BOOKWORM: Author plans his own funeral in book

By Terri Schlichenmeyer

Though you know it’s impossible – it’s a piece of ground, for heaven’s sake – your garden almost looks sad.

A few dried plants are bent over in the middle. One or two missed tomatoes lay half-melted into the soil. You almost want to plant something, just to cheer it up.

But wait. Be careful what you wish for. There’s one final thing to plant, but you’ll want to wait a long time. Read more in “Going Out Green” by Bob Butz.

When Butz’s editor asked him how he’d feel about writing a book on planning a “green” burial, he knew that refusal was impossible.

Heather was the kind of woman who “tends to be unaccustomed to men resisting her advances.”

But the advance (money a writer is paid up-front) was small and the time-frame even smaller: Butz was given three months to plan his own funeral. What writer could resist that challenge? After all, most funerals are pulled together in three days, under duress. And most of them are not “green.”

Less than 100 years ago, Butz points out, we were a society relatively accustomed to death. It was common for a family to care for their own when someone died, without help (or interference) from a professional and without the “ick factor.” Coffins weren’t made of exotic wood or gold-plated hardware, few chemicals (if any) were involved and this was a whole lot cheaper.

Remembering his own father’s funeral, Bob Butz began to realize that natural burial – interment as it was done a century ago – was somewhat appealing, in a strange way. Intrigued, excited and challenged, he started digging.


He asked around to see if he could help (or just watch) someone excavate a grave. He inquired about autopsies and discovered a few things that happen when we die. With a hunter’s eye toward living and dying, he unearthed facts about death in other cultures as well as attitudes in our own society. He found “green” coffins, spoke with a caretaker for a green cemetery and met a “death midwife” who – much like a birth midwife brings a child into the world – ushers someone’s child out.

OK, this might sound a little macabre, but “Going Out Green” is a fun book to read, as well as being helpful and informative. Butz has a keen sense of the absurd, he doesn’t offer stomach-turning, ghastly details and he’s willing to keep this subject light while he learns.

In the meantime, he lets us learn, too: cremation really isn’t “green.” It’s easy to find instructions on building your own pine (or any kind of wood) box. Stone memorials don’t guarantee memories. Laws vary differently between states. And you probably can’t just plant Aunt Jane in the garden she loved.

While one could argue that nobody wants to think about dying, it’s also a fact that we do. So if you’re looking for a quirky book on this serious topic, grab “Going Out Green.” Then plant yourself in a chair and enjoy.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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