When I tell people about my mother’s coffin, the most common response is ‘what’s mycelium?’. The answer is that it’s fungi – in particular the vast network of fungal ‘string’ that thrives in the earth from one end of the planet to the other. Mycelium not only speeds up decomposition, it actually decontaminates the land. For example, it has been used to clear up pesticides and clean up oil spills, as well as to break down the neurotoxins used in the 1980s by Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war (Mycelium Running, Paul Stamets).
I think my mother (known as Minker) would have loved being a record breaker. Sadly, even though I ordered her coffin nearly a year before she died, she wasn’t able to appreciate this particular claim to fame. This was because she spent the last 9 years of her life in a slow but steady decline into deep dementia. (For anyone interested in finding out more about that click here for my podcast interview on Discovering Dementia)
Going back to the coffin. It was made by a company called Loop Biotech and imported from the Netherlands. This was no mean feat because it was held up by Brexit regulations for about 9 months. Some readers may want to challenge me on the carbon footprint of this process. I asked Loop to calculate what this might be and then bought at least 200 trees from Ecologi to offset it multiple times. More importantly, I believe there is value in trailblazing this approach to burial.
The amazing thing is that according to Loop biotech they ‘grow’ the coffin in only 7 days and it will take only 45 days to biodegrade. Wow – it’s like being buried in one large mushroom!
When the coffin finally arrived at my home in Dorset, I was intrigued to discover that its texture was a bit like polystyrene, but more organic. And, it was lined with moss, which was rather appealing. When my mother was laid to rest she was put into an unbleached cotton shroud and nothing else. Forgive me if you think this is macabre but in the not-too-distant future, all that will be left are her mercury fillings.
Interestingly, the one concern raised by Higher Ground Meadow was about the size of the coffin. It’s one size fits all and therefore quite large – 2.1m by 0.62m. This didn’t turn out to be a problem, it just meant that they had to dig the right size hole. The biggest issue for anyone wanting to follow in our footsteps is that I’m not sure Loop Biotech has yet overcome the import problems and even when they have it will be expensive compared to UK-produced coffins.
Minker was buried on a beautiful September day a few days short of her 93rd birthday. With white puffy clouds and a light warm wind, her coffin was wheeled on a wagon by her six grandsons, across the wildflower meadows to the spot I had chosen for her a couple of weeks before. The view is spectacular and one of our friends who were there said that at the moment she was lowered into the ground, a couple of sparrow hawks swooped past. It was magical.
I hesitate to call it a funeral because it was truly a celebration of her life. Everyone came in colourful clothes, there were festival flags, bunting, sunflowers, and lilies and we sang joyful songs like ‘Let’s go Fly a Kite’ from Mary Poppins and ‘Bring me Sunshine’ along with Morecombe & Wise. And her great-grandchildren flew kites in the sun and ran around her grave with gay abandon.
She would have loved it. For my sister and I who had planned and directed the day it was totally joyous. It felt like Minker, as she was generally known had returned to us. Her body may be gloriously going back to nature and the earth, but her spirit is truly alive and well in our minds and those who came to celebrate her life.