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URBAN DEATH - a new response to death and dying  RSS feed

 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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The reality of my death being a polluting event has always bothered me. Finally there is an alternative taking shape that fits with my aspirations for the future of this planet. Watch the inspiring video and give to the Kickstarter Campaign if you want to see change in the burial industry.

NOTE: This kickstarter is about COMPOSTING human remains as an option to more traditional (and polluting) choices of burial and cremation.

 
Isaac Bickford
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I've been thinking about how important it is to have some kind of physical labor as part of grieving the loss of a loved one. Digging a six foot hole by hand with your whole family seems like it would give much more time to process things than if you just pay someone with a backhoe to dig the hole.

I'm glad to see more ideas about how to make funeral rights more meaningful and natural. And I was happy to see the part about carrying the deceased to the top of the structure. That physical aspect of grieving is important.
 
Amedean Messan
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I mean yeah, she is right about burials being very wasteful but are we going to count the gasses produced by cremation? Heard wood burning stoves can produce a tremendous amount of greenhouse gasses too but I wont demonize anyone for having one. Seems like another money grab Kickstarter.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Amadean - she's not proposing cremation - she's proposing COMPOSTING. Or am I misinterpreting your comment?
 
Cassie Langstraat
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Wow. This is really powerful. Something that people don't often think about I am sure.

And yeah, she isn't proposing cremation. She even notes that cremation is not a great option for the environment in the text part of the kickstarter page.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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I find this an exceptionally interesting project that could help urban areas especially with many of the issues they face.

I hope this project gets funded well past its goals so it can move forward quickly and become a reality. I want to be a "future tree"! And I want no part of traditional burial or cremation.
 
Jessie Twinn
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This is a beautiful idea and it incorporates much older traditions of wrapping the body as well as modern ceremonies but also cares for and protects our environment. I had always planned to be cremated but now I can't stand the thought of turning myself into pollution. I hope this goes global.

On another note, I came across this idea recently too. http://www.handwovencaskets.com.au/ An alternative to hardwood or metal caskets. I've also heard of cardboard caskets.
 
Nick Kitchener
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Amedean Messan wrote:I mean yeah, she is right about burials being very wasteful but are we going to count the gasses produced by cremation? Heard wood burning stoves can produce a tremendous amount of greenhouse gasses too but I wont demonize anyone for having one. Seems like another money grab Kickstarter.


Maybe Paul can extend his rocket mass heater experiments...

He might need a bigger berm out the front of his property though
 
Joe Bourguignon
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I'd love to see this kickstarter project team up with this lady's excellent Ted talk idea about using mushrooms to compost yourself after death... Paul, tell your friend to investigate fungi, not just woodchips and sawdust!

https://www.ted.com/talks/jae_rhim_lee

Cheers!

-joe
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Oh boy! Something to do with my body when I'm not living in it any more! I don't plan to die for another 60 years, and by then she won't be wanting volunteer bodies, but maybe I can pre buy my mushroom suit and decompiculture kit.

The kickstarter is an interesting prospect, but it would require a cultural shift. For the guy who thinks digging a hole will allow contemplation time, they are proposing that the bereft living wrap the body of their departed, and carry him/her up to the top level where they have a "laying in ceremony". Gives some time for contemplation, and a ritual, I think you can add flowers if you want. And later you can get some of the compost if you want it...

It's worth watching. They don't mention it, but maybe they would be able to reclaim the silver fillings, gold crowns titanium bone splints and all of that.

I always told my children to look in my mouth and see all my gold crowns. I would say "You see these gold crowns? Don't you DARE bury me with them in my mouth. This gold is your inheritance!

I think it's an improvement over our current practices in the USA.

T
 
Nick Kitchener
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Thekla McDaniels wrote:Oh boy! Something to do with my body when I'm not living in it any more! I don't plan to die for another 60 years, and by then she won't be wanting volunteer bodies, but maybe I can pre buy my mushroom suit and decompiculture kit.

Now I'm going to go look at the kick starter!

thanks for the wild ideas

T


Sandor Katz probably has a book you'd find useful
 
Thekla McDaniels
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Hi Nick, does Katz pickle people? They could make a song,

It was a one eyed one horned flying pickled people eater..............
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Jeremy Franklin
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So, this is an interesting idea, but there are some issues that I see with it. For one thing, I think the estimates of a human body decomposing to soil in "a few weeks" is optimistic. I imagine the bones especially might take a couple of years to fully break down. I suppose you could just screen the resulting soil and do something more traditional with the bones and ligaments, etc. but you're still going to have the same issues humanure has with pathogens in the soil if you don't let it compost long enough. So you start having to consider space issues of remains similar to burial. Especially in an urban environment, this could be tricky. Not as bad as permanent burial, of course, but more so than cremation. So it seems somewhat of an in-between solution from a space perspective. So in that sense, it's a cool middle alternative, but in cramped living conditions where real estate is at a premium such as NYC, it would seemingly be a significantly more expensive proposition than cremation.

Secondly, the biggest issue regarding the pollution effect has to do with the embalming fluids and other chemicals that are injected into the body to preserve it long enough for our spiritual ceremonies to take place, especially for friends and family members from out of town. That is a large part of why those coffins are so expensive: because they are designed to contain all of those poisonous chemicals from leeching into the ground, even after many years of being buried. If you're willing to forgo the delay for friends and family, you could just as easily bury a body in a simple pine box (even filled with wood chips) and effectively have the same effect, but I believe this would have to be done pretty quickly. I know dead bodies tend to do some unpleasant things once life has left, and I think the idea that family members will be able to simply wrap the body in linen and gently lay their loved one in the composting hole is perhaps naive. The death industry as it exists now is largely about hiding from those in mourning all of the unpleasant aspects of what happens to a body once it dies. Without that intervention, I think maybe "messy" is the most polite way to describe the experience.

And of course, there are HUGE governmental hurdles. The laws surrounding dead bodies and the disposal thereof, as I understand it, make the building codes look like sweet suggestions from a kindly grandmother.

Honestly, I think I would ask to be buried in the pine box on my own property. But in an urban environment, it would seem like cremation has the least impact, especially if it could instead be done with a renewable resource.

Nevertheless, I applaud the author for at least addressing the issue and starting the conversation.
 
Mike Feddersen
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Paul and all,
.
I came across this awhile back, I hate that I can remember crap from 20 years ago better than a few months ago. So if I talked about it here on the forums already well.... here is a refresher.
. http://naturalheroes.org/videos/dying-green/ Cool video of dying green and while the young lady's kickstarter is noteworthy, if you watch this film, the full film can be watched if you follow link at bottom of the page.
Anyway sure cities need something close by but I sort of want to be buried in the sticks. Cool video, maybe some permies will finance their dream by helping people die green.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Jeremy - did you go to the kickstarter and read the text? They talk about bones and other things that are slow to decompose. She's also working with folks who have a lot of experience in how bodies decompose - I believe she's using the expertise at The Body Farm for this project.

Remember - this project addresses death in highly populated areas. Being buried in any kind of of box or shroud and then interred, requires land. San Francisco, for instance, has not been able to bury anyone in the city for nearly 40 years. There's just no land left. And in this type of burial - there is actually a highly useful end product that can be reused - instead of a fancy place for a headstone to live. I would much rather that my life be celebrated each time someone looks at a tree than each time they come to look at an expensive headstone.

As for costs - well, I've just been pricing the cheapest death options for me here in Phoenix. Turns out it's cremation for around $3000.
 
Mike Feddersen
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Jeremy, when I looked into it before there are only 8 states that make it tough. Watch that film it explains how you can still forego all that "messy stuff" using morticians who will do what needs to be done per state code and they can bring the wrapped body to your chosen death plot.
.

 
Erica Daly
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In colder climates, a Jean-Paine-esque method of capturing heat for water or air could be harvested if an urban body decomposition system is part of a hospital, nursing home, apartment or office building, or greenhouse!

When people ask how long cremation takes, I tell them it is like cooking anything. The smaller pieces are done cooking first. Worms are usually the next thing I hear. I say you can't tell if they are there or not anyway. Which would you prefer to become, smog or a plant?

There is a book on burials on a piece of land with walking trails and carefully laid out burial plots that are documented, but no monuments. I think it is called Green Burial.

It only makes sense if we are going back to doing things for ourselves, taking better care of our dead bodies would improve our lives.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Erica - I like your thoughts on heating, etc! Bravo.

Arizona where I live has one green burial site (as you describe above). They had to fight to get it. Basically because human remains will be interred there, the property will remain wilderness and not allow building. BUT as we know, whole cemetaries have been dug up and relocated before (and generated poltergeists if the movies are to be believed - LOL!)
 
Erica Daly
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In desert areas, could this be a step toward regreening? Even composted sewage from nearby city?
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Erica Daly wrote:In desert areas, could this be a step toward regreening? Even composted sewage from nearby city?


Absolutely! We have so little organic matter in our desert soils. And yes - there are already large scale biosolids composters here in Phoenix and we are also encouraging homescale biosolids composting and water savings with an urban composting toilet system that has recently been given the seal of approval by the EPA and AZ Dept of Environment after a 2+ year battle. These kinds of things are what will make cities more sustainable in the long term. They stack functions, they use what they have - it's pretty awesome. Hence my love for the Urban Death project.
 
Kai Duby
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This is something I have thought about since I was a little kid. It opens up a whole can of worms.
The strangest thing that I see in urban graveyards is the impersonal quality of them. There is just such a glut of tombstones and names and plastic flowers that it is overwhelming. To me large graveyards seem to walk the line between a peaceful place to remember someone and a dumping ground.

The second strangest thing, and what I think is the most disturbing, is that there are hundreds to thousands of partially preserved humans right below the grounds surface. I suspect that even the most well made coffin will begin to break down over a long enough time and the nastiest preserving chemicals may leach out or begin to break down. However, the fact that the last semblance of utility in a body, be it to feed a nematode or an oak tree, is stopped at that last hurrah seems shortsighted and a bit cruel.

So in this large scale human composting endeavor would there still be tombstones? Or maybe a sign that says "This tree provided by ____________ (obituary)?" Would it still be necessary to post names when there really are no people under foot? Maybe a really long list of all the soil microbes could be posted next to a relatively short list of people.

And to get down to the nitty- gritty detail questions:
What is the body wrapping made of and where does it come from? What amount of the composting materials could come from on-site? How much human compost application is too much?.... the list goes on. I think it's a very interesting topic! Thank you for posting!

As a side note: since I can remember I've always wanted to be eaten by birds. My family is always disturbed when I tell them to just throw me out in the woods when I die but I'm always at least half serious. Tibetan sky burials might be something to look into if you're into alternative after death. I once heard that the Tibetans have a word for death that is synonymous with "alms for the birds." Probably not the best for an urban scenario.
A small sect of rural Chinese also have a tradition where a tree is planted when a person is born and later on in life they cut down the tree and build there own casket. The specific details and where I got them allude me but it may be an interesting subject to look into.
 
Jay Angler
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To me, embalming is the worst part due to the toxic chemicals used. I don’t understand why we couldn’t essentially “refrigerate” corpses at near freezing temperature and only pull them out for brief “viewing ceremonies” and for the burial, to solve some of the "ick" problems.

There is a BC organization providing “green burials”, which plants non-embalmed people in a biodegradable shroud in a designated spot which is then planted with trees. Rather than individual headstones, they mark an area with a boulder listing all the graves in the immediate area. This system allows many more corpses in a much smaller area and uses less resources than current common practice, but it still won't be enough in some of our denser urban areas.

I’m sure I’ve also read of a group that essentially composts the body for a length of time and then digs up the bones that are left and either inters those (requires much less space), or cremates them (requires energy, but the ashes can be spread or interred). Since it is much more energy intensive to cremate an entire body than just the bones that don’t decompose, this is still an improvement over current common practice.

I haven't the time today to thoroughly read the kickstarter or watch the entire Green Burial movie, but I do wonder if they will have a method of identify where the "compost" ends up - like a tree label that identifies all the people who are contributing to it's growth. Revisiting graves is not part of my family tradition, but it is important for some people.

Personally, the North American approach to death, starting with delaying the inevitable to the point of indignity, is just plain wrong. Maclean's magazine had the following article. http://www.macleans.ca/news/canada/death-doulas/ Hopefully progress will be made with all the issues surrounding death and burial sooner rather than later.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Kai - that was a thoughtful post.

I think there could be any number of ways to celebrate a person's passing with a composting burial and those would evolve over time. I'm sure some folks would love a plaque or other monument to remember their loved one by. Cremation has had rituals built up around it. The difference between cremation and composting though is that in cremation - each body is burned separately. In composting, everyone goes in together.

Typically shrouds have been made out of local materials that are also biodegradable. I'm sure a whole subset of businesses can cater to shrouds. When I've buried pets in the yard, I've often shrouded them. On the occasion I've had to dig one up and move it - the shroud is either completely gone or very nearly. And only a few bones remain of the animal.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Jay - nicely written. I think you're right when you say that something commemorative will be important to some folks. I think this will evolve with the practice of composting the dead. For example, when people hold services, there are often flowers, etc. Some people ask that instead of flowers, donations be sent to the charity of their choosing to memorialize the deceased loved one. I think that memorializing a persons passing by giving to a worthy org is great. If people like to have flowers present, I can see a whole movement of live plants instead of cut flowers and the plants then being donated to revitalize urban spaces. It could be an exciting future for death!
 
Isaac Bickford
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Regarding marking the grave - I have always thought that the people who really cared about me won't need a sign to know where i am buried. Once there is no one left who cares enough to know where my body ended up, I don't want any marker there anyway.
 
Geoff Lawton
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Muslims worldwide are buried within 24 hours just in a white cotton cloth straight in the ground no pollution involved.

It is also written in the Islamic texts that one the best things you can do is plant useful trees even if you know you are going to die today it is written that the best thing you can do is plant a tree, and this gives you on going spiritual credit while that tree is alive and is of benefit to other living things.

Both together this can form and organic forested cemetery.
 
Andrew Ray
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Here in Slovakia bodies aren't generally embalmed. The one viewing I have been to was when a bishop died. In the church his body was placed in basically a glass refrigerator designed for the purpose to allow several days of viewing.
 
Burra Maluca
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In my part of Portugal, burial is within 24 hours, no embalming, and the family prepare the body. I found that aspect a rather terrifying prospect but as I only had a few hours to get my head around the prospect I just got on with it, helped by my teenage son as I discovered that I physically needed another pair of hands to do all the manipulation. After the initial culture shock I found that it was actually a good way to 'say goodbye'. In the UK, bodies would be taken away so quickly and you might never actually even see them, leaving you thinking that maybe it was all a mistake and the person would just walk back through the door at any moment. But dealing with the body yourself and cleaning it and preparing it gives you the opportunity to not only pay your respects and play an active role in what needs to be done, but it also means that you come to terms with the fact that the person really is gone, they are *not* coming back, and that what you are dealing with really is 'just an empty shell'.

Traditionally the chief mourner would then spend the entire night in the local mortuary but I was spared that and told I could go home to get some sleep at midnight so long as I was back by 7 o'clock the next morning, and when the coffin is carried the family play an active role in everything. I found this helped tremendously. It might all be over in 24 hours, but it's an incredibly intense 24 hours and by the end you are so exhausted you're actually ready to start that new chapter of your life without the loved one you have just mourned and buried.

Graves are only for seven years here, then they are reused. And all burials have to be in an official cemetery. Also cremation ashes have to be interred in a cemetery. Which is a bit of a shame as I was kind of hoping I'd end up recycled on my own land.

 
David Livingston
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There are quite a few places in the UK where you can go already for a green burial
From Wiki

Natural burial
UK

The Association of Natural Burial Grounds (ANBG) was established by The Natural Death Centre charity in 1994. It aims to help people to establish sites, to provide guidance to natural burial ground operators, to represent its members, and to provide a Code of Conduct for members. The NDC also publishes The Natural Death Handbook.

The first woodland burial ground in the UK was created in 1993 at Carlisle Cemetery and is called The Woodland Burial.[7] Nearly 300 dedicated natural burial grounds have been created in the UK.

http://www.naturaldeath.org.uk/index.php?page=the-anbg

Basically you can be buried vertically and a tree planted on your head . Sounds good to me .
The first woodland burial ground is due to open soon in France near Noite.

Burra Having a wake with the body present used to be very common in Irish circles in the UK as well as Eire . Alcohol was often consumed

Edit

Thinking about it this would make a great permie buisness . Combining a wildish quiet area that each year becomes more like a forest plus you get paid to do it !
I could see this working for lots of folks who live near big cities .


 
candace casala
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YES!!!
The American Indians had it right. Funeral Pyres (not sure of correct spelling) I am all for this.
The death Industry has complained about loss of revenues due to population moving from "boxed" funerals to cremation!
Both are toxic approaches.

I LOVE THIS KICK STARTER! Nothing morbid here, just addressing the circle of life/death.

 
elle sagenev
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I think what is done to bodies is done to prevent disease spread. So, this will never happen. It is illegal.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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elle sagenev wrote:I think what is done to bodies is done to prevent disease spread. So, this will never happen. It is illegal.


See the above several examples - wrapping a body in a shroud and burying (essentially composting) IS legal in many places around the globe already.
 
Judith Browning
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In Arkansas you are not required to have a casket (for either burial or cremation) nor be embalmed....but you are required to be buried in a registered cemetery. That can be on your land though as long as it is registered as a 'family cemetery' before the fact.

http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/burial-cremation-laws-arkansas.html
 
elle sagenev
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:
elle sagenev wrote:I think what is done to bodies is done to prevent disease spread. So, this will never happen. It is illegal.


See the above several examples - wrapping a body in a shroud and burying (essentially composting) IS legal in many places around the globe already.


That's great but there are many places with many laws. In the united states every state has it's own regulation. If you are military you are required to be embalmed by federal law. If you have TB you really don't want to be composted as that shit lives in the ground forever. So, sure, nice idea. We have buried animals and put plants over them for the benefits. Still, I don't see this being particularly effective.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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Baby steps. It might not become legal all over right away but, to me, this is a huge positive step forward in how we could handle burials in this country.
 
Judith Browning
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Jennifer Wadsworth wrote:Baby steps. It might not become legal all over right away but, to me, this is a huge positive step forward in how we could handle burials in this country.


and I think the idea is to open up the conversation for those who thought there was only one way to do a burial in certain 'modern' countries. This got me to check on my states laws as I posted above and I was happy to find out that apparently there is not the requirement of a 'box' that I assumed there was. I had always thought that I wanted to be cremated as a lack of space on the planet option, but now am thinking about seeing if we can start a 'family cemetery' on our old 'hippie land' five acres from the seventies that we hang on to but don't live on it..... I would love to be 'planted' there. I'm thinking rock slide rather than a hole though....hmmm I expect there to be a minimum amount of land required to do that and I suppose some kind of soil requirement....perk test?
 
Milja Hahto
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Here in Finland - and I believe this applies to all Scandinavia and probably a big part of Europe - bodies are buried without embalment, in a wooden gasket, unless cremated. I.e. They do compost naturally, although it takes time. Much more simple, and in a family grave there is again enough place for more bodies after the time has passed. (In fact in many cemeteries you lose the place after a certain time if you do not pay or take care of the place. I thinks the time limit might be something like 25 years after the last burial.)

The placement of graveyards has to be carefully selected, of course (e.g. no high ground water levels), but this method has not been a healt risk. Most microbes that could pose a risk do simply not survive long enough in the ground. They are decomposed with the body. A Finnish cemetery is also a nice place with lots of trees, it can really remind a park (which does not apply to most Europe, and if movies tell the truth in this detail, not to America either). Some families also plant some perennial flowers in addition to annuals on the graves. Nice especially if the distance is long. Cut flowers are for the burial only.

Also, where I live, one company has started to produce urns from peat, meaning that you can bury the ashes after cremation and they will return to the natural cycle. The production is still small (not their main product) and not a common practise, but a possibility anyway. If you want to be buried outside an official cemetery, cremation is the only option in that case.

Anyway, in my opinion the idea of embalming all bodies is simply gross and seriously unnatural. I can understand it in some special cases only. And, as the Slovakian example shows, it is not needed even then.
 
Judith Browning
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Location: Arkansas Ozarks zone 7 alluvial,black,deep loam/clay with few rocks, wonderful creek bottom!
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in my opinion the idea of embalming all bodies is simply gross and seriously unnatural.


Yes! My mother lived with us for ten years and it was really a wonderful and crazy time (she had alzheimers and we also had two teenage boys at home).. The whole experience felt right and worked well for us....she was able to be surrounded by family who loved her until the moment she died. But as soon as the 'official' part began it became a circus....I had just thought I would follow what I knew she would want and what was traditional in my family, but having her embalmed and made into this solid object just freaks me out still. I didn't realize how much it would bother me and it's been fifteen years.
 
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