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Funerals/Decomposition Questions



3 months ago, my best friend passed away very suddenly at the age of 28.  In the past, she'd mentioned in passing that she wanted to be cremated and I wanted this, but being a healthy young woman she didn't have a will and her parents decided to bury her traditionally in a coffin in a vault.  

I wanted her to be cremated because I wanted to keep some of her ashes in a pendant or urn (we were very very close) but this is not possible now.  I wonder how long it will take for some of "her" to decompose and get into the soil in her grave so I can take some of the dirt and use it instead.  Here's what I know:

--The coffin is in a concrete vault
--The coffin is made of oak wood with metal handles and a satin lining and pillow
--My friend was buried in a long cotton dress and has a copper bracelet on.  She's barefoot but I don't know if she has undergarments
--We live in a hot climate in general, and it's been a very hot summer

Thanks for your help.  I just want to do this little ritual soon.

Hi Allison,

I'm so sorry that your best friend transitioned and that her wishes weren't known in advance (please write yours down and give them to your family!!!!)  :-(

Your friend is going to take a long, long time to return to the soil. Decomposition won't begin to happen until soil is in actual contact with her physical body, and it will take a long time for the concrete vault to collapse, and then for the oak casket to break down...decades, if not longer.

I think you're going to have to have your own private ceremony for her without the physical bits of her, HOWEVER -- if you have a piece of clothing or anything of hers, that will have a little bit of her on it; remember, we 'shed' constantly; we are not pristine beings!!! Even a tiny something is something, and if you can't get the tiniest physical something then you have her in your heart and your mind, and that is more than enough for a meaningful ritual.

So, relax about recovering her from her physical grave, and just be confident that she's down there, in the earth, taking her long sweet time, and rejoining the elements she's made from eventually. Maybe you can go and sit in the cemetery with her on a nice day, during a late summer afternoon when the breezes are blowing, and let her know you're going to send her off in your own way. You'll get some good ideas about what would be just perfect, and then it will be.

I hope that helped!

in trees,



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Cynthia Beal


Typical questions include 1) Where can I go for a natural burial? 2) What types of coffins, urns and other "packaging" are best for natural decomposition? 3)How do I plan for a natural funeral? 4) Do I have to be embalmed? and other questions in this vein. I'm available to answer general consumer questions about natural burial, home and natural funerals, and sustainable cemetery management. I answer questions about general cemetery matters, and offer suggestions about how to deal with remains, cremated or buried, interment rights, rules for cemeteries and plot owners, covering conventional as well as alternative options. I also answer questions from professionals, home funeral guides, and family members about how to manage a natural funeral either in the mortuary or at the home, how to best use natural coffins and urns, and how to convert cemeteries to natural, sustainable practices. I will answer questions from volunteer cemetery managers about how to offer natural burial in their rural, Pioneer, or non-profit cemeteries. If I don't know an answer I'll refer the questioner to someone who does. DISCLAIMER -- I am a certified pre-need sales person in the State of Oregon. I am not a licensed attorney, tax adviser, estate planner, funeral director, embalmer, accountant, public official, or any other professional that may be associated with issues the question brings up and any answers I provide should not be relied upon if such expertise is required by the asker (as per the All Expert suggestion). I provide my own personal opinions, based on my experience in business, Nature and its systems, and with human beings after 55 years of life on the planet.


Natural burial and sustainable cemetery management experience: I'm the founder of the Natural Burial Company and a member of the Cemetery Association of Oregon. Over 25 years in the natural products industry, and over a decade of running the Natural Burial Company, founded in 2004. I've done some consulting for existing and start-up natural cemetery operations. I'm currently an instructor at Oregon State University, facilitating the creation of a program in sustainable cemetery management and stimulating research in cemetery-oriented processes and functions, and I own two historic cemeteries the feature natural burial, based in Oregon.

ICCFA - International Cemetery, Crematory and Funeral Association Green Business Network Funeral Consumers Alliance

American Cemetery Magazine; Funeral Business Advisor; Real Goods Source Book; American Funeral Director Magazine, etc.

There is no degree in natural burials or funerals, and no accredited education provided for sustainable cemetery management. We're developing a program at Oregon State University but it hasn't fully launched yet.

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