Webinar Summary: Body Options - Making decisions about your final resting place

In August 2020, Dying With Dignity Canada welcomed Pam Hunter to our End In Mind webinar series. Over the course of one-hour, Pam presented a diversity of options for our bodies after death – from burial, to cremation, to more creative and unusual solutions. This blog post summarizes some of the key takeaways from “Body Options: Making decisions about your final resting place.

Notes:

  • If you prefer to view this content in video format, the full webinar recording can be accessed here.
  • Please keep in mind that legislation and regulation in each province may vary. We strongly encourage you to contact your local authority prior to making any decisions.
  • This webinar was prepared and presented by Pam Hunter, End-of-Life Educator in Manitoba. The information found herein does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of DWDC or its staff.

Conversations about death and dying can be difficult and uncomfortable. Many people experience fear and emotional turmoil at the thought of their own mortality. But planning for end of life can help ease some of the discomfort and encourage us all to live life more fully. It can also free our loved ones of the burden of deciding what happens to our bodies after we die.

What you decide to do with your body is deeply personal, influenced by values, perceptions, culture, spiritual beliefs, location and cost considerations. In making your choice, you may wish to speak with family members and ensure you have enough money set aside to cover the cost of your decision.

 "People today are insisting on more control over their dying days, memorial services, and what is done with their body after death."

Option 1: Earth

Traditional Earth Burial

A Traditional Earth Burial involves placing the body in a coffin made of polished wood or metal and lined with a decorative fabric. The coffin is buried six feet under the ground and a two-ton concrete grave liner is usually placed over the coffin. A headstone sits on top of the grave to mark the spot.

In this method, the body is often embalmed – a tradition dating back to the US Civil War as a way to preserve the bodies of soldiers so they could be returned home after their death.

In Manitoba, a Traditional Earth Burial costs between $6,000 to $8,000 (at the time this webinar was presented).

Green Earth Burial

"Green burial cemeteries are meant for the living: to be used as parks, to preserve areas as green space, to grow trees, to clean our air, and to restore or maintain the ecological diversity of an area."

This method is similar to a Traditional Earth Burial in that bodies are buried under the ground. But the difference is that they are buried three feet under instead of six, and only biodegradable coffins are allowed. The bodies cannot be embalmed.

Hiking, birdwatching and picnics in these cemeteries is encouraged. People who opt for a Green Earth Burial often choose to have a communal marker, rock or planted tree instead of a headstone.

Why go green? Ten acres of a typical cemetery contains enough wood to build 40 homes. If a typical cemetery is 100 acres, that would be enough wood to build 4,000 homes.

Greener choices are available in some places in Canada and the number of green burial cemeteries is growing. In August 2020, the cost of a Green Burial in Manitoba was estimated at $3,500.

Option 2: Fire

Cremation

Canada's first crematorium opened in Montreal in 1901, but only 6% of Canadians chose to be cremated between 1901 and the 1970’s. By 2009, 68% of Canadians were opting for cremation and that number has continued to rise.

Initially, people were moving towards cremation in an effort to preserve urban land space, but today, cost is the most commonly-cited reason for this choice (It costs approximately ~$1,400 to be cremated in Manitoba, as of August 2020).  

In this method, the body is burned in a crematorium, cremation oven, or chamber, and the ashes are collected. Crestone, Colorado is home to the only open pyre crematorium in North America, and they are limited to a certain number of cremations a year. Some people feel more involved and connected when using an open pyre. And for some Hindus, it is part of their religious tradition.

What do you do with your ashes?

If you choose to be cremated, the next step is to consider what you want done with your ashes. Urns come in an endless variety of designs and materials, from hour glasses to bird houses made of everything from clay to gelatin.

If your loved ones are not comfortable keeping your ashes at home, you may choose to have your ashes scattered in a special place. In Canada, the scattering of ashes is legal on your property, on public property and over waterways.

Columbariums are another popular alternative. Some allow for a memorial display and can be located indoors or outdoors with open or closed facades.

For more creative alternatives for your ashes, skip to 28:56 of the webinar recording.

Option 3: Water and Ice

Alkaline Hydrolysis

Alkaline hydrolysis, also known as cremation by water, bio cremation, resomation, flameless cremation, or green cremation, is legal in Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Quebec. With this method, the body is placed in a stainless-steel tank with water and an extremely alkaline chemical. The container is rotated, and in four to eight hours, the body is dissolved. The resulting liquid goes down the drain and any remaining bone fragments are pulverized in a cremulator and returned to the family as cremains. This option costs between $2,000 - $5,000, depending on your location.

Burial at sea

Burial at sea is legal in the ocean, but not in any lakes. There are rules to follow, such as the distance you need to be from shore and how to prepare the body, so make sure to do your research before selecting this option.

Option 4: Air

Mausoleums or Crypts

A mausoleum is an above-ground resting place. Perhaps the world's best-known mausoleum is the Taj Mahal in India. Mausoleums are often built by families and are frequently used in Europe and South America. Crypts are the burial vaults located underneath the mausoleum or church. At $10,000 - $30,000, mausoleums are one of the most costly body options available in Canada.

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These are just some of the options discussed at length in our “Body Options” webinar. For the full list, watch the recording here or email Pam Hunter for a one-page summary. Her email is listed at the end of the webinar recording.


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