We're talking a lot about 'green or natural' burial lately as we prepare our request to the City. We are asking for the inclusion of green burial sites at our local Williams Lake Municipal Cemetery. To address some of the questions we're hearing, we offer Lee Webster's excellent 'cheat sheet for green funeral terms'.
Green or natural burial: A burial system that allows full body interment in the ground in a manner that does not inhibit decomposition. The essential aspects of green burial are the absence of a (cement or metal) grave liner or vault, non-toxic preparation of the body (no embalming), and use of containers made of organic (bio-degradable) materials. By including families more directly, green burial supporters hope to provide a rich, meaningful, and healing graveside experience while furthering legitimate environmental and societal aims such as protecting worker health, reducing carbon emissions, conserving natural resources, and preserving native habitat. Funeral director responsibilities are largely the same as in conventional cemeteries, including making arrangements, directing the attendees, and troubleshooting the logistics and family preferences.
Home funeral: The process of family and friends, next of kin, or designated agent retaining custody and control of the body for the time period between death and disposition (burial or cremation); sometimes referred to as home vigil or DIY funeral. A home funeral often involves bathing and dressing the body and using dry ice or other cooling technique as a preservative for 1-3 days. For many the experience is about avoiding institutional settings and providing personalized care. Typically, family and friends visit during the home funeral.
Home vigil: A home vigil is similar to a home funeral. The terms may be used interchangeably, though home vigil may refer to the practice of family and friends sitting with the body continuously while lying in honor in the home, or it may simply refer to the time period from death to disposition
Blended funerals: Funerals that combine conventional funeral practices with home funeral and/or green burial practices; may include the use of a funeral director for certain aspects of care, such as obtaining, completing and filing paperwork or transporting the body. Families may have a home funeral without having a green burial and visa versa. Blended funerals offer families more options, especially when certain options are not available in their area.
Home funeral guides: trained individuals who educate and empower families to exercise the innate right of caring for their own dead. A home funeral guide may provide education and support either prior to or during the funeral period.
Green funeral: A general term used to describe post-death care, from death to disposition, using only natural means (nontoxic preservation techniques and organic materials with minimal carbon footprint) that might include the funeral and disposition combined; sometimes confused with the terms “home funeral,” “green burial,” or “home burial.”
Written by Lee Webster Director of New Hampshire Funeral Resources, Education & Advocacy. She is emeritus President of National Home Funeral Alliance, and emeritus member of the Board of Directors and Education Consultant for Green Burial Council.