Melanie is a local who heard about the Green Reaper in Boring, Oregon and had questions. The first time I met her, I was outside filling my bird feeder with black oil sunflower seeds. A rickety old truck pulled up and parked by the funeral home. A very short woman with black spiked hair and about 30 arm bangles got out and announced she wanted to talk to me about death and assorted topics.
“Tell me stuff about cremation. It’s the ‘envio’ way to check out, right? I mean, I don’t need to take up any space.”
“Well, kind of,” I said, “But it has an environmental impact and carbon footprint.”
“Okay, wait,” Melanie said. “So, what are you saying? You want me to pay you to plug me with chemicals?”
“No, not exactly.” I offered her a Diet Coke as we walked into the funeral parlour and her purple fingernails clawed at the tab like she was on a soda jag.
“Cremation is a great choice,” I said. “But it’s not the most eco-friendly.” Melanie listened respectfully as I explained the not-so-green aspects to cremation that many people don’t consider. For instance, cremation burns fossil fuel, and older cremation facilities can use significantly more energy for this compared to modernized ones. Mercury is also emitted when a person with dental amalgam fillings is cremated, although just how much mercury is widely debated.
“But what else can I do?” Melanie asked with a shrug. “I really don’t want to be put in the ground.”
“There is a method, little known in the U.S., but on the rise, called water resomation.”
Melanie sat up straighter; looking stunned, “What the hell is that?”
“Rather than cremating with fire, water dissolves the body through alkaline hydrolysis.”
“A combination of water pressure, heat, and alkalinity. This is the most eco-friendly, sustainable method we have so far.”
“Okay, wait. Would that be like putting grandma in a washing machine?”
“Kind of,” I said, laughing. “Water resomation accelerates the natural disintegration process, sympathetically returning the body to ash.”
I could see wheels turning in Melanie’s mind. She actually tipped her head like the RCA dog.
“Hard to wrap your head around, huh?” I said.
“So what would they do with my body after the spin cycle?” Melanie asked.
“They’ll gently place you in water within a pressurized stainless steel chamber. After a few hours, all that remains is your skeleton, which will be so soft the technician can grind it into ash by hand.”
“But what about the dirty wash water?”
“There isn’t any. Just a sterile, contaminant-free liquid that can be safely disposed of at a water treatment plant.”
“I’ll be damned,” Melanie said. “So how long does this take — a week?”
“A few hours, just like fire-based cremation. And no one has to cut out your pacemaker.”
“How come pacemakers can’t be left in place for a fire-based cremation?”
“The batteries inside them can explode when heated.”
“That’d be a wakeup call,” Melanie allowed. “It kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? Water cremation–since we’re mostly made of water anyway.”
“I think it does,” I agreed. “I think it will become widespread here once people know it’s an option. What about you? Would you prefer alkaline hydrolysis to fire cremation?”
“I wouldn’t hesitate for a second.” Melanie declared. “Water sounds nicer than fire — gentler.” I agreed, enthusiastically.
I retrieved another Diet Coke for the fascinated Melanie. “I researched it about a year ago. There was a guy with cancer named Allan whose dying wish was to be buried upright in a biodegradable body bag. There’s no marker or headstone and the location of his grave is identified only by coordinates and a grid reference on the cemetery gate. Apparently, for each body that goes in the ground like this, a tree is planted on a nearby hill.”
Melanie cracked the second can and a bottomless belch came out of her skinny self. It was so loud I almost blushed, but Melanie was way too into our conversation to notice anything.
Melanie chuckled. “Well, when it’s my time, put me the washing machine.”