A return to the earth

Re: Allowing for natural burial

“Natural burial,” “green burial,” “eco-burial,” whatever name you choose, is burial free of embalming and a casket. What we may call “traditional burial” is a custom that first came about during the Civil War. In order to preserve the bodies of battle dead so that they could be returned to their homes for burial, embalming became widespread. From there we have the modern trappings of cosmeticizing the corpse, metal caskets and concrete vaults.

Across almost the entire history of burial, going back to the Neanderthal, the body has been returned to the earth in its natural state.

Early Christians followed the Greeks and Romans in using no embalming, in fact being opposed to it. Embalming’s earliest origins were with the Egyptians, worshippers of a multiplicity of gods. The conclusion: Embalming is a pagan practice.

To my knowledge, there is no requirement by any modern religion for embalming the dead before burial. At best it is an acceptable practice, while prohibited by many major world faiths. The vast, vast majority of the world’s dead go into the earth without embalming or caskets, covered only by a shroud. And their loved ones are perfectly comfortable with that.

The state of Wyoming apparently has no law requiring embalming or a casket. And there are many for whom the thought of either is anathema. First there is the expense. On top of the trauma of losing a loved one, why should his or her survivors feel obligated to pay into the five figures in order to bury him or her, and how might the thought of that prey on the mind of the dying in the last hours? That is the practical consideration. Other reasons are philosophical and aesthetic. Where is the comfort in knowing a loved one’s body is in an artificial condition of stasis, preserved by chemicals, metal and concrete? There is, of course, cremation; but that is hardly an economic solution, and some would prefer not to think of their loved ones reduced to a heap of ashes.

We speak of “earth to earth,” not earth to satin lining. In natural burial we truly return. Someone looking at the site where the body of their loved one has been placed can genuinely see him or her in the grass growing and the trees leafing on the surrounding land. A naturally buried body touches the earth directly, becomes part of it, and silently passes into it.

Currently in Wyoming there are three cemeteries that accept natural burials, two in Gillette. As one who loves Sheridan, whose loved ones and friends are here, who has spent a generation thankful for the beauty of the land here, the thought of Gillette for a natural burial puts one in mind of a paraphrase of W. C. Fields’s epitaph: I’d rather be living in Sheridan — but barring that lying there will do.

Whatever your beliefs or preferences, I wish to urge those who are facing end-of-life decisions (ultimately every one of us), funeral directors, churches, doctors, the mayor and members of the city council, and especially Sheridan Municipal Cemetery, to help make it possible for those who wish to return to the earth be permitted an individual portion of that earth in our city.

Thomas McIntyre


Editor’s note: The word limit was waived for the above letter.


What is the ‘Deep State’?

Re: Our own ties to government

Our president and his media allies complain about the “Deep State.” This is a dangerous abstraction — at least if we think about it. What is the Deep State? I suppose it is the government. That is, the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Supreme Court and the vast support network that all entities of this size, including the president, require.

The three branches of government (the “Deep State”) was established by the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution was established by “We the People.” How can the “Deep State” and the “government” be our adversaries? We are them.

Clay B. Jenkins