Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial
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Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial

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4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  278 ratings  ·  84 reviews
By the time Nate Fisher was laid to rest in a woodland grave sans coffin in the final season of Six Feet Under, Americans all across the country were starting to look outside the box when death came calling.

Grave Matters follows families who found in "green" burial a more natural, more economic, and ultimately more meaningful alternative to the tired and toxic send-off on...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published December 9th 2008 by Scribner (first published 2007)
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Lesley
This is one of those books that smacks you in the head and makes you think very hard about long-held beliefs. After reading about the conventional funeral--the type I had always assumed that I would have--my preferences are now starting to go towards the unconventional. For example, while fancy metal caskets were never my thing, the old-fashioned pine box is looking better and better to me after reading about the downside of today's standard casket (this book probably isn't for the squeamish, so...more
Emily
After opening his book with a fictionalized description of a funeral director guiding grieving parents through selecting the services and planning their 18-year-old daughter's funeral, Mr. Harris presents a walk-through of the embalming process. As a contrast to this “standard funeral industry” approach, Mr. Harris spends the rest of the book chronicling the experiences of several people who chose more natural alternatives.

While it should be apparent that “no matter how it's sealed inside the co...more
Brandy
One of the greatest books ever written. Excellent writing, storytelling, and research. Each chapter centers on a type of burial, blending research with an intimate story of a family who used that type of burial. I got teary eyed during pretty much every chapter, yet as a whole the book made me feel more okay with death. It kind of reminded me of the Buddhist belief in using the contemplation of death in order to live life better. Like the title suggests, the first chapter pertains to the most co...more
Doreva
Apr 06, 2009 Doreva rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Adults - over 18
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Amy
This book was brought to my attention several years ago when I heard of the tragic death of a young girl. But I was very intrigued by the way her family chose to bury her; in a pine box, no embalming, simply wrapped in a sweet homemade quilt made by someone in her family. This appealed to me in so many ways. I was having a conversation with a group of friends about this strange, comforting idea when one of them told me I needed to read a book called Grave Matters. Finally after years I have just...more
Myrrh
This book is a must-read for virtually everybody since we will all face death eventually. It explores the funeral industry, including a description of what a funeral director does from the moment he is contacted by a family memeber of the deceased (including a detailed description of the three-step embalming process). The author goes on to describe various funeral options including cremation, caring for the dead at home, natural burial, and even burial at sea. Many sources are mentioned througho...more
Alline
Guess what? Not only do you not have to be embalmed when you die, you also do not have to be buried in a casket. So much of what the funeral industry is pushing is absolute crap; we have become so far removed from the realities of death that we have allowed them to sanitize it and guilt trip us into spending thousands of unnecessary dollars and pollute the earth. This book is a well-researched look into ALL of our alternatives - from traditional embalming-hardwood casket-burial plot funeral to r...more
Jessica
Nov 04, 2013 Jessica rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: Donna Chavez
I recommend this book to everyone who cares about the environment and the people, animals, and plants that will live on it after s/he is dead -- who wants to feel good about the impact his/her remains will have on this Earth. My own choice is to be cremated in an environmentally friendly crematorium with the proper filters to keep mercury and such out of the air and water and then to have those ashes mixed with concrete to form a reef ball that will be dropped into the ocean to expand and suppor...more
Alison
"Cremation trims much of the thirty million board feet of lumber that's diverted to coffins annually [in the U.S.:]. . . Cremated bodies leach none of the 800,000 gallons of formaldehyde that are injected into embalmed remains every year." And there's the conservation of space factor(which has led the UK to cremate at 80%).
Now, how d'ya feel?? The book outlines several other alternatives to traditional funerals/burials, some of which may be a little surprising.
judy
As a mystery fan I probably know more about the funeral industry-behind the scenes than most. I picked this up thinking it was time for an update to Jessica Mitford's classic. Oh darn. No scandal, sneaky practices or anything like that. Instead it takes you step-by-step through the process of parents burying their 18 year old daughter in traditional fashion. Do not read this on a full stomach. Still, it was tastefully done without sensationalism as it covered what it takes to make even a young w...more
Amy Jenkins
Mark Harris explores the details of the standard toxic funeral with visual imagery of the anaerobic fuzzy-mold putrefaction of embalmed remains that were sealed in a coffin in an earnest intention to protect the body. After Harris shatters the illusion of the preserved corpse, he presents greener and perhaps more comforting options. Read entire review at http://www.examiner.com/x-4002-Green-...
Jen
Creepy but fascinating. The environmental effects of a typical American burial is something I knew nothing about. It's absurd really, this quest to preserve the body. It ends up making a terrible toxic stew and it's a giant financial rip off as well. Just wrap me in a sheet and plant me under a tree please. Preferably on a quiet mountain side.
Quite informative.
Angela
I think this is an absolute must read for everyone. It is an eye opener and will help you to make the necessary decisions regarding the care and disposition of your remains. There are many more options than most of us realize and this knowledge can help you save your family some money and unnecessary stress in the end.
Leah
Resourceful! Have you ever thought about what your options are, following your death? This book stretches beyond the embalming/cremation categories. Not gory, just perfect research and communication. Take a peek. There is more to your final disposition than you think.
Heather
This was quite a dry read compared to the other books I've read on, well, dead people stuff. It wasn't difficult, but it took me kind of a long time to slog through the boring detailed proceedings of various funerals and bodily disposals. However, this book did introduce me to certain things I didn't know about, such as memorial reefs and home funerals. It only takes a couple chapters to realize the traditional methods offered by a funeral parlor are probably not the way to go. The author provid...more
Loren
From what I understand now, in the United States it was the Civil War that turned memorialization into an industry. The Great American Sendoff which masquerades as
the traditional American funeral service is nothing but. The American way of death was actually quite simplistic before the parade of the dead 16th president turned embalming to the mainstream as well as the snowball of other amenities that ensued. And a natural burial appears to be a return to the environmentally sound belief of Gene...more
Kimberly
I heard an interview with this author on NPR last year. It was fascinating, and I wanted to research the matter further at the time, but didn't. A recent conversation with a sibling led me to go back and find and read the book.

Harris begins by describing a typical embalming, funeral, and burial process, including the sorts of decisions living family members are called upon to make. He also includes troubling price information about funerals, the average cost of which is $10,000 in the U.S. He t...more
Carre Gardner
If there were a 10-star option, this book would get it, IMHO. It's a look at the options that exist for planning your own or a loved one's after-death care. The first chapter describes, step-by-step, what happens to a person's body after the undertaker takes it to the mortuary to prepare it for burial in the traditional way. WARNING: this first chapter is not for the faint of stomach, though the rest of the book is not nearly as graphic as the beginning. The author shows what is involved in the...more
Elizabeth
Nov 30, 2007 Elizabeth rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who will die someday
This book is a very interesting look at what happens to your body when you die. I suppose the queasy will not react well, but hey, get over it, you're going to die. And you're going to have someone you love die, too.

The book first highlights what happens during embalming procedures and the "preparing" of the body for burial. The description could make even the most stalwart somewhat queasy. It's not pretty. Costs of the typical American funeral are also discussed, and what "requirements" are no...more
Ann
_Grave Matters_ is a really helpful and useful book on different types of ways to put people to rest. It begins with the traditional funeral service and what happens to the body as its prepared for this. It progresses then, roughly through various kinds of "greener" burials, including cremation, burial at sea, putting your loved one in a memorial reef, a home funeral, a coffin made by a local furniture maker, a backyard burial (only available in rural areas) to a natural cemetery (where the grav...more
Laura Ricks
Excellent book. Very well-written and quite moving at times. I'm relieved that in Denmark we do not often embalm. I found the first chapter about embalming hardgoing and can't believe this is what people choose with so little thought for the environment. Highly recommend this book and think about these issues NOW while you still can...
Joanne
Very fascinating read about the funeral industry. I had always considered having a "traditional" funeral (when the time comes), but this book made me disgusted with how costly and wasteful a funeral can be. This book takes you through alternative forms of burial, that are more eco-friendly, personal and in a strange way - more lovely.
Sue Harper
Everyone should read this book to find out how awful an American "traditional" burial is. It's bad for your loved one, the environment and your pocket book. I wish I had read this prior to my mother's passing...I would have fought much harder for cremation (and not because of money). Many alternatives are listed also.
Dawn Betts-Green
This was a really cool read. I hate the idea of embalming and even of cremation (especially after reading the descriptions of them), so I loved the alternatives he covers in this. I wish he had talked about the pressed-ash diamonds and biodegradable tree urns though.
Sarah G
Pretty gross in early chapters, but I liked it. Obviously has an agenda, but is well-written. Good history of the industry and how Americans are obsessed with what others might think of us... Reminds me a lot of the wedding industry/predatory lending.
Metagion
This book is wonderful for the simple fact that it gives a detailed description of different types of burial (cemetery, at sea, "green" burial, etc.) as well as telling the reader what to expect when a loved one dies and is either buried or cremated. Also, it gives the method of embalming the body, what it takes to have a "home" wake (or memorial service) and burial, with prices of how much things would cost (cemetery funeral and burial can cost upwards from $13,000 dollars (U.S.) and the contac...more
Keith
May 24, 2008 Keith rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
This book is pretty fantastic. Those sensitive to morbid specifics don't even need to read the initial break down of the embalming process in order to appreciate the later chapters that discuss environmentally friendly and absolutely logical natural burial forms.

For years now i've had the concept of burial in the back of my mind because with the few wakes and funerals I've attended it always seemed quite unnatural and even subversive to the memory and life of the deceased. How refreshing there'...more
Mike
A terribly useful and informative book that in its matter-of-fact telling of how families deal with the remains of their loved ones creates moments of human drama and tear-shedding (at least for me) that one would not anticipate.

It begins with an explicit discussion of how bodies are prepared for viewing in a standard funeral. It's gruesome and a real challenge to read, frankly, but it's necessary to set the stage for a discussion of all the alternatives to the standard funeral. It changed my m...more
Charity
green burial or cremation all the way. embalming is so toxic and culturally bizarre (plus a huge and unjust financial burden)!
Danielle Townend
Fantastic book! Answered so many questions that I wasn't even sure that I wanted to ask. Brilliant read.
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Mark Harris is a former environmental columnist with the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and the author of the book on green burial, Grave Matters: A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial (Scribner, 2007).

The book follows a dozen families who conduct natural burials for their dead, including burials in backyard grave sites and "natural cemeteries," as well as sea buri...more
More about Mark Harris...

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