Giving death a new lease on life
THERE are ripples of change in the funerary business as the baby boomers, now entering retirement, begin adding their funeral wish lists to their last wills and testaments.
Innovative methods of (legally) dealing with a dead body in first world countries now range from composting, liquefaction and creating fish bait to turning cremated ashes into a vinyl record which plays the person's favourite songs.
While local funeral directors say most Coffs Coast and Clarence residents still settle for traditional methods of disposal of their earthly remains, do-it-yourself funerals, interment at home and green burials are changing the face of the region's death industry.
Earlier this year Miindala, a volunteer loss and grief support group covering Coffs Harbour and Bellingen, acquired a Coolplate for locals to use. This portable refrigeration unit is used to keep bodies at home before the funeral.
Introducing the device, widely used in the Netherlands, Miindala co-ordinator Anna Bloemhard said research showed active involvement in preparing and keeping the body of a loved family member at home was healing and nurturing for all involved. Miindala is part of the National Association for Loss and Grief (NALAG).
Cremation is disputed for causing pollution by emitting dioxins and heavy metals like mercury, as well as an average 160kg of carbon dioxide, mostly from the coffin.
The use of recycled cardboard and woven wicker coffins or even more simply, woven shrouds made of natural fibres, is intended to reduce the environmental impact of cremation.
But local crematorium operators say recycled cardboard coffins are causing further problems, with the amount of glue involved making them less than green. Funeral director Victor Rullis said he had found the cardboard actually required a longer burning time than a normal coffin.
It turns out that the simplest, oldest style of burial is not only the cheapest but the most sustainable method of dealing with human remains. Green burial has established a foothold in the region, with Lismore's Bushland Cemetery having opened for burials in 2008.
Part of Lismore's Memorial Park Cemetery, the Bushland Cemetery contains mature trees and includes prime koala habitat. Funerals in the bushland cemetery use cardboard or natural plantation wood coffins; the only grave markers are rocks and GPS co-ordinates and the area has been rehabilitated by TAFE students as a natural grassland environment and home for native wildlife as well as a final resting place for people.
Natural burial sites like this offer cheaper funerals for families because of reduced maintenance costs while preserving areas for plants and animals in perpetuity.
Bellingen Shire Council, which has inherited four cemeteries from local churches, allows environmental burial, accepting both shroud burial and the use of cardboard coffins. Like other rural councils, Bellingen also permits burials on larger rural properties, with planning permission.
A spokeswoman for the council said she had seen an increase in requests for home burials in the past three years, and these could often be approved within 7-10 days. Home burial is not a decision to be taken lightly, as it establishes a private cemetery, which must be identified, fenced, maintained and provide access to the site in perpetuity, which could affect property values in the future.