Mighty Epiphyte blog

Our stories of what we do while making the world a better and more equitable place.

Cradle to Grave: Death and Women’s History

“The more you can be authentic, the happier you’re going to be, and life will work itself around that.” 

Melinda Gates

A Mighty Woman Taught Me Much

A mighty woman took her angel flight mid-way through Women’s History Month leaving 90 years of legacy and authenticity. She is my Mom, in current tense because love is infinite. She leaves a legacy in many hearts. I think about all the women who have lived authentic lives in the background, few of them famous, all of them leaving legacies.

With the passing of a person, there is much going on. And as many of you know, this can knowingly or unwittingly hurtle us directly into the clutches of an industry. Our family has shared angel flights with more than one in a year, another beautiful person passed in March 2023, we didn’t have much time nor input then. Historically, women have been involved in various ways around the world, being the guides, the tenders to and the workers before, during, and after death. That’s a lot of history. I find myself somewhat repulsed by the current industry, and marveling at the history of caring that has occurred through centuries around the globe.

When Death was Women’s Business

A drawing of woman sending to a sick man in 1861. "When Death Was Women's Business. In the 19th century, women called "watchers" tended to the dying and the dead."  From Business Insider. From Cradle to grave.

Society currently operates via a one-way train of Extraction-Production-Consumption-Disposal. At the end of the line, products are thrown away, never to be used again (except to produce greenhouse gases). This is called “cradle-to-grave”.

A “cradle-to-cradle” mindset, then, redefines the end of one product’s life as the beginning of a new one. 

Sustainable Jungle

‘Bodies on Bells Mountain!’ – a most awesome idea! Cradle to Soil.

It’s never easy when a loved one dies. Yet, I feel blessed that when someone reaches their 10th decade, there are subtle and not-so-subtle clues to begin planning. In a random gift a few years ago, an idea fell into my phone notification. On Next Door someone posted an alarming conspiracy theory that bodies were being thrown onto Bells Mountain in Southwest Washington. How disgusting and awful! I looked it up – and found, to my absolute delight, a story that changed my view of what is possible. The Project – Bells Mountain with the partnership of Recompose ! I promptly shared the data with the alarmist on Next Door, then canceled that account as that one post blew up in ways beyond the ridiculous. The beauty of this idea remains.

Burying Dead Bodies Takes a Surprising Toll on the Environment – Recompose Regenerates instead

A body is wrapped in a white cloth and is lying on a bed of wood chips. Katrina Spade's Recompose is opening the first Human Composting site in Seattle in the spring of 2021. Image courtesy of Business Insider. Cradle to Grave.
Business Insider

Cradle to Grave? Regenerate!

Being in the “social enterprise ” space for years, and wanting to expand that to “environmental – social – total – wholistic – business for good..life ….enterprise” we hear of terms such as “sustainable” and “cradle to grave” for products. Why not, I thought, cradle to grave ourselves? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, to regenerative soil? Recompose is one of the first with a great answer. The last thing I personally want to do is contribute to environmental harm in passing. Recompose is Woman run, Katrina Spade is carving a new history! A win for legacy and future Women’s History!

We consider cradle to grave for products and manufacturing, why not for ourselves? Why not become earth and rest with carbon?

Kim, pondering.

For our Mom, and with the blessing of time to do some research (I have empathy for all who are surprised by a loss), we chose Aquamation, or water cremation as it is much kinder to the plant. And she will continue on in the rivers and mountains she loved.

Logistically, compost wasn’t an option for us because Utah where she passed does not have composting yet. There would have been shipping, and the volume of soil after is about a pickup load. And we want to travel with her across two states to hopefully to the England. Hopefully, more states will step up – What States Allow Human Composting – it is certainly in our future, mine for certain. Earth Funeral in Portland Oregon includes tree plantings, sharing soil, and regenerating the Olympic Peninsula. A pick up load doesn’t seem so daunting when much can be donated back to the earth in forests.

One cremation creates an average of 534 pounds of carbon dioxide, one scientist told Nat Geo in 2016. Toxins from embalming fluid and nonorganic implants like pacemakers or tooth fillings also go up in smoke. Water cremation—also known as aquamation or alkaline hydrolysis—produces the same result with significantly less environmental impact and for some, a spiritual benefit.

National Geographic

Women Are Recreating the Death Care Industry

On the left a body lays in the brush wrapped in a yellow woven coffin with a green bow. On the right two hands are weaving the yellow and off-white ropes together into a coffin. "Leaves With You founder, Shaina Garfield explains that biodegratable rope coffins are not only an environmental-friendly burial option, but weaving can be meditative and helpful in overcoming fears associated with death." Women are Disrupting the Death Care Industry - from Cradle to Grave

Meet the Women Recreating the Death Care Industry

Women, historically have done much with death in dignity. The “industry” of burials and funerals is enormous. Even now some cities are planning to cut trees to make way for manicured lawns around burial markers over impervious caskets filled with toxically embalmed bodies. It’s easy to be sucked into the usual cremation / burial only options when the mind is whirling. And yet it’s so refreshing to find some amazing companies giving us alternatives, many that are based in the histories and cultures of countries around the world for centuries. Shrouds, natural burial vessels, mushroom burials, and the aquamation that was practiced by native Hawaiians thousands of years ago! Women in history took care of their loved ones passing on in ways that didn’t harm the environment. Now we can too.

Prioritizing Environmental Impact from Cradle to Grave

My family was pleasantly surprised after stating what we wanted for our Mom, that the funeral home actually has a catalogue of Green options! And a dear friend, Tim, of Tropical Salvage fame, is creating a new company, Natural Burial Vessels NBV of gorgeous reclaimed wood urns and woven caskets that are beautiful. We can learn so much from other cultures and history.

A variety of Natural Burial Vessels are displayed on a wall in colors of tan, white, and blue. Thanks to NBV Tim O'Brien, Tropical Salvage. From Cradle To Grave.

Our beautifully authentic Mom, Aunt, Grandma, loved living by rivers with access to mountains, she hiked with us and loved the country. We can take her back to those places she loved in a way that doesn’t support an industry of high-ticket environmental harm. We had time to think about this. I hope this creates curiosity for you. And I know that I can personally leave a legacy of soil regeneration, it’s in my will, and Recompose or the like will be part of the process. There’s a lot to think about. Let’s follow the people before us across the globe who have helped the planet while creating final resting peace. From Women’s History Month to Earth Month and beyond.

Resources:

Kim Allchurch Flick’s musings come from a love of nature, and a biology major that seems to come full circle at times. Also from a Mother’s love. She is an Impacts Coach with a wholistic and equity-centered approach to everything about business and community MightyEpiphyte.com | advocate@mightyepiphyte.com

Here’s a great story from NPR

A Greener Funeral has guides to find providers

Earth Funeral – Portland Oregon

Passages International

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