It’s your funeral …
When Firstborn was little she once asked why dead people are buried in cemeteries. At her age the simplest and most concise answer was tell her that it was to stop people tripping over bodies in the street. That seemed to satisfy her curiosity!
Now, given recent news articles on a modern and (supposed) ecological approach to the disposal of corpses, the equivalent question may be to ask why do we simmer the dead in a pressure cooker (although the answer would stay the same).
This entered my mind last Spring when the Graun reported on the various legal ways that exist to avoid cluttering the streets with decaying matter. One novel approach that is gaining traction in North America comprises alkaline hydrolysis, where a body is put into a sealed container (a so-called resomator) and immersed in a strong solution of hydrogen peroxide; alkali at pH 14. This is then heated to 150°c or more under pressure (so that it doesn’t boil) and left to cook for a while before the liquid effluent is drained and the remaining ‘solids’ are rinsed.
Sounds charming, doesn’t it? However, it is said that the ecological benefits are that such ‘liquid cremations’ use far less energy than the traditional fire ceremonies and the liquid residue can be poured down the sanitary sewers or used as a garden fertiliser (the effluent is less alkali than the starting solution).
The solid residue comprises any implants or mercury amalgam fillings (beautifully clean, of course, and no mercury emissions to the atmosphere) and bones. The latter are then dried and crushed to produce the ‘ashes’ to be handed over to the next of kin (or, presumably, dug in to a rose bed!).
In the UK, the first application to start-up a resomation service is now on hold as the relevant licensing bodies remain unconvinced of the benign nature of the effluent. There is also a perception that the Great British public is not yet ready to see its loved ones poured down the drains.
Me? Well, although I think historical graveyards are terrific places to wander around, I don’t like modern ones. Neither do I like the idea of going up in flames or being dissolved. Personally, I want a woodland burial (many years in the future, of course) and, hopefully, without being embalmed (no chemical additives, please!).
Here’s a cheery limerick to finish with …
If the thought of it fills you with dread,
Be assured, or so it is said,
That St Peter awaits
At the Heavenly gates
While we’re slowly dissolving the dead!