American funerary practices are big business that have little to do with the naturalness of death. Author and non-profit undertaker Caitlin Doughty wrote, “Due to the corporatization and commercialization of deathcare, we have fallen behind the rest of the world when it comes to proximity, intimacy, and ritual around death.” But that is changing—with the green burial movement, in particular. These books and movies explore alternatives to current mainstream funerary and deathcare practices.
1998 by Mitford, JessicaGet this item
A bestseller in 1963, Mitford’s expose of the American funeral industry led to legislation to protect people from unscrupulous practices. In her 1996 revision, Mitford confronts a far worse scenario: a deathcare industry dominated by multinational corporations, lobbyists, and, of course, inflated costs. The book is witty, satirical and somehow even funny. If you want to know what's wrong with the funeral industry, it's all laid out here.
2007 by Harris, MarkGet this item
A very informative book that begins with a description of typical embalming and burial in a concrete encased coffin, and then goes on to describe options: home funerals, handmade coffins, burial at sea, reef “balls,” burials on private land, and natural cemeteries. At the end of each chapter is a breakdown of the what, how, where, and cost of each option. Harris notes, as many of these references do, how toxic typical burial is for the environment, and how recent this method of deathcare is. Memorial reefs are particularly fascinating to me, as they actually help restore disappearing coral reefs.
2017 by Doughty, CaitlinGet this item
This terrific book explores alternative funerary practices in various parts of the world, from eco-friendly composting and private pyres in Colorado, cohabitation with mummified remains in Indonesia, and Japanese “lastels”—hotels where groups of people can stay with their deceased loved one in a relaxed, intimate and leisurely setting. A truly fascinating read, enhanced by humor and handsome illustrations.
2005 by Berman, Rochel U.Get this item
Following the death of her father, Berman went on a quest to understand the traditional Jewish practice of honoring the dead through tahara. Presented through interviews with the volunteers of the Chevra Kadisha, or Sacred Society, who perform the ritualized acts of "loving kindness," she shows how the practice protects the dignity of the deceased and comforts the living.
2009Get this item
In this Oscar-winning Japanese film, a young man inadvertently becomes an apprentice to a very unusual undertaker—a job that, at first, is looked on with disgust by himself and others. Soon, however, he comes to see that the uniquely respectful and tender cleansing and dressing of the deceased is a gift to the audience of close family and friends. It is a meditative time of being present with their loved one, in semi-privacy, and one that elicits a variety of healing responses.
2014Get this item
This short documentary is about Ramsey Creek Preserve in South Carolina, the first certified conservation burial ground in the United States. Memorial preserves perform double duty by preserving land as well as providing a natural space for burials. Ramsey Creek consists of 71 acres with space for 1500 burial sites
2014Get this item
This beautiful, tremendously moving documentary follows Clark Wang, who is dying of lymphoma, as he plans his green burial. Green burial sites are on the rise in the U.S., with more and more people wishing to return to the earth in a natural and beneficial way, and take their final rest in a serene, woodland setting. This film was sad but also awe-inspiring.