to http://www.capsulamundi.it/en.

A funeral with all the traditional accoutrements may make us feel better, but if we want to help the earth as well as respect our bodies as our souls’ temples, green is the way to go.

Nicole Walton is the news director at Public Radio 90 in Marquette and a freelance writer. She loves to hug trees

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2018 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

Inner Nutrition: Guffaws for Good

by Nicole Walton

When my mental meter is buried in red, digging a spiritual hole to China, I don’t reach for a wine glass and a bottle of white, or for high-powered aerodynamic sneakers that propel me over hill and dale.  I reach for the phone and dial the number of a friend who I know will make me laugh.  “Hey wench!” Sonya will answer, using her pet name for me, a moniker generated long ago in a now-forgotten but undoubtedly thigh-slapping conversation.  I smile and am on my way to feeling better.

Laughter nourishes me like nothing else (except maybe house special egg foo yung).  Aside from the fact that the act of laughing releases endorphins, diminishes the intensity of pain and lowers the level of stress hormones, it’s just plain fun.  Laughter breaks me loose from my intellectual bonds and springs me into a much lighter atmosphere where I can deal with my issues in a less bleak way.  It lets me know that life is good and should be enjoyed wherever and whenever possible, even when it seems no light can penetrate the fog.

A cousin of mine was involved in a terrible car crash when I was 13.  My mom and I headed downstate to help her family, and as I walked into her hospital room, I burst into tears.  She was in a coma and I didn’t know how to handle it.  As I was led into the visitor’s lounge to compose myself, an older woman sitting in one of the chairs looked up and saw my obvious upset.  “Hey there,” she said, very kindly.  “Those are some pretty boots you’re wearing.”  I looked down at my brown leather zip-up boots and thanked her.  “Where did you get them?” she asked.  When I said they were a Christmas gift she responded, “Oh!  So did you get one from your momma and one from your daddy?”  I laughed.  And I think that was the very first time I recognized the healing power of laughter.  A woman I’d never met before knew I needed to be taken out of my situation, just for a moment, so she made me laugh.  I was lifted up and out, carried away to a better place, enlightened.

Let’s face it: it’s just really hard to feel horrible when you’re guffawing, chortling, and chuckling.

I also get a big charge out of using humor to get a reaction out of others.  “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people,” Victor Borge said.  It breaks down barriers and creates the common ground upon which we meet in jovial sister- and brotherhood.  Our defenses drop and intimacy  is allowed to blossom.  I always feel more connected to the person who giggles at my jokes.

I have a feeling some people envision spiritual practice as being strict and serious.  I’d like to remind them that Jesus laughed.  Buddha laughed.  They knew that a good ole joyful hoot rejuvenates body and soul, creating greater balance within and allowing a greater flow of energy.  I always feel more open to the world in general when I laugh, much like a child.  And how do we enter the kingdom of heaven, according to Jesus?  Like little children.  Perhaps there’s much more of a connection between humor and spirituality than most people think.  I’d like to believe so.

So whenever my batteries need a jump, I just remember the film Monsters, Inc.  At the end, the monsters discover they get more power by collecting kids’ laughter instead of their screams.  As their energy cylinders are quickly filled with each belly laugh so are my own energy centers recharged and replenished, helping me live a more nourished and complete life.

Nicole Walton is a broadcaster, writer, and human companion to two intelligent and slightly pushy felines.

Reprinted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2011 – 2012