BURIAL: A letter to those (or their relatives) about to be the dearly departed.
Dear Madam or Sir:
It is important that you understand that urban communities around the world face an unheralded disaster, which most likely will transform our sentiments about life and the consequences of death. We are faced with a burgeoning population and diminishing burial grounds. This warning may produce a pursuing of your lips or even a snicker, but the danger is real. There is legal pressure to disinter the dead and place them in common graves to make room for the newly departed. London is on the verge of requiring disinterment after seventy years in the grave. In various parts of Europe, they permit only thirty years of resting before digging ‘em up. And, in Venice, Italy, you hardly have time to get used to your new quarters when, after ten years the shovels start their mournful task of searching you out and digging you up.
It is clear that burial in caskets designed never to disintegrate will become a procedure of the past. But, your body will require some disposition and immediately you think (some of you with horror) of cremation. That should solve the problem of land use, but the reality is that cremation sends a huge variety of noxious chemicals and fumes into the atmosphere for us to breath. Because we live longer and have cared for our teeth, mercury is one of them. And, don’t forget carbon dioxide; we all know that problems that causes. Imagine if everyone were cremated; the energy bill would be enormous and who knows the incidence of illnesses breathing in the consequent miasma. Perhaps we could solve the problem with gas masks.
There are some who wish to mask the reality of cremation by enclosing your ashes in concrete balls and depositing them onto coral reefs. It is well known that such reefs are deteriorating and need support; and what is left of you in your cozy concrete would serve the oceans and humanity. That is a lovely thought and some with whom I have discussed the problem seemed enthusiastic. Still, it depends on skunky, smelly cremation. Inquiring minds wish to know: Why not use concrete balls to strengthen the reefs and eschew cremation? There is silence on that subject.
A proposed solution to the problems of burial and cremation is “natural burial.”
The remains are put into a cardboard box and buried in a shallow grave. The box and its contents will dissolve fairly rapidly. Such burial would surely save ground and after a year or so other bodies could use the same space. Headstones would not be permitted because they take space and imply ownership of the ground. And, who would be willing to return to the site and drag the marker away? For the bereaved, a simple stone could be placed at the grave, or directions be on a sort of pirate’s map. You know, walk 20 paces to the south. Find the hump of ground and from that go 50 paces east and dig up the loot. If that also sounds too cumbersome, there is experimentation of GPS devices. That surely would work. (I have recently learned that in some parts of India and in Israel, bodies are wrapped and buried. Still there are gravestones and ownership of the land.)
While “natural burial” would satisfy many concerns, it still takes up space. Commercial interests have come up with some possible solutions. You know how flowers turn brittle when immersed in liquid nitrogen. The same would happen with your body. A light tap with a hammer, or perhaps just vigorous shaking would do the trick; you would be reduced to a pile of tiny, frozen body mass and bone fragments. In case there is a compost shortage, such remains would be useful in satisfying the need, and like natural burial, you return to the soil. The energy cost and environmental cost would be considerably less than cremation or burial.
The final idea (that I know of) is to melt your body. That seems bizarre. A body of flesh and bone transformed into a liquid would seem to require a death ray brought here by malevolent aliens. No, it is doable and has been done. The results are safe and liquid you can be poured down a drain. I suppose water treatment facilities would require consultation and how would you like to have a nice drink from the tap of grandma. “So long, Uncle Charlie, join the fish in the seas. With our love, your nieces and nephews.” Still, for those wanting Uncle Charlie closer to home his fluid remains could be poured into the backyard. “Say, the grass seems much greener since you know what. Who has dibs on Aunty Harriet?”
Several of the above provide no final resting place. Perhaps the population of ghosts might increase with clankings and moanings about being lost souls. Alas, they truly would be lost, and ghost busting become a growth industry. And relatives who would visit grave sites. Where would they go?
I don’t much care what happens to my body but you never know about survivors preferences. Perhaps I had better make some changes to my will.