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'Our last gift to mother Earth': The growing interest in green burials

This coming week, the Green Burial Society of Canada will hold their AGM in Halifax
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082718-The Old Burying Ground cemetery-IMG_7501
The Old Burying Ground cemetery (Meghan Groff/HalifaxToday.ca)

This week, the Green Burial Society of Canada (GBSC) will hold their AGM in Halifax.

Along with the meeting, there will also be a panel discussion for Haligonians who may be interested in learning more about an environmentally-friendly death.

"We are all going to die, every one of us," says Dawn Carson, a local certified 'death doula'.

Similar to a birth doula, Carson tells NEWS 95.7's The Sheldon MacLeod Show that she helps people plan for all aspects of end-of-life.

"The idea of a birth doula is that they're there for continuity, from the time a person gets pregnant or is planning a pregnancy, all the way through until the baby is delivered," she says. "That's the entry point. This is the exit point."

Carson explains that she helps people with everything from estate planning to funeral rituals, no matter what stage of life they're at.

"Making a plan for the kind of death that they would like to have, and to open the conversation up so that families will start taking about this, and it won't be a messy, unsure, unplanned situation when it does come to end of life," she says.

The GBSC is a national organization that advocates for more eco-friendly burials.

"It's an old idea that's becoming popular again," Carson explains. "Traditional burials were more or less done green, where people were wrapped in shrouds or simple pine boxes."

Things like embalming bodies, using steel-lined caskets, and wood varnishes all influence how long it takes a body to be reclaimed by the earth -- if ever.

Carson says even embalming isn't a green option.

"Because of the fossil fuels that are required for the combustion of the body in the facility," she explains. "It takes a lot of energy, the same amount of energy to drive an 800-kilometre car ride, in order to burn a body for cremation."

But the death doula says most people -- even those who consider themselves Earth-conscious -- haven't considered their end-of-life options.

"When we approached the Ecology Action Centre and said 'Hey, would you be interested in working with us?' They're like, 'Huh, not something we'd thought of before,'" Carson says.

Now, the Ecology Action Centre is on board as a partner to help bring the GBSC to Halifax.

On June 11, the 5 p.m. AGM at the Halifax Central Library will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Hanna Longard, a researcher from Mount Allison University, and the Atlantic Regional Director of the GBSC, Ray Mattholie.

"We're very pleased that a national organization has decided to have their AGM here in Halifax, so that we can take them out to see some of the sites that we're considering for certification in Nova Scotia," says Carson.

The GBSC of Canada adopted a certification system last fall to endorse green burial sites, trying to get back to historical methods of burial.

"Families took care of their own, buried them on their own properties," Carson says. "Giving back to the planet the rich nutrients of our body that are broken down naturally in the soil."

Carson encourages anyone who has questions about green burial to come to the AGM.

"A lot of people have just sort of followed along suit of like, well we'll go to the funeral home and we'll do whatever they usually do," she says. "Now, they're starting to say, 'Hey we can do it whichever way we want." 

"We could have our own rituals, we could be buried on our own property, and we don't have to be toxic. It can be like our last gift to mother Earth."




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Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

After graduating from journalism at King's, Victoria Walton now works in the film industry and as HalifaxToday.ca's weekend editor.
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