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Okay to decay

I recently read an article about a difficulty being faced by cemetery managers in Norway that turned my stomach. It seems that after WWII there was a shift in that country to be more “hygienic” with their burial methods, and it became a cultural norm to wrap their deceased in plastic wrap.

As anyone who has studied biology (or, heck, anyone who has composted) can tell you, oxygen is needed for anything to biodegrade properly. As you can probably guess, this has created problems. As the Wall Street Journal interpreted it – “nothing is rotting in the state of Norway.”

I’m sure it wasn’t the intention of the families who buried their loved ones for this to happen. In fact, they probably didn’t put much thought into it at all. They just went along with the practice of the times.

To me, this story seems to mirror our current burial traditions in the U.S. where we pump our loved ones full of formaldehyde-laced embalming fluid before we bury them inside a steel box, inside an even larger concrete vault. What are we hoping to achieve? Do we think we can fight off the affects of death? Even in reading the literature of a vault supplier, the selling points are largely emotional.

Like those in Norway, we’re setting ourselves up for a world of trouble. You can only fill the land with so many unnatural materials before you start to see detrimental effects – poorer water quality, less healthy vegetation, poor air quality. Beyond the environmental issues this presents, is it even healthy for us emotionally? Not to mention all the natural resources which are being poured into the ground to fight this natural biological process. Annually in the U.S. we bury enough concrete in vaults to build a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit, and enough steel in caskets to rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge.

When you actually consider the long-term effects of our current practices, the pain we are causing for ourselves and our children is staggering. For the sake of our planet and the people who live on it, I hope our society will begin to realize it’s okay to decay. With stories like this in the news, maybe it will cause people to stop and think.