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Green Burial / Green Funeral

By Adil James, TMO

574. Ibn ‘Umar said, “The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, took me by the shoulder and said, ‘Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a traveller on the road.”

Ibn ‘Umar used to say, “In the evening, do not anticipate the morning, and in the morning do not anticipate the evening. Take from your health for your illness and from your life for your death.” [al-Bukhari]

575. Ibn ‘Umar reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “It is not right for a Muslim man who has anything to bequeath to spend two nights with having a written will in his possession.” [Agreed upon. This is the variant in al-Bukhari]

In a variant of Muslim, “To spend three nights.” Ibn ‘Umar said, “Not a night has passed since I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say that without my having had my will with me.”

579. Abu Hurayra reported that the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Remember frequently the thing that cuts off pleasures,” i.e. death.” [at-Tirmidhi]

As Muslims our overriding concern is preparation for our death.  In part we are preparing for our afterlives but in part we prepare for death of our bodies in this life, in preparing our wills we are forced to confront in our minds the inevitability of this event.  Making our wills does not only steer our consciousness to the transitory nature of this life, but also helps us to ease our transition for those close to us, by making our practical arrangements.

This past weekend in Ann Arbor an event was held which served to help prepare people for arranging green funerals and green burials.  The event was attended by about 15 people, all of them with a spiritual interest in death and dying, and most of them committed to burial in a non-customary manner.

One of those in attendance was a priest who left the priesthood and married.  Several people at the event, ironically, were midwives.  The group was all female except for two (me and the priest).  There were several women who identified themselves as pagans.

The event served to build our consciousness of and preparation for death in a manner better suited to the teachings of our religion–instead of the Western-style funeral conveyor belt of near-death to expensive ambulance to hospital to expensive violent-resuscitation to expensive surgery, to death, to multi-thousand dollar funeral home to embalming to a multithousand dollar casket  to a multithousand dollar gravesite.

Merilynne Rush, a “home funeral guide,” held a workshop on conducting green (read “environmentally conscious and economical”) funerals and green burials.

My children were brought into this world at home, by midwives.  The midwives had had training, maintained relationships with local hospitals, knowledge of Western and herbal medicine, knowledge of emergency procedures, they carried essential medicines with them, and they had motherly wisdom.  They visited us throughout our pregnancies, and in fact provided care far beyond what we paid them for, loving shelter and guidance that made all the difference in the births of my children.  I am forever grateful, especially to Harriet Palmer and Claudie, midwives in Los Altos California.

Home birth without their help would have been foolhardy–with their help home childbirth was better than a hospital (although your experience will vary based on the quality and the compassion of the midwife).

And what I learned in the day-long session on Saturday is that Ms. Rush, as a “home funeral guide,” fulfills the function of a midwife in helping to facilitate a transition, but instead of bringing a new person into this world, she helps shepherd a person out of this world safely, helping to assure that their body is cared for and brought to its final resting place by those close to them in the manner they choose.

In fact Ms. Rush herself practiced for years as a midwife before transitioning to her current work.

The first lesson of the event on Saturday was that if you are in a situation where someone has died and you want control over the process of their washing and preparation for death, and you do not want the person embalmed, but the process seems to have already spiraled out of control, you should immediately contact an expert like Ms. Rush.

In fact, when someone is imminently going to die you must contact an expert before the person dies if possible to begin to make preparations.

One pitfall to avoid is the “unattended death.”  If a person dies at home, not under the care of a hospice and not under the care of a physician, that death is considered “unattended” and will result in investigation by the police.  Such investigation might be conducted in one way for an elderly person who was universally expected to die, and another in the case of someone evidently young.  In any event, you owe it to yourself to avoid any misunderstandings from an unattended death.

The event began with each person introducing him or herself and explaining or at least hinting at their reason for attending.  Some were older people, who did not say it in so many words but evidently were attending in contemplation of their own passing or that of their loved ones.  Others were very young but appeared to have spiritual beliefs outside of the mainstream that would require different spiritual practices at death.  Some attended to provide their own past experiences with providing home funerals and after-death care.

After the introductions Ms. Rush emphasized the importance of respecting the wishes of those who are dying and also of their families and of the surrounding community.

“Don’t expect everything to be perfect,” she said, as she explained that there might be some small difficulties.

She addressed the fears of those in attendance, raising the discomfort that many people would feel with the presence of a dead body, cold and stiff.

Ms. Rush also emphasized one strange advantage of home funerals, namely that “You don’t have to do busy work right away, you can honor the passing” of the person.

She explained that it is not legally binding to bring a dead body to a funeral home, but she said that funeral homes generally do not allow “public visitation without embalming.”  Home funerals are therefore preferable in one way to mosque funerals in that it is legal for those visiting to view the body of their beloved before he or she is buried.  The rule generally is that “immediate family only” can visit the deceased, although of course no one will check i.d. cards as you enter.

Of course on the other hand more people can attend the mosque funeral and pray for the deceased, despite the closed casket.

She explained in specific terms the process of preparing the body and the practical necessities involved.  The workshop went into a detailed discussion of greener (and also less expensive and more natural) means of burial.

The workshop cost $40 for a full day of instruction and valuable stories of the experiences of the others in attendance.  Ms. Rush is available for consultations and can help families or communities.

Ms. Rush can be reached through her website, http://www.afterdeathhomecare.com/.




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  1. Merilynne Rush

    January 19, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    Dear Adil,
    Thank you for writing about the workshop. I am glad that you found it helpful and that you are sharing the information with your community. It is ideal when individuals can discuss and plan with those close to them so that they know what their wishes are upon their death.
    There is one correction I would like to make. Amidst all the confusion of what is state law and what is common practice, I’d like to clarify that most funeral homes will not allow public viewing without embalming by their own choice, not because of any state law.
    If I can be of any further assistance in clarifying things, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

  2. TMO

    January 20, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    okay I will change article to reflect what you are saying about public viewing.

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