My Mother was the first person in the UK to be buried in a mycelium coffin (Nov22)

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).  

A short video of my mum’s coffin being wheeled by her 6 grandsons to her burial site in a wildflower meadow, in Dorset
My wonderful mum – Minker

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.  

Loop Biotech says that 92% of all plant species rely on mycelium which connects their roots to form ‘Nature’s internet’.

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. 

We threw petal confetti on the coffin

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.  

Friends and family on the way to the burial site

3 thoughts on “My Mother was the first person in the UK to be buried in a mycelium coffin (Nov22)

  1. Bernadette Wilson says:

    HI, this is amazing to see, thank you for sharing!! when we lost my mum a few years back we did a Simler type calibration event we all had on St.Helens rugby league shirts (or family team) , she was however cremated and buried in Williow basket I had made in the UK, the place of burial is a bluebell wood that for sustainability reasons you’re not allowed to have any plastic or non-combustible “products” in and it’s such a beautiful place, my son who was 1 when she passed called in nanna’s woods and runs round it like he would in any other woods, this is an amazing way to honour our loved ones in a way Thay would have found true to them. thanks again for sharing, it would be fab to see that as just the way we do it rather than me and my tripe being the odd ones !!

  2. Bex Stanley says:

    Dear Julia,
    I was deeply moved by reading this wonderful description of Minker’s funeral. It must have given you huge joy and peace to be able to celebrate her life in the way you did. You are indeed a trailblazer and an inspiration to many. I hope that mycelium becomes more common and affordable in the UK but you poured , joy, love and energy into your mother’s passing and you cannot ask more than that. Bravo!

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