We once disposed of our dead in earth-friendly ways – no chemicals, biodegradable containers, dust to dust. But over the last 150 years, death care has become a toxic, polluting, and alienating industry in the United States.
Today, people are slowly waking up to the possibility of more sustainable and less disaffecting death care, reclaiming old practices in new ways, in a new age. Greening Death traces the philosophical and historical backstory to this awakening, captures the passionate on-the-ground work of the Green Burial Movement, and explores the obstacles and other challenges getting in the way of more robust mobilization. As the movement lays claim to greener, simpler, and more cost-efficient practices, something even more promising is being offered up – a tangible way of restoring our relationship to nature.
Introduction – Waking Up
1. Apart from Nature
2. Dead Bodies that Matter
3. Wrath of the Corpse
4. Reclaiming Knowledge
5. Renewing Meaning
6. Restoring Our Relationship to the Land
8. Obstacles and Other Challenges
9. Mobilizing the Ethic
Epilogue – Heeding the Light, “Feeding the Green”
Suzanne Kelly, PhD, is an independent scholar whose work spans the topics of the environment, feminism, sex, and death. She writes and farms in New York’s Hudson Valley.
"Kelly writes engagingly on this exceedingly timely topic: how funerary rites are affected by the burgeoning environmental movement. Through conversations with people in the field, she explains what a green burial is and how specific aspects of traditional funerals, from embalming to caskets, liners, and vaults conflict with its ecological ideals. But more than just technical aspects and logistics, including regulations, Kelly also tackles the complexities of cultural perspectives on death and the desire for guidance pertaining to alternative funerary practices even beyond cremation. She weighs in with personal experiences and frustrations over the challenge to honor tradition when no one knows what the new tradition should be, providing a welcome balance for her coverage of more practical topics. Changing how we care for the dead, she notes, means 'restoring our relationship to the land.' Interestingly, some things about today's choices are not so modern after all, but in fact return to practices that were once understood as the right things to do. A useful and highly readable title that serves a valuable purpose in our complicated times."
"In her new book Greening Death, author Suzanne Kelly explores the myths that drive many of our standard, environmentally damaging burial practices. Kelly unpacks the funeral industry's environmentally destructive and alienating methods and gives voice to a growing movement seeking to reckon with decay and restore lost knowledge to the living. Detailing how embalming and encasing the dead in caskets and then in grave-lining vaults have little to do with limiting health risks or ensuring adequate sanitation, Kelly argues that these practices are not only destructive to the environment, but worse, they dishonor the necessity of dissolution, while reinforcing human beings' separation from nature. But this is changing. A movement to green death is gathering momentum, and Kelly is one of its most ardent allies."
"Greening Death is a noble book, reminding us of the simple, often heartfelt rites of centuries past."
– RALPH: The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy, and the Humanities
"Readers of Omega understand the importance of hands-on activity in walking through the grief process and Kelly does a fine job of paving a way for that to begin during the chaos of early grief."
– Omega – Journal of Death and Dying
"Far more than an exploration of green burials, Greening Death is an elegant and important exploration of how we can begin to give back to the earth."
– Derrick Jensen, author of Endgame
"The first book to get under the covers of an increasingly important environmental / social / consumer movement. Suzanne Kelly not only tells thought provoking stories of those working to make green burial a viable option, she connects their efforts to some of the greatest eco-thought leaders of the past century. By far the most engaging examination of the our culture's growing desire to integrate death and life."
– Joe Sehee, founder of Green Burial Council
"In these strange times, when we are rapidly running out of room and resources, most of us can agree that burying our loved ones is unsustainable. But what other options exist? Kelly lays out the possibility of burial practices that change our relationship to nature, respect the earth, and honor decay as a form of interconnectedness. Linking burial practices to feminist theory, this beautifully written book belongs in the hands of everyone who seeks a better way to live and die."
– Kathy Rudy, Professor of Women's Studies, Duke University
"A scholar who successfully led a community's efforts to establish a green cemetery, Suzanne Kelly has written the most insightful, provocative, and important account of the North American recovery of natural burial. Richly informed by feminist environmental philosophy, Kelly brilliantly unfolds the wisdom of the human body's membership in the community of the land, coming to profound and compelling expression in burial practice. This book is about death, but it is a poetic guide to where we hope to live: a green, flourishing earth on which humans are at home."
– Benjamin M. Stewart, PhD, Gordon A. Braatz Associate Professor of Worship, The Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago
"Kelly presents an intelligent, considered appeal for breaking the cultural silence about the environmental toll of human death; an appeal for an earth-based ethic of human death that I whole-heartedly support! As Kelly eloquently reminds us, its paramount that we let decay have its place in our human mortuary practices if we are to foster a sustainable future on this planet. Her suggestions on how to cultivate and practice an earth-based ethic of human death that includes disenfranchised human communities is an invaluable contribution to death studies and fostering the future of the green burial movement."
– Hannah Rumble, FHEA, PhD, Lecturer in Anthropology, University of Exeter, UK