It has been known for decades that existing burial grounds will soon be full. With the increased demand for ‘green burials’ even the new ‘natural burial’ sites are filling up rapidly. Cremation, which once became all the rage, is now seen as an environmental threat, adding to air pollution and global warming. The British Government has several times stated that it will take action, and then later retreated due to the complicated issues that arose.
Why am I bothered about full burial grounds? Well as a Trustee I have the care of more than half a dozen in my care. I might wish that the ‘dead are left to bury their dead’ (a quotation attributed to Jesus) but the responsibilities of a Charity Trustee do not allow me to ignore the issue.
Given that there are a few spaces left, one issue is who has priority? Those burial grounds that are full and therefore at the moment ‘closed’ still need to be cared for. They can be green oases and havens for wildlife. But gravestones can be a hazard, trees need tending and even grassed areas need maintenance. Some sites are in areas intended for housing or other development, so should they be sold or retained? What is the significance and importance to us today of those who lived, witnessed and died in the past? What about respect for their remains and keeping record of their names and places of burial?
There are of course laws protecting buried human remains. So, if there are plans to reuse graves that are older than a century permission needs to be obtained before they can be exhumed. Any bones or other remains can then be reburied in the same but deeper grave, allowing fresh burials above. There is also the question of archeological interest in any remains for the distant past.
This set of concerns ceases to be an abstract theoretical or charitable issue when I think about my own death and that of those close to me. What will I choose, or what will my family choose for me, when I die? I would prefer a ‘green’ or ‘natural’ burial for environmental reasons. So should I make arrangements now to ensure it happens? Funerals are expensive these days, so is that a factor to take into account? What about a memorial, a gravestone or some other way of marking the burial site? Personally, I don’t care one way or the other. I have made my contribution to the story of the human race within the vast cosmos. I hope it has been for good. But living on in the memory of those who have known me or will learn of me in the future is memorial enough.
I am more concerned about the living and those generations yet to come than I am about the dead. But caring for the present and future means dealing with the past. The graves are full and we need to do something about them!