First off, let’s just be blunt about one thing in regards to the future--we are going to die. Now the question is what will happen to our mortal coil once the spirit has left?
We are all fairly acquainted with the conventional methods of memorialization: our chemically treated bodies being buried six feet underground inside a steel-lined hardwood casket; or being cremated then kept by our loved ones or scattered someplace special like out to sea, in space, or even used in works of art. Nothing wrong with following tradition, but what about the more “alternative” options like donation to scientific research or ecological burial.
It’s not uncommon to hear about a person, we shall call them Bob, bequeathing his body to science in the event of expiration. But the gossip usually ends with the how of Bob’s death, and goes no further beyond it. So what does happen when the scientists drive off into the sunset with Bob in the back? Quite the adventure, or so I’ve read.
In medicine and science, cadavers like Bob, are utilized by newbie and veteran doctors alike to practice surgical procedures, as well as exploring the body’s anatomical mechanics. Amongst the art world, the rigidity and durability of plastinated cadavers, as made popular by Dr. Gunther von Hagens’ Body World, allows a view of the body once reserved for medical professionals.
What else could Bob do for you and me? Well, cadavers shot at with bullets have helped produce designs for protective gear used by police forces and firefighters. While real-life “crash dummies” have assisted the automobile industry design safer vehicles and helped to recount the details of airline disasters.
Then again, maybe Bob decides he'd rather live forever, and not as one of those vampires, he never could pull off the gothic look.
Well, in that case, another adventure for life after death is ecological burial. Whereas traditional burials and cremations hurt the environment by polluting the soil, air and upsetting the ecology of the sea; ecological burial honors the natural way of returning to Mother Earth. One can, if so inclined, be laid to rest in a moss-lined woven willow nest; while trees, shrubs, and flowers can be planted on or near the grave to provide a living memorial and help create habitat.
Or if Bob wanted, he could live on as his favorite type of tree, where he could still be part of the family during a summer-time picnic. How, you ask? Let’s take a little educational field trip to Sweden, where we learn how Bob could be reborn as compost.
Promessa Organic AB, founded by Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak, has developed a method in which the human body is prepared for a natural decomposition. Their motto is to offer an environmentally friendly method of laying the dead to rest that considers the biological realities of the impact.
"Nature's original plan was for dead bodies to fall on the earth, be torn apart by animals and become soil," stated Wiigh-Mäsak.
The method consists of submerging our dearest Bob in liquid nitrogen. This makes his body very brittle to specific amplitude of vibration, transforming Bob into an organic powder. Water is then evaporated from the power and passed through a metal separator where any surgical spare parts and mercury are removed. Voilá, you have “Bob” compost. And as with any compost, the remains will go on to feed the plantlife sown by the decedent’s family.
According to Promessa, their composting method can instill greater insight in and respect for the ecological cycle, of which every living thing is a part. Not only does the plant (or tree) stand as a symbol of the person, we understand where the body went.
"The plant becomes the perfect way to remember the person,” said Wiigh-Mäsak, who plans to become a white-bloomed rhododendron bush.
Promessa has applied for patents in 35 countries, with its immediate foreign markets being ecology-conscious Northern Europe. However, in countries such as South Africa, where the soil often lacks the depth needed for ordinary burials and countries conflicted by religious prudence; there may be a need for expanding the market.
So with the current world population at approximately seven billion and spreading out to inhabit more and more space, as well as society’s current ecological impact on the planet, Bob and ourselves are going to have to seriously ponder where our bodies are going to come to rest and the impact of those choices.
I personally wouldn't mind coming back as a tree. Basking in the sun without getting sunburnt, making friends with squrriels and owls, listening to the laughter of children playing beneath my shade. Now that's the good life and my kind of heaven.