Death denial in green cemeteries?

12 Dec
2009

I am unconvinced that green burial as currently conceived necessarily represents a healthier integration of death as a part of life – for some of its fans, it may be yet another subtle form of death denial. Moreover, although it claims to have an environmental motivation, it may also hide unresolved spiritual issues – that is, it as much a soul issue as a body one.

None of this means I don’t believe in green burials – on the contrary, some form of green burial is the way of the future – but at this point they need to be better understood in order to improve them.

Regarding the death denial possibility.

For many green burial may yet be another subconscious attempt to deny or exclude death by making it invisible, in this case by trying to hide death within nature, rather than visibly integrating it into nature’s cycles. Let me explain….

Yesterday I watched this Youtube video on green cemeteries. A man walking his dog through Forever Fernwood cemetery in California was interviewed (view from min 07:16).

He liked this green cemetery because it was a pleasant green space rather than a morbid traditional cemetery – a nice place for a stroll, to walk the dog in or relax on a bench in the sun. This is understandable – and I want the same …. Why not walk your dog in a green cemetery?¬† But a green cemetery should aim to be something more than just a pretty place to walk your dog.

When the park has people buried in it, then it should manifest this function visibly and consciously. In this particular “cemetery”, at least in its green burial section, there are no visible signs of the dead who are buried there. This makes it feels like a park – but nothing more, only a park. It is no longer a cemetery but a park whose link with death is nothing more than its use as a space for environmentally-friendly body disposal. It has lost all connection with the personal and cultural memorial function of a cemetery.

All the above holds true for all forest, woodland, or conservation cemeteries where the visibility of the dead resting there is eliminated. As I have said elsewhere, this will result in beautiful but anonymous forests, not green cemeteries.

Green burial – a soul issue, not a body one

No – this reveals a soul issue. Death has been subconsciously denied in these cases, excluded, not integrated. That no visible signs are allowed is not accidental, however subconsciously motivated – this is a new disguise for the old “Let’s try to live as if there was no tomorrow and no death, no end to reckon with.” A literal attempt to push death “out of sight, and out of mind”.

On the contrary, a healthy and fearless psychological integration would consciously and deliberately include visible signs of the dead resting there. Death might be scary, but it is not a sickness; it is normal reality and handled properly, it can be enormously therapeutic for living.

Let me be clear. I fully empathize with the contemporary repulsion for traditional cemeteries, which for most contemporary people are gloomy, pessimistic places full of meaningless, pretentious and overpriced symbols. They speak neither to my sense of beauty, my private beliefs in life and after-life, or my connection with nature and natural cycles. I also want little to do with them.

But I do not want to deny death Рon the contrary! Nothing is unhealthier for the soul, the psyche. Death must be, therefore we must integrate it into our life. But it does not have to have the negative  association our traditional cemeteries arouse in us moderns. No РI want to find a way to deliberately and visibly integrate death with life in a positive relationship. Like many who embrace green burial, I love the idea of being buried in nature, be it a natural park or a forest. I love the idea that people will have picnics over my grave, play with their children, pick flowers or mushrooms, make secret love in the dark.

But in doing this, they should be given material to reflect that this is where I and many others lie, many others also who played and loved and picked flowers like them – but who have now moved on … as they will. This – and not denial – is healthy and brave. A cemetery should be a momenti mori, a reminder, not a denial of death.

Done with positive meaning and a timeless nature-oriented aesthetic, the bitter-sweet contrast between life and death could add greatly to our appreciation of life, to enjoying what we have while we have it.

Unfortunately what I describe here is NO LONGER in the spirit of traditional cemeteries. But it is also NOT in the subconscious spirit of denial apparent in much current green burial thought. This is why I am developing the Perpetua’s Garden concept: perpetual and green cemeteries, where time and human death are not denied but integrated with nature and life, symbolic and hopeful places where life and death meet and make friends.

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