Burial and Decomposition Research (originally published on CandG site 10/24/2010)

There are two underlying themes to the book: death and winter.  Many years ago I read the book “The American Way of Death” by Jessica Mitford which was not only funny but shocking as an expose of the corruption of the funeral industry.  Any proper goth will have started their fascination with the macabre long before they discovered the virtues of the all black wardrobe and rice face powder.  I’m not sure how I found the book but it sated quite a bit of curiosity about the undertakers of my country.

In Cricket and Grey my characters don’t have access to a funeral home, embalming fluids, or manufactured fancy coffins.  It’s not that these things have completely ceased to exist, but the only ones left are in big cities and only the very rich can afford such services any more.  In my book you have to fill out death paperwork yourself, handle your own dead, and either burn them on a pyre or bury them in a plot, all of which must be approved by the health department which in most towns is a federally held office and due to limited power of government and limited funds through the whole country the federal agents who handle this office also handle other local federal jobs.

To write about preparing your own dead I have had to do some research.  Some of the questions I need answered are:

How long does it take for an enembalmed dead body to decompose?

How soon after death must an unembalmed body be buried?

How deep should a dead body be buried?

What kinds of burial regulations might be enforced if no funeral homes were there to intercede (and interfere!) on anyone’s behalf?

How would a shortage of local doctors able to certify deaths affect the regulations for disposal of the dead?

What would the cost of permits to bury the dead be in the future if the government couldn’t extract income taxes from people anymore- would the government take a bigger piece of cost of death to citizens?

Here are links to some of my sources of information:

“Beyond the Grave – understanding human decomposition” by Arpad A. Vass

Cremation or Burial – Carbon Emissions and the Environment

Funeral Consumers of Eastern Massachusetts

“Green” Burials Require no Coffins or Chemicals

The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford

Consider a Green Burial,  The Press Democrat

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