Bodies and Burials



I've been thinking in recent months about body disposition. You know, what do I want done with my body after my spirit is finished with it. This contemplation has arisen lately after I have had more than one vision of something called a "sky burial," (gratitude to my friend Donald for pointing me to this Tibetan term that describes what I envisioned).


In my vision, I see decomposition as well as life-giving offerings to the earth who gives so much to me. I see beings, from condors and vultures to bacteria and fungus, surviving off the meat that housed my being, and I see transformation of the remains into compost and flora.



The vision I had was of a sky burial on the hillsides that overlook the Pacific Ocean along the coastline south of Big Sur. Land of the Obispeño, Salinan, and Chumash. Land that I gratefully inhabit.


Curious about it all, I've begun looking into the feasibility of a sky burial It appears they are not legal in the United States, where we prefer to embalm the body with toxins harmful to living beings, soil and plants. The purpose for a fancy thick coffin, I believe, is to prevent the toxins from leaking into the soil, but don't quote me on that, as I haven't the capacity to research it at the moment.



I'm sure I've lost most readers by now, and that is fine. I actually started typing here just to find a place to put a quote I found in my search for sky burial info. A blog post on the website of a wonderful resource, Talk Death, describes the treatment of bodies after death:

"At common law, before a corpse is properly interred, it must be treated in accordance with “ordinary requirements of decency and common morals.” State v. Hartzler, 433 P.2d 231 (N.M. 1967). Human remains may not be “cast out so as to expose [them] to violation or so as to offend the feelings or endanger the health of the living.” No person may “cast [a corpse] into the street, or into a running stream, or into a hole in the ground, or make any disposition of it that might be regarded as creating a nuisance, be offensive to the sense of decency, or be injurious to the health of the community.” Seaton v. Commonwealth, 149 S.W. 871, 873 (Ky. 1912)."


So it's not just for sanitation, health or environmental reasons that corpses are to be interred or burned, it is also to avoid offending the feelings of the living or being "offensive to the sense of decency." Just like our trash: out of sight, out of mind. If we can't see death and trash, they must be non-existent. At the same time, we can't see God and Spirit, and still many believe in the existence of both. I digress.


Since I live on the coast, the option of a "Burial at Sea" is not difficult, but I have played out many scenarios where asking my surviving loved ones to take a boat trip three miles out to the legal dumping spot could be traumatic in so many ways. I like the idea of feeding the fish with my remains, but the vision that is tapping on my shoulder is of a sky burial. I will continue to ponder it. Here is a link to the EPA guidelines for sea burials.


If you are a lover of the earth, and wish to be a steward in your death, what choice will you make for the disposition of your remains? Is it too much for you to even consider?Could it be one final sacred act of gratitude carried out in your name?


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On Father’s Day in 1988, we were on Kauai, looking over the Kalalau Valley from a helicopter, dumping Dad’s ashes over the backpackers and exiles who may have been down below. Well, as much of the cre