THE BLOG

The De-Commodification of Death and Funeral Rites

07/03/2016 11:54 GMT | Updated 05/03/2017 10:12 GMT

Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one and who is also the person in charge of funeral arrangements can relate to the feeling of having to compartmentalise emotions on the one hand, while on the other, having to retain a clear, logical grasp on reality and a focus to the pragmatic issues surrounding all areas of funeral planning.  And this task of arranging a funeral is made no less daunting given the soaring coasts of funerals for which most Brits are completely unprepared and misinformation surrounding funerals in the United Kingdom.

With the average funeral costing £4,136, many mourners in the UK are taking desperate measures to meet these unexpected fees. Not only is an estimated 25% suffering grave financial setbacks when faced with sudden funeral costs, but of the under 35 mourners, approximately 40% are turning to high interest payday loans.   While some individuals might plan to rely on state support for funeral costs, others take out life insurance plans to make sure this inevitability will not leave one's family and friends scrambling for funds.  Alternatives to traditional burial or cremation such as natural burials are expensive even when heeding the standard advice as to how to keep funeral costs down. However the list supplied by the Natural Death Centre does not address many of the misconceptions of funeral rites which remain enigmatic to many. Perhaps by understanding the array of options legally available today, people can make more informed and personal choices regarding their funeral rites.

For instance, when faced with a sudden death, many are cast into a state of shock and thus many mourners often blindly accept that the more recent traditional funeral processes in the UK are obligated by law.  These individuals tend to react to funeral arrangements as if on auto-pilot, still dazed by the death of their dearly departed--a state of confusion and impuissance which is what the funeral industry relies upon in order to sell their services, many of them entirely superfluous.  Yet there are many facets of funerals that are not only costly but also, for the ecologically-minded, are also completely unnecessary, ecologically dangerous, and wasteful.  For instance, the following are not legally required for any part of the funeral process in the United Kingdom: a funeral director, a coffin, a hearse, a religious officiant, a headstone, grave diggers, a cemetery burial, and embalming.  Does this mean that you can bring your loved one from the morgue, wrapped in a bed linen, on the back of your pick-up truck, to be buried in the garden behind your house? Yes, pretty much.

There are other options aside from the home burial or rituals conducted under the guidance of a funeral director replete with casket, flowers, and choir.  For many individuals today who attempt to live authentic lives free from the constraints of capitalism and without the foreboding of a greater carbon footprint, the last thing they would hope is that their death become a capitalistic enterprise of amassing one bill after another while contributing to the ecological destruction of the planet.  Hence the green burial is a concept based upon a rejection of cremation, embalming and the demarcation or personalising of the grave.

With green burials, the body is placed untouched in a natural, locally made linen or simple coffin and then placed into the ground of a conservation site (ie. forests or nature preserves). The idea of most green burial sites is that the individual place of burial is not memorialised, but rather it is the general site that contains the memory of the departed.  Likewise it is understood that the body of the deceased, free of any embalming or preservation fluids, will decompose much more quickly as it will also be interred slightly less profoundly than commercial burials, at approximately four feet of depth.  Or, if you are left indecisive about your choice of funeral rites, you can always donate your body to your local medical school for anatomical examination or the Body Farm for furthering the research in forensic criminology and anthropology.

Funerary rites are no longer a monolithic practice in the UK and the ways we demonstrate our respect for and commemoration of the dead need not be uniquely tied up with economic exchanges that mark most humans' contemporary, everyday experiences.  Becoming familiar with the diverse options for burial rites should aid people in having these important discussions with their families so that when the moment arrives, the focus can be put into the mourning process and not bureaucratic and commercial manoeuvres.