Friday, February 18, 2011

Dying is not an Option!

"Afterlife" real estate is expensive
I have just looked into the high cost of dying, even when you are not being scammed by undertakers (see http://www.scambusters.org/funeralscams.html  This site also mentions other scams including the lottery scam I almost fell for the other day).

According to http://www.workingcarers.org.au/money/1130-affordable-farewells-for-loved-ones- a  burial plot can set you back  anywhere from $1,000 to $13,000, grave digging $ 500, basic pine coffin $ 2000, a headstone $1000 to $3,000 plus not less than  $3,000  for the undertaker’s services, so I simply can’t afford to die any time soon.
Nor is cremation the clean green way to go I thought it was, since it is very polluting and produces lots of greenhouse gases.

For example, Brownedocs at Wordpress reports that:

“In the UK, 16% of the mercury emissions and around 11% of dioxin emissions are the result of cremation.” p.103
You could drive the distance of the moon and back 163,273 times on the energy from all cremations in one year from the countries, China, Japan, India, U.K, Canada, U.S.A, Australia and New Zealand. -based on Government statistics 2008.” 

Cremation does however, take up less space and is considerably cheaper. If you happen to live on the Eastern  Seaboard  in places such as Sydney, Wollongong and Newcastle, No Funeral, No Flowers, No Fuss will do a basic  cremation for  $2,900.
The use of a cardboard coffin will produce fewer emissions and has other environmental benefits such as using fewer trees and being more biodegradable. They are so popular in Japan, that they actually cost more than those made from timber. Here they seem to be only available via funeral parlours and then at a cost of $399, whereas in the UK they are available for 55 Pounds (around $120 AUD) with free overnight delivery in the metropolitan area.
I asked some of our local packaging companies here, thinking there was a market niche, if ever there was one, but no one has taken up the challenge at this stage.

I also thought about ordering one in advance from the UK to have ready in case. People used to do that, especially during recessions and depressions, although not in my lifetime.

No doubt it would make an interesting conversation piece and would be a great place to store my files, not to mention a good -sized coffee table or useful ironing board, but it might take up a lot of space.
The latest trend is to have them painted creatively to suit the deceased. I suppose it could be a new fun activity – coffin painting parties. Invite all your friends! Alternatively, it could be great OT in an Eventide Home. It’s got to be better than being tied to a chair and stuffed full of tranquilizers.
Coffinwise, http://www.workingcarers.org.au/money/1130-affordable-farewells-for-loved-ones-
also mentions one that can be made from Ikea KLAPS components for around $500. It wouldn’t want to be as complicated as our chairs, which took weeks to make, although at least we already have all the Allen  keys.

There is also a direct factory outlet on the Gold Coast which has assembled eco -caskets for about $399, but they cost at least $300 to freight to Melbourne, let alone Tasmania, and it takes about a week.

OTHER INTERESTING TRENDS

Greener Funerals
In the UK greener funerals have become very big business with over 200 places now offering burials using biodegradable materials , no embalming fluids and no memorials (although loved one’s locations are increasingly locatable via GPS technology), other than trees. It sounds like a better monument than acres of mausoleums, especially given that green space and grave sites are become scarce and expensive in urban areas – a veritable “afterlife housing crisis” according to Benjamin Law.   Sydney for example, is looking at a sort of temporary tenure arrangement for the future, one western cemetery is already creating four storey mausoleums for those who insist on above – ground burial, and one country town is offering vertical burials but I haven't been able to confirm this as yet.
Kingston in Tasmania was apparently the first place in Australia to offer Woodland Burials, though this is run by one of the funeral parlours and I haven’t been able to find out more information. They are however, sending me a brochure so watch this space.

According to the Natural Earth Burial Society this type of funeral is now also available in Adelaide, Canberra and the Gold Coast and a simple burial in biodegradable materials in an unmarked bush plot costs around $ 3,000.

From memory, Perth also has something like this as I did pass a small reserve near Byford operated by the Men of the Trees. This had small plaques and  dedicated stone benches set among native trees. Nice idea!
This reserve near Byford seems to predate the recent trend for eco - funerals

Burial at Sea
In Australia, this appears to be far more complex than outlined by Browndocs in that you have to demonstrate that the person had a strong association with the sea e.g. long serving naval officer, fisherman,  ( No, I don't think being a long standing surfie or beach bum counts!)  and that it will meet all environmental guidelines under the Marine Dumping Act. You must apply for a special permit from the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts and pay the requisite fee which will still set you back $1650. Much the same applies to having your cremains – what’s left after cremation, put into an artificial reef. You also have to comply with all the legal requirements such as obtaining death certificates etc. so this is not a cheap way out.

DIY Funerals

The new/ old trend in the USA is to take back control of the burial by taking the dead home, laying them out oneself or preferably with a community group and allowing viewing at home. This follows on from the taking back of other rites of passage which were formerly home based before they became institutionalised such as natural childbirth, writing one’s own wedding vows and so on.

Though I love to challenge  convention, I doubt that my family would want to be THAT involved. However, the excellent site http://www.undertakenwithlove.org/ provides a wealth of information, like how to wash bodies and keep the eyelids closed and what statutory regulations you should be aware of, should you want to know more. The more usual expression of this trend in the Australia is for families to do more of the service themselves, rather than relying entirely on an undertaker and funeral homes.

Some UK undertakers have responded by pricing various tasks such as transporting the body to the cemetery or crematorium separately.
Obviously, the way to go would be to enter into a funeral plan. These promise to cost no more than a cup of coffee per day for the kind of funeral where you do almost everything yourself, but sorry folks, at this stage, that cup of coffee gives me more ‘peace of mind’ than taking the "financial worry out of  the passing of a loved one" – don’t you hate the cloying language of funeral brochures - so keep your fingers crossed, that I don’t get run over by a bus.

After all this research, I still like my original plan i.e. Cremation in a cardboard box with the ashes being scattered to the winds, preferably from the top of Mt. Wellington if you can’t be fined posthumously  for littering. Failing that, a woodland burial or a country cemetery sounds rather nice -cheaper rates, no crowding, especially given that,  as Brownedocs says, due to benign neglect in the past, they are now among the few  places where some of our endangered wild flowers can be found.

Hard Data. We learn a great deal from the occasional tombstone

While I like the idea of leaving no trace or a forest, I do have one niggling doubt. I have learned a great deal about places and times from looking at cemeteries and grave markers. Although technology promises to overcome this with some GPS based systems already beginning to incorporate such information, I am a bit of a technological skeptic in the long, long term.  Imagine if the pharoahs had used some kind of floppy discs instead of hieroglyphics - not that we don't have enough trouble deiciphering those. Maybe we should allow small brass plaques like those on avenues of honour for deceased soldiers or a single memory board or even a stone bench which would at least provide a little comfort for the living.

Telltales -Even though this old cemetery in West Hobart has become a park, memories and history remain.








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