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We met at Linda Bergh’s house. Thanks as always to Linda for being such a gracious hostess. 16 people were in attendance.
We watched Carolyn Laine’s excellent PowerPoint presentation on home funerals and green disposition. The presentation included an excerpt from Nancy Jewel Poer’s documentary The Most Excellent Dying of Theodore Jack Heckelman. A lively discussion followed, touching on steps that MTN, as individual members and as a group, may want to take to ensure that funeral directors and others who deal with end-of-life issues professionally know the law and give accurate information to funeral consumers.
Perhaps the most important take-away from Carolyn’s presentation is this:
“For a body to be embalmed, the family must agree to relinquish their legal right to natural death care. It is the family’s right by law to be in control of the care of their loved one.
What a wonderful and empowering message!
Our next meeting will be Tuesday, January 13, 2015.
Happy whatever-you-celebrate, and a joyous New Year!

Twenty people attended the all-day “Caring for Our Own” workshop on November 22, taught by three Minnesota Threshold Network home funeral guides. In MTN’s six years of offering after-death care workshops, this was the largest!

After check-ins, the morning began with guided rememberings of death in our lives, as children and as adults. Anne Murphy presented a brief history of after-death care in the US. Linda Bergh guided the group in becoming more aware of the specialness of this sacred time in the hours and days after a beloved has died. Kyoko Katayama shared the poignant story of her husband’s death, care, and home vigil. 

Anne led the afternoon session by demonstrating step-by-step practical care of the body, with Linda and Kyoko adding stories to illustrate the uniqueness of each experience, as well as the unifying theme of bringing comfort and meaning to families.  Many connections were made as the participants opened to this powerful topic and became a community for the day.

Workshop participants prepare a gracious volunteer “corpse” for disposition. Beautiful cloths and flowers offer one last chance to show love and care for our beloved dead.

It was a day of soul care as well as body care. As one person wrote on the evaluation, “I got a great sense of what after-death body care really is.”  Another participant commented, “The stories made the day’s experience so authentic.”  Another said, “I’m going home and writing out what I would like done for me when I die.”
 
Several people have asked when MTN will offer another workshop. Fortunately the presenters enjoyed working together and found it a good mix of backgrounds, experience, and interest. It’s likely they’ll be doing another workshop. The topics most requested on the evaluation forms were:

  • Green burials
  • Being with the dying
  • Minnesota laws (Come to the Dec. 9 MTN meeting for this!)
  • Facing our mortality
  • Home vigils

December 2014 meeting

At the upcoming MTN December meeting, State Representative Carolyn Laine will speak about natural burials. Carolyn has given her PowerPoint presentation to 32 groups around Minnesota. Here’s a chance for local members to see it and share personal stories.

December 9, 2014, 7-9pm, at the home of Linda Bergh, 4315 Xerxes Ave. Minneapolis. 612-927-0894. Free and open to all. Look for the EARTH FLAG flying from the front porch and twinkly lights.

The meeting was lively and highly informative with 16 people present. We had two presenters: Dan Kantar from Mound Cemetery of Brooklyn Center,  Minnesota’s first certified hybrid green cemetery, and Anne Archbold from Prairie Oaks Eco Memorial Garden, Minnesota’s first completely green cemetery.   

It was helpful to hear detailed information about natural burial, what is required, who is requesting it, what are the costs, why people are planning ahead, and how such a burial can help bring closure. Both presenters were most helpful in answering detailed questions about the process.  

We also heard about Bradshaw Center in Stillwater, which offers alkaline hydrolysis (flameless cremation), from MTN member, Dawne Anderson, who visited the facility during last month’s MTN field trip.

People went away enlivened and informed, wishing to spread the word about these options, and looking forward to December’s meeting, the third and final MTN meeting on green burials this fall.

What’s the connection between mad cow disease and Bradshaw Funeral Home’s Celebration of Life Center in Stillwater, Minnesota? Alkaline hydrolysis.

Bradshaw Celebration of Life Center in Stillwater

Bradshaw Celebration of Life Center

Jason Bradshaw told the eight MTN members who participated in a Friday, October 17 field trip, that when his family decided to build their own crematory, they considered both flame and flameless cremation. Flameless, also called alkaline hydrolysis, water cremation, or resomation, won out. Why?

 

 

 

Environmentally, flameless cremation is preferable to flame cremation because: 

  • The carbon footprint is 75% less.
  • Toxic emissions from vaporized mercury dental fillings are eliminated.
  • The energy consumption is 1/8 that of flame cremation since the solution is heated to 302 degrees as opposed to 1400 degrees.
  • Medical implants (e.g. pacemakers and artificial hips) remain intact and could possibly be re-used outside the US, especially in developing countries. Currently, implants from Bradshaw go to a metal recycler, and proceeds go to the United Way.

High-pressure alkaline hydrolysis (there is a less effective low-pressure kind) uses pressure in conjunction with water, potassium hydroxide, and gentle agitation to produce an accelerated version of natural decomposition chemistry.

Bradshaw's Resomator

Bradshaw’s Resomator

Alkaline hydrolysis kills 100% of pathogens and leaves no trace of DNA. This feature was game-changing when mad cow disease devastated British herds. When herds around the animal crematories became infected, it was discovered that the infectious prion protein is not destroyed by fire. Alkaline hydrolysis, on the other hand, destroyed the prions. (The Ebola virus is killed by flame cremation, alkaline hydrolysis, or burial.)

This disinfecting ability was one of the reasons that in 2006 the Mayo Clinic purchased the first AH machine in the US. According to Jason Bradshaw, the first year Mayo offered AH, 124 out of 126 donor families choose it over flame cremation. Six years later, this popularity, verified by local focus groups, encouraged Bradshaw to invest in a similar facility. (Making an anatomical bequest to the Mayo Medical School is free within a 200-mile radius of Rochester.)

Jason Bradshaw says, “Alkaline hydrolysis is the future of cremation. In 1995 only 15% of people were choosing cremation. Now in Minnesota, the cremation rate is 55%. When our clients are given the choice between flame and flameless at the same cost, 80% of are choosing flameless.

community room

The Celebration of Life Center, located on the edge of Stillwater, offers a large, light-filled room with an attached kitchen for gatherings with catered food.

Down an outdoor walkway, a quiet chapel with a wall of falling water features a window overlooking the room holding the cremation unit. Family and friends can have a viewing in the little chapel and then witness their loved one’s body being placed in the stainless steel cremation chamber.

The chapel

The chapel

The process takes 3-4 hours and uses 450 gallons of water. The DNA-free effluent, which looks like thick tea, is drained off, and the intact skeleton remains. After implants are removed, the bones go into a dryer and then a blender, resulting in white powder (about ¼ more remains than a flame cremation produces) that a family can scatter or put in an urn.

Bradshaw’s basic ‘Green Cremation’ package costs the same as their basic flame cremation package, $2395. A container adds $155 and a private viewing adds $200. A direct flame cremation, through Bradshaw’s Simple Traditions, costs $1295.

The "back end" of the process.

The “back end” of the process.

What is a “green burial”? Earth-friendly burials are designed to cooperate with the natural process of decomposition and to have a minimum impact on the environment. Typically they feature:

  • No formaldehyde-based toxic embalming chemicals
  • No metal or hardwood caskets. Only biodegradable containers, made of sustainable material such as pine, or biodegradable shrouds
  • No concrete grave liners or vaults.  (Minnesota state law does not require burial vaults, but most cemeteries do.)
  • No or a natural headstone/memorial
En route to shroud burial.

En route to shroud burial.

Learn more about green burials at our November 11 meeting with the owner of Prairie Oaks Eco Memorial Garden in Inver Grove Heights and the manager of Mound Cemetery of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota’s first certified green hybrid cemetery.

November 11, 7-9pm at the home of Linda Bergh, 4315 Xerxes Ave. Minneapolis. 612-927-0894. Free and open to all.

Caring for Our Own flier

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