My Dad Wanted a Low Carbon Burial: A Case Study

Although it is obvious that she has been crying, Sarah speaks calmly about her father’s death. “Today is the first year anniversary, so it all feels a bit raw again. Looking back, I do feel more positive about the time that he died rather than negative,” she says.

Sarah’s father had battled with lung cancer for four years and had two operations to remove parts of his left lung, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and had even participated in a clinical trial of an experimental cancer drug for non small cell lung cancer. “We knew, deep down, that he was moving towards the end of his life but he did live just 2 months short of 5 years after his initial diagnosis, which is more than we ever thought we would have,” says Sarah.

A Keen Environmentalist

Jacob had been a keen environmentalist for nearly 30 years. During his illness, after he retired from his job as a geography teacher, he kept his mind occupied by reading up on how to lower the family’s carbon footprint, and converted his house to renewable energy by installing a small wind turbine that he bought on the internet from India. “He was always excited about a new way to be more environmentally friendly and it really was the focus of the last few years of his life,” explains Sarah.

Talking About an Alternative Funeral

When Jacob broached the subject of his death with Sarah and he sister Claire, they found it very hard to talk about. “We wanted to keep thinking about fighting his illness and looking forward to the future still with him there, not after he had gone. We just didn’t want to face it,” says Sarah.

Jacob was not put off. He kept raising the subject of his funeral and came up with quite a revolutionary idea. “Dad told us that he didn’t want to be buried near to his parents at the local church cemetery, and that he didn’t want to be cremated. He said both of those options were very bad for the environment,” remembers Sarah.

Cremation, which burns a large wooden coffin as well as the deceased person, produces carbon dioxide and also various toxic combustion products such as dioxins. Burial is slightly better, but not if the body is embalmed and sealed in the coffin. “Apparently, some of the most expensive funeral directors offer lead lined coffins and Dad was really angry about that – he asked why? He wanted his body to go into the land and help something to grow. He felt that was much more the natural way of things,” says Sarah.

Bury Me In the Woodland

After much discussion, Jacob was insistent that he had found the perfect solution. “Dad was an avid researcher on the internet and he found a funeral director who arranged ‘alternative’ burials. Dad wanted a low carbon burial with a degradable coffin and made it clear that he wanted to be remembered as following his environmental ideals to the very end,” smiles Sarah.

The two sisters called up the company their father had found and were pleasantly surprised by their initial conversation. “We didn’t know what to expect but it all sounded really good. Instead of being buried in a churchyard, Dad would be buried in some private woodland. There would be no headstone or grave marker, just a tree of his choice. We would know where the tree was and could visit, just as we would have visited his grave,” says Sarah.

An Environmentally Friendly Burial

Nine months after arranging his own funeral, which was to be in the woodland and a celebration of his life rather than a wake, Jacob died at home surrounded by his two daughters and his two older grandchildren. “He had Marie Curie nurses at the end and he slipped away quietly in his sleep, I am sure he wasn’t in pain and that has helped us come to terms with losing him,” says Sarah.

The day of the funeral was warm and sunny and both sisters found it a moving and calming experience. “We were desperately upset, and there were plenty of tears, but standing in the wood seemed so much more fitting than standing around a grave in the churchyard. We had our own minister, who knew Dad well, and he chose a flowering cherry tree as his marker,” recalls Sarah. Jacob was wrapped in a woollen shroud and had a willow coffin and was lowered into the ground upright before the tree was planted next to him. “We both come up here every couple of months at the moment and just sitting here, on the grass, in the peace of the wood helps us to remember the good times,” says Sarah