OM250 - Green Funerals

This week, Ken and John talk about:

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The trend to Green products (OM250)

John argues that everyone can have a Green Funeral, but a Green Burial is a whole other thing. All you have to do to have a green funeral is to not blow gas fumes into the air, while a green burial is a whole different can of worms. Ken considers the burial a very important part of the funeral, the disposition of the body. Green Funeral sounds like a Kinks record, like Green Pastures. Putting ”green” in front of it highlights the fun part of funerals and you can’t spell ”funeral” without ”fun”.

John rants about people tearing down 1890s houses that already have all the sunk carbon costs paid off and rebuilding it with a bunch of pre-fabricated wood, which is supposed to be green because it will preserve 2% more heat through their insulated windows. Reduce-reuse-recycle is John’s motto. He buys all used things with the presumption that whatever environmental cost producing and distributing that thing might have incurred is already gone. Grocery shopping is rough under that premise, but dumpster diving was a thing he did in his teens and twenties. He does eat canned chili that is newly made.

John’s dad’s death, the People’s Memorial Association (OM250)

The People’s Memorial Association was the first American funeral coop in Washington State and it was founded concurrently with the publishing of the book The American Way of Death (by Jessica Mitford). It remains the largest funeral cooperative in the country. Coop meaning that the funeral services and the process of dealing with the remains is handled by an organization that is not trying to generate profit. They seek to put together a respectful, affordable, un-precious dealing, bypassing the whole mortuary industry.

John’s parent joined that organization in 1963. It was a common year to join things with ”People’s” in the name, like the People’s Mutual Savings company. John’s dad actually started more than one bank during that period because it was the freewheeling 1960s. People were having sex and wearing bellbottoms while John’s dad was starting banks. He was not a very good business person, so he started some banks, but also lost control of some banks to unscrupulous men who in fact were bankers instead of whoever he was. He was an idealist and a leftist and he believed he could start a better bank, but he didn’t realize that banks are for-profit enterprises.

John’s older brothers and his older sister were functionally useless when their dad died and at that point his mom had been divorced 40 years before, so she said this wasn’t her problem and John was supposed to deal with his dad. His sister went on an around-the-world trip after he died, but before they had the funeral. She gave John a high-five and left the country for a year, so John was standing there, holding his dad in a shroud.

John didn’t know his dad had joined People’s Memorial Association until he was going through his papers and found a document from the People’s Memorial Association right in between a menu for a take-out pizza place, his World War II flight log and an electrical bill from 1992. It dated to the 1960s and said that he had paid the $50 fee, which was all it took.

They still existed, John went down to their office, they had just started a funeral home, and they said they will handle all this. John had to pay some money for various things, but for those $50 one-time fee they handled John’s dad’s cremation without any fuss or muss. Nobody tried to sell John anything! He had a memorial service at the Washington Athletic Club and they handed him an urn which he promptly put under his piano. John left the piano when he sold his house, but he brought the urn and it is around here somewhere.

John would feel bad having his dad’s ashes under the piano for 10 years, except his dad grew up as a close friend and home boy of Scoop Jackson, former Washington State Senator. When Scoop Jackson’s mother died she wanted to have her ashes scattered over Mount Susitna in Alaska and John’s dad was charged with this task and an urn with Scoop Jackson’s mother’s ashes were delivered to John’s dad. He put them in a credenza behind his desk in the office with the intention to take them the next time they would fly over Mount Susitna, which they did all the time, but he never remembered to do it.

The plan was that John would open the door in their airplane and scatter her ashes, which would have been a really messy and weird thing to ask a 12-year old to do, but they never did it and her ashes sat in John's dad's credenza for most of John’s childhood. He never talked about it to Senator Jackson and when Scoop died in 1983 his mother’s ashes still were in John’s dad’s credenza. Therefore keeping his own’s father’s ashes under the piano felt fitting. John’s dad wanted some of his remains in the Lake View Cemetary where his mother and grandfather and grandmother are all buried, just mere steps from Bruce Lee, and John did bury some of his ashes there.

He also wanted some of his ashes under the Holly Tree in Volunteer Park, 10 minutes from the cemetery, right by the wading pool, across the street from the house that John’s dad grew up in and where he had scattered his grandfather’s ashes in 1926. John’s uncle Jack also wants his ashes under this freaking Holly Tree that is 100 years old by this time, but is still alive, despite it being an invasive species in Washington.

He furthermore wants John to row out on Lake Washington and dump some of his ashes there because he was a member of the 1941 Washington crew team and there is a place where they turned around. At one point John’s sister got him to agree that he wanted some of his ashes sprinkled at the top of Mount Alyeska, but why did she plant that in his head? Now John has to go up there!

Burying some of your pet’s toys instead of its body (OM250)

When Ken’s Golden Retriever died they did not want the body back for disposal because it seemed like a traumatic hassle for their two little kids. The dog had weighed 110 pounds (50 kg). The vet clinic disposed of the body, surely in an awful mass-grave, and they told the kids they could bury some of his things in the back yard, so there is a grave in the back yard of their old house that still has a collar, a shredded chew-toy, and a rawhide bone.

Pets are a big part of the funeral industry, especially today when people have fewer kids and more pets and are imbuing their pets with all this significance. When John’s mom was a kid if your dog died you put it in the ditch, but people now really want to bury the pet or do something special with the pet’s ashes, for the love of goodness! People put so much emotional significance into their pets that you can really exploit them.

Gary’s Van meetup, Western State Hurricanes, How John thinks about his corporal remains (OM250)

At a recent event when John’s band The Western State Hurricanes came back together and played a couple of shows there was a meet-up of people prior to the shows who had come from far and wide to see the shows (organized by the Facebook group Gary’s Van). People flew in, it was a community-building event. One of them approached John and revealed that she sits on the board of the People’s Memorial Association (her name is Meghan Walker). Somehow it came up in conversation and John said that his family are members, at which point she suggested that John would join the board, and John is sort of considering it.

John’s mom has very clear feeling about her remains, which he will not reveal because she is sill alive and she is a real eccentric. Throughout the course of his life she has many times threatened to go out on an ice floe, but there aren’t that many ice floes anymore, that was a thing when John was young. Now they would have to helicopter her out to an ice floe. In Alaska that was a thing and you would just walk out on the ice like that crusty old person who does not want to be a burden. But as a member of the People’s Memorial she is all set.

John has not given any thought to where he would like his corporal remains to go beside into magic mushrooms because like most of the men in his family he does not believe that he will die, but believes that he is somehow immune to it, although most of the men in his family have been wrong on this point and most of them are dead, including just recently John’s brother David (he died in February of 2020).

Composting seems a bit ahead of where he is emotionally still because he does not want to be commingled with someone above and below him that he didn’t know, but he doesn’t know why he feels that way. If he were to be aquamated he would like the fluid to be used for something and not just sent into the sewer, that offends him. He could be used as fertilizer and spread on a field or like a Fight Club thing he could be used as soap and Gwyneth Paltrow could be marketing him as skin cream. It would literally be Goop.


John was recently on a motorcycle trip.

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