Frequently Asked Questions
Green Burial Questions
Why are green burials so popular?
We have found that various sorts of natural burial options are increasingly popular due to a collective, heightened consciousness. People aren't interested so much in how they will be remembered, but rather how they can continue to give back. Even in death.
Green burials are obviously kinder to the environment and a more natural way to go. They offer a smart way to protect and preserve natural landscape. This method of disposition provides a habitat for native plants, wildlife and birds to live and flourish.
We talk to people quite a bit about this subject. The comment we continuously hear is the wish to have a tree planted above or next to the burial spot where that person will be buried. Their body would then fertilize the tree, and they find that thought heartening.
What are the most important components of a green burial?
What makes a green burial? In the most customary sense, a green burial means a person is buried in a container that can decompose, along with their remains, and return to the earth's soil. This can be achieved by being laid to rest in your favorite comforter or sheet, or in a specific type of casket. Earth friendly caskets are crafted out of a variety of materials: wood, bamboo, banana leaves, even willow branches. Absolutely no metals, plastics, stains, varnishes or oils can be used in these caskets.
Also, green burial is burial that can take place without the use of formaldehyde-based embalming and concrete burial vaults. It's fundamentally the way most of humankind has cared for its dead since the beginning of time. It is to be noted that green burial can also be used to facilitate ecological restoration and landscape-level conservation.
For those who want a more earth-friendly funeral, what things should be considered?
If you want to be more eco-friendly, think less extravagantly. Rather than fresh-cut flowers, choose a plant that can be replanted. Sustainability, it seems, can be practiced in all aspects of one's life-including death.
Do keep in mind -- the concept of a green burial is not a new idea. It is the oldest and most natural form of interment. And back in the day, the body was always kept at home.
A home funeral can encompass a memorial service, wake, viewing or a combination of the three. It's also an intimate experience: friends or family members might help wash and dress the body, build or decorate a casket, plan a memorial service or accompany the deceased to the burial site or crematory.
What tips can you offer to plan a green burial?
When families come to see me about picking out an urn for their loved one's cremains, we first suggest they take a look around their home and see if they have something that the deceased person loved, or something that would represent them. If not, do they have a family member or friend who would be comfortable making an urn?
We highly encourage taking it to an individual level. A green burial can truly be a DIY project. Have everyone get involved. We love the idea of personalization. Paint or draw on the burial apparatus with a non-toxic implement. Bury your loved one on your own land if state and county rules permit. And consider leaving a living marker. This means planting native trees, shrubs, and flowers on or near the grave.
Click here for information on a full guidebook on Green Burials.
Are more companies/funeral homes/cemeteries jumping on the green bandwagon?
Truthfully, funeral homes are a bit gun-shy when it comes to going green for many reasons. The trend is new and some funeral providers are not educated on the rules and regulations. The responsibility of advocating for this type of burial isn't always embraced for fear of financial loss. Funeral homes are quite conservative in making change. Some families don't ask for green options, therefore some providers are not aware there is a need. On and on…
We do believe that ultimately funeral homes and cemeteries will give the public what they want. After all, we are in this business to help people anyway we can during this very difficult period of their life.
How does one go about finding an earth-friendly funeral home?
The Internet is a great resource. As the economy sinks and unemployment rises, more people will be seeking green solutions, and more funeral homes will realize the importance of becoming earth-friendly. Our hope, of course, is that the openness to natural burial is made for more than economic reasons.
What are some of the latest trends in green burials?
Coffins made from recycled paper products, cardboard, or even wicker that resemble a peapod, and come in vibrant colors. More and more of these creations are handmade and biodegradable, and of course use no chemical glues or other toxic components.
We also hear more praise for the simplicity of staying at home. Holding a ceremony somewhere dear to the deceased is becoming quite vogue. Green websites we often consult with observe that institutions and burial places will often have rules as to what is, or is not, permitted on their property. Green burial plans may clash with such directives.
Are there any regulations regarding green burials that people should be aware of?
To locate specific laws regarding green burial in your state, contact the proper authorities. The policy varies and is not uniform throughout the United States, or other countries.
Are green burials more affordable than standard burials?
Fewer resources are used for a green burial, so yes, a green burial can be significantly less cash. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average cost of a traditional funeral is $6,500 plus cemetery expenses. Green burial is drastically lower.
Any other thoughts to consider about green burial?
The natural burial ground provides a number of benefits for the greater community including an enhancement of the urban green space network, development of multi-use recreational spaces and improvement of the ecological diversity of the area. Natural burial allows people to make one final act, to communicate, in death, a statement of their values about life.
It can be important for mourners to have somewhere to go to remember their loved ones long after the funeral is over. Natural or living memorials can be wonderful alternatives to quarried headstones or marble mausoleums. Consider planting a tree or a bush that will carry on in honor of the deceased. Online memorials are also becoming increasingly popular.
How does natural burial work?
In the most familiar definition, a green burial means a person is buried in a container that can decompose, along with their human remains, and return to the soil. Ideally, all aspects of a green burial are as organic as possible. The body is not filled with embalming chemicals, and it is placed in the earth without vaults or nonbiodegradable caskets. The end goal of green burial is that nothing is used that doesn’t help replenish the soil.
What are green funerals?
Here's an example: A woman named Alyce was dying from ovarian cancer. About a month before she died, her best friend, Diane, came into my funeral home to make plans and figure out how she could create a funeral that best aligned with her tender-hearted friend’s spirit. We made a plan: Once she died, Alyce would stay in her home. We figured out which cemetery she would be transported to and by whom. I assisted Diane with assembling her team of helpers and assigning jobs.
Alyce was also involved in this planning, and she was very thoughtful about what she wanted and how it might unfold. Diane visited George Cemetery in Estacada, Oregon, and chose the burial space. She also had ready Alyce’s oatmeal-hued, organic cotton dress, which Alyce wanted to be dressed in for her final journey to the cemetery. For the burial, Alyce was also wrapped in a natural blanket that shrouded her small frame, and she was placed onto a pine board for easier carrying — from the home, into the back of the station wagon, and to the gravesite.
Once at the cemetery, Alyce’s friends gently lowered her into the ground and shared some words. In particular, someone spoke about how Alyce had always wanted to become a tree, and now that dream was going to come true.
Are green burials legal?
It is legal today to bury a loved one without an embalmed body, nor do you need to use a gasketed casket inside a protective grave liner. It’s a myth that all bodies need to be embalmed before burial, and in most states, you aren’t required to hire a funeral director. That said, burial rules and regulations vary by state and local laws, which is why planning ahead for a funeral, especially for a green burial, is so important, since it avoids unexpected legal problems during an already stressful time.
Funeral Service Questions
Why have a public viewing?
Viewing is a part of many cultural and ethnic traditions. Many grief specialists believe that viewing aids the grief process by helping the bereaved recognize the reality of death. Viewing is encouraged for children, as long as the process is explained and the activity is voluntary.
What is the purpose of embalming?
Embalming sanitizes and preserves the body, retards the decomposition process and enhances the appearance of a body disfigured by traumatic death or illness.
Embalming makes it possible to lengthen the time between death and the final disposition, thus allowing family members time to arrange and participate in the type of service most comforting to them.
Does a dead body have to be embalmed, according to law?
No. However, embalming may be required by the funeral home in conjunction with other services, such as open casket viewing.
Is cremation a substitute for a funeral?
No. Cremation is an alternative to earth burial or entombment for the body's final disposition and often follows a traditional funeral service. In fact, according to FTC figures, direct cremation occurs in only a small percentage of deaths.
What should be done when a death occurs?
Contact Cornerstone Funeral Services as soon a possible. Our licensed director is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to assist you and your family at a time of need and to answer all your questions.
What if death occurs away from home?
When funeral arrangements must unexpectedly be made away from home, it is difficult to consider what to do first. If you want to limit costs, the best practice is to contact the funeral firm in the area where the funeral service and burial is to take place. Call Cornerstone at 503-637-5020 day or night.
We will instantly make all the necessary calls and arrangements for you to ensure the timely transport and return of your loved one back to our local funeral home and for final funeral services and disposition.
What purpose does a funeral serve?
It is the customary way to recognize death and its finality. Funerals are recognized rituals for the living to show respect for the dead and to help survivors begin the grief process. Funerals in one form or another have been conducted to honor the dead since around 35,000 B.C.
What do funeral directors do?
It has been estimated that over 136 individual activities must take place in order for one funeral to be conducted. Funeral directors are caregivers and administrators. They make the arrangements for transportation of the body, complete all necessary paperwork, and implement the choices made by the family regarding the funeral and final disposition of the body.
Funeral directors are listeners, advisors and supporters. They have experience assisting the bereaved in coping with death. Funeral directors are trained to answer questions about grief, recognize when a person is having difficulty coping, and recommend sources of professional help. Funeral directors also link survivors with support groups at the funeral home or in the community.
Can a body be buried without a casket?
Yes. To have a truly green burial, the body should be buried in clothing and a container made of 100-percent natural, biodegradable materials. This allows everything that is buried to decompose and return to the soil. Most people prefer to be buried in a casket or coffin, and using a natural one made of untreated wood like pine is an ideal, green choice. These can be handmade to order, or you can make your own. However, new types of burial containers are being developed all the time, ones that use eco-friendly, organic materials like wicker, bamboo, willow, hemp, banana leaves, and sea grass.
People can also forgo a box and be buried in a cloth shroud. With green burial, the concern isn’t only what we put into the ground, but the amount of resources we use to bury ourselves. After all, we came into this world possessing only a body. How much does our body really need when we leave it?
A very modest, low-priced option for a green burial container is fiberboard or cardboard. Both materials are strong enough to hold a body and are rather eco-friendly. These are used mainly for cremations, but they will work for a burial as long as there is a board underneath to keep the container rigid while lowering into the grave.
Is it legal to be buried on your own property?
A backyard burial encompasses burying a person on residential property, or land that is privately owned. This precludes any land that has been endorsed as an actual cemetery. Most bodies are buried in established cemeteries, but burial on private property may be possible. Laws vary not only state to state but county to county; it’s most accepted and typical in rural settings.
What determines the cost of a funeral?
The family of the deceased does. The cost of a funeral will depend on how elaborate or how simple a ceremony is desired. Funeral directors offer a wide variety of services to choose from. Remember, a funeral home is a 24-hour, labor intensive business with extensive facilities (viewing rooms, chapels, limousines, hearses, etc.) and these expenses must be factored into the cost of a funeral. Moreover, the cost of a funeral includes not only merchandise, like caskets, but the services of a funeral director in making arrangements, filing appropriate forms, dealing with doctors, ministers, florists, newspapers, etc. and seeing to all the necessary details.
Who pays for funerals for the indigent?
Other than the family, there are veteran, union, and other organizational benefits to pay for funerals, including, in certain instances, a lump sum death payment from Social Security. In most states, some form of public aid allowances are available from the state and vary by county.
Most funeral directors are aware of the various benefits and know how to obtain them for the indigent. However, funeral directors often absorb costs above and beyond what is provided by agencies to insure a respectable burial for the deceased.
How much does a green burial cost?
There isn’t a standard cost for a green burial, since so many aspects of a traditional funeral and burial can be either omitted or done yourself. Typically, green burials are less expensive than a traditional burial, and in some cases, they can be significantly less expensive. The difference usually depends on how much work you intend to do yourself and the cost of the materials and services you use.
An average estimate of a traditional funeral and burial in the United States is anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000, depending on the specific goods and services you choose. Just like anything in life, you can choose the high-end model with all the extras, or you can pick the stripped-down floor model. Natural burial only requires the basics to get your loved one from point A to point B.
Green burial can be highly cost effective; it’s all about simplicity. For instance, you can lower costs by choosing to be buried in a shroud made of a cloth you already own or in a no-frills pine coffin. If you make the coffin yourself, your only cost is the materials. Even a manufactured, biodegradable casket or shroud usually costs less than a conventional casket, which is often made of fabricated steel or lacquered hardwoods. If you forgo embalming, that cost is gone (both conventional and green embalming cost about the same, and both require a professional). Green burials also don’t require concrete vaults or liners, which is another cost eliminated.