Natural Burials

March 31, 2021

Mount Auburn is pleased to offer natural or ‘green’ burial, defined as the burial of an unenbalmed body in a biodegradable shroud or container. Since 2014, when Mount Auburn became the first cemetery in Massachusetts to be certified by the Green Burial Council, natural burial graves have become increasingly popular among the many burial options available to our families and clients. Today it is an important component of our long term sustainability planning as we strive to become more environmentally friendly in all of our operations.


WHAT IS NATURAL BURIAL?

With the rising popularity of natural burial, what is old has become new again. In 1831, Mount Auburn founder Joseph Bigelow in 1831 wrote these words:

“The elements which have once moved and circulated in living frames do not become extinct or useless after death; they offer themselves as the materials from which other living frames are to be constructed… … the harmonious and ever-changing face of nature reminds us, by its resuscitating influences, that to die is but to live again.”

Mark Harris, environmental journalist and author of Grave Matters – A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial, offers this modern description of natural burial:

“Green burial seeks to return one’s remains to the earth, as directly and simply as possible. Such a natural return is little more than a return to long tradition. Much of what constitutes green burial was once standard practice in this country, the default, not the exception. The goal then and now is the same: to allow the body at death to rejoin the elements it sprang from, to use what remains of a life to regenerate new life, to return dust to dust.”


HOW DOES MOUNT AUBURN DEFINE NATURAL BURIAL?

A natural burial at Mount Auburn is placed into a grave that is approximately four feet in depth. The body or its biodegradable container are in direct contact with the earth, and the grave does not contain a concrete liner or vault.

Most of these grave sites are located within the ‘historic core’ where they are surrounded by mature trees and monuments from the 19th and early 20th centuries, and by that “long tradition” of natural burial described by Mark Harris.

Natural burial graves offer a variety of memorial options. Graves may be unmarked, recorded in our mapping system but without any physical marker on the grounds beyond a small numbered metal plate. A memorial tree plaque option may be arranged in most unmarked locations. Other natural burial graves may share a central listing stone, while a limited number allow private stone markers.At the time of burial, a lowering device with a framework around all edges of the grave is required for safety and liability reasons. This device is removed prior to closing the grave. Family members and other funeral attendees may add shovels of earth to the grave following the lowering of the body.


GUIDELINES FOR NATURAL BURIAL AT MOUNT AUBURN

Do you plan to be wrapped in a shroud or buried in a simple wooden casket? Will you be utilizing the services of a funeral director or are you planning for a home funeral?

There are many questions to consider when making plans for your own natural burial or planning the burial of a family member or a friend. As you make your plans, we encourage you to consult our Guidelines for Natural Burial at Mount Auburn. These guidelines were created in partnership with local funeral directors and natural death care advocates to provide flexible options for the many families we serve.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

If a green burial space for a body cannot be prepared due to practical constraints and the body must be cremated, can cremated remains within a biodegradable container be placed in a green burial plot?

Yes, cremated remains within a biodegradable container may be placed in a grave that has been designated for a natural body burial. Additionally, there are several other options at Mount Auburn for interring cremated remains including pouring the cremated remains directly into a shallow hole. In both of cases, the remains will not retrievable.

Why does Mount Auburn require using a lowering device even for a shrouded body when the shroud has been designed with straps that allow a family to lower a body into the grave?

Mount Auburn needs to ensure the safety of all visitors. The sides of a grave may “give away” especially when a concrete grave liner is not being used; therefore, by using the lowering device a level of desired safety is achieved.

When my loved one dies, she wants to be wrapped up and buried in her favorite quilt. Is that OK?

Yes, that is OK. Please inform Mount Auburn before you arrive so the lowering device can be set up with additional support, like a pine plank, for extra rigidity on the lowering device. The pine plank will end up at the bottom of the natural grave and will be buried with your mother.

When my loved one dies, she wants all of us (her able-bodied adult children) to bring her to the cemetery. Is this permitted?

Yes, that is permitted. Family members are allowed to transport the body of a loved one to a cemetery. You can also check the Funeral Consumers Alliance website for more details including on how to fill out paperwork and exactly what paperwork is required. Also, you may contact your local board of health.


SCHEDULE A TOUR

The best way to learn about Mount Auburn’s Natural Burial options is to have a tour with a member of our Cemetery Services staff.  

CONTACT US to schedule an appointment.


FURTHER READING

 Eternally Green: Mount Auburn founded on ‘Natural Burials’


Death can seem sad and meaningless, but when connected to life, it can be so much more and that’s what green burial does. Through green burial we can utilize our end-of-life rituals for the betterment of the planet and help ensure a brighter future for the younger generations. We can come to appreciate death as an integral part of a natural process that continues long after we perish.

Joe Sehee, Founder, Green Burial Council

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