Our Changing Funeral and Burial Practices


"In a narrow grave, just six by three

We buried him there on the lone prairie"

American funeral practices are undergoing rapid changes with so called “natural” and “green” options becoming more common methods of dealing with the deceased. Religionink.org lists several increasingly popular practices including “Celebrations”, “Cremation”, “Going Green”, and “Do-it-Yourself Funerals”. The Portland Press-Herald (ME) reported yesterday about “green” cemeteries:



(an) alternative that is just emerging in Maine is natural burial in a green cemetery: wooded graveyards that ban chemicals and caskets that won’t easily decompose.

Two such cemeteries are now preparing to do natural burials in Maine, in Limington and in Orrington. There are only about six operating green cemeteries in the United States, but many more are planned, according to those tracking the trend.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Some organizations and companies active in “natural burial” are Native Woodland, operating in the U.K., the Natural Burial Association (Canada), and Kinkaraco, a San Francisco (U.S.) dealer in “Green Burial Shrouds”(see photograph).
Green Burials (U.S.) (motto: “Return Naturally”} has much information regarding newer burial practices.


What is Green Burial?

Simple and natural. Green burial, or natural burial, ensure the burial site remains as natural as possible in all respects. Interment of the bodies is done in a bio-degradable casket, shroud, or a favorite blanket. No embalming fluid, no concrete vaults.


The Natural Burial Company (U.S.A.) sells biodegradable caskets made of recycled paper, sea grass or bamboo. Their willow casket illustrated:
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket


On Caring for Your Own Dead web site we find much information about the old American tradition of home burial and the laws of various states regarding this practice today.


The laws in Connecticut are in conflict with each other, begging for a law suit. The laws specifically provide that the custody and contol of remains . . . shall belong to the surviving spouse . . . or . . . next of kin . . . [Sec. 45-253]. On the other hand, a funeral director’s signature is required on the death certificate, and only a funeral director or embalmer may “remove the body of a deceased person from one town to another” when a person dies in Connecticut, but towns and ecclesiastical societies may provide a hearse and pall for burial of the dead. Go figure. A licensed embalmer must be in charge when death is from a communicable disease. Because the laws are conflicting in this state, a family wishing to care for its own dead may wish to seek the help of legal counsel. The FCA office may be able to help by filing a friend of the court brief.


While in Massachusetts:


In 1996, the Memorial Society here convinced the State Board of Health that Commonwealth laws permitted families to care for their own dead. It was left to the discretion of the individual boards of health whether or not to comply with the state’s opinion. Although many towns have agreed to do so, a court case will be pursued if difficulty arises. Personnel in the Department of Health have been very helpful with recalcitrant local officers.


In Michigan:


A 1995 court decision affirmed a family’s right to possess a body “for the purpose of preparation, mourning and burial.” This state also has one of the best home burial statutes. Families wishing to care for their own dead in this state may run into officials who are not aware of the court case.


Returning to the Portland Herald Press story:



Klara Tammany’s mother didn’t want a typical American funeral. No embalming, no metal casket, not even a funeral home.


When she died after a long illness a couple of years ago, family members and friends washed and dressed her body and put it in a homemade wooden casket, which was laid across two sawhorses in the dining room of her condo in Brunswick.


Then, for two days, friends and family visited, brought cut flowers, wrote messages on the casket’s lid and said goodbye.


“We had this wake, and it was wonderful,” Tammany said.


The home funeral is part of an emerging trend that some believe will change the way Americans deal with death. Send-offs like the one Tammany planned with her mother are called “green” funerals because they avoid preservative chemicals and steel and concrete tombs, all designed to keep a body from decomposing naturally.


After the wake, Tammany’s mother was cremated and her ashes buried near the family’s camp in Monmouth.

"It makes no difference, so I've been told

Where the body lies when life grows cold

But grant, I pray, one wish to me

O bury me not on the lone prairie"

I say, “Do bury me on the lone prairie, or better yet, in the warm green woods!
To hear a very folksy version of this traditional song click here
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Originally published on Habits Not Peculiar…. (10/29/07)

Tags: green funeral,green burial,simple burial

14 Responses to “Our Changing Funeral and Burial Practices”

  1. Suzanne Says:

    Cedar Brook Burial Ground is open. Contact Peter McHugh with any questions at a.green.cemetery@gmail.com or call 207.637.2085.

  2. Mike Salisbury Says:

    The modern concept of natural burial began in the UK in 1993 and has since spread across the globe. According the Centre for Natural Burial, http://naturalburial.coop there are now several hundred natural burial grounds in the United Kingdom and half a dozen sites across the USA, with others planned in Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and even China.

    A natural burial allows you to use your funeral as a conservation tool to create, restore and protect urban green spaces.

    The Centre for Natural Burial provides comprehensive resources supporting the development of natural burial and detailed information about natural burial sites around the world. With the Natural Burial Co-operative newsletter you can stay up-to-date with the latest developments in the rapidly growing trend of natural burial including, announcements of new and proposed natural burial sites, book reviews, interviews, stories and feature articles.

    The Centre for Natural Burial

  3. Cynthia Beal Says:

    Hi there,

    Thanks for doing this post.

    I just wanted to point out that your link to the Natural Burial Company is wrong – the UK company operates natural burial grounds in the UK.

    The biodegradable coffins you show that have been mentioned in the news lately are sold by the Natural Burial Company in the USA — http://www.naturalburialcompany.com — that’s my company and we use it to support the natural burial movement by educating people to the possibility, stimulating demand and raising the bar for non-polluting and biodegradable end-of-life products.

    We opened our first biodegradable coffin gallery in Portland, Oregon in January, and we hope to make it really easy for folks to get a biodegradable casket and begin to seek out natural burial cemeteries and sustainable cemetery management practices wherever they can find them.

    Thanks again for all the links above, and thanks for making the correction to my company’s link, too.



    There’s more information available about the movement in general at http://www.beatree.com, part of “Be a Tree, the Natural Burial Guide for Turning Yourself into a Forest.”

  4. steadyjohn Says:

    Thanks, Cynthia, for your update. Correction has been made…..John

  5. Martha Reeves Says:


    I am a clinical social worker, living and practicing in Western Massachusetts and Southern VT and am exploring the possibility for providing natural burial “services”, ie consultation, references, access to products etc and would love the chance to understand the process that you, Cynthia, have been involved with in establishing your company. I would very much appreciate making contact with you so that I might benefit from your experience. Please contact me, either at this address or I may be reached by phone at 413-367-9879. Thank you, in advance. Martha Reeves

  6. steadyjohn Says:

    Hello Martha! You need to contact Cynthia directly, her email is included with her comment.

  7. susan roderick Says:


    I have been searching for a green buriel site in Ct. or a law that would
    allow my family to bury me on my land, without funeral intervention; I have very strong feelings about this; can anyone help me or direct me to
    someone who can?
    I don’t know why this should be so hard.
    Susan Roderick

  8. Our Changing Funeral and Burial Practices (cont.) « Steady Habits Says:

    […] Changing Funeral and Burial Practices (cont.) We reported earlier (10/29/07) on ways in which  American funeral and burial practices are changing to accommodate […]

  9. Alternative Funeral Says:

    Great Post! Could I add that as well as all the wonderful benefits pointed out, a green/eco funeral is also very inexpensive when compared to traditional cremations or burials

  10. Funeral Readings Guru Says:

    Excellent post. Very interesting and informative.

  11. avenatura Says:

    I just wrote about green burial. http://avenatura.wordpress.com/2009/05/26/green-burial-return-to-earth/
    I think it’s definitely the way to go. If you live your life trying to reduce your carbon footprint, why not in death as well?

  12. Ishmael Says:

    Hi if anyone knows, can you please tell me if it is legal to be buried on ones own land in New Zealand? Cheers

  13. april Says:

    the veary top one scared me a little bit but It was PRETTY COOL! U scientists should get more pictures

  14. diane Says:

    This is getting closer to the Islamic buriel, body washed, wrapped in cheapest cloth, and in the ground the same day-great idea whose time has come. The pharonic practice of embalming and casket is costly and wrong. Let’s return to our roots.

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