Reflections from InhaleExhale Community Confluence

August 27, 2020
Reflections from InhaleExhale Community Confluence

By Evan Ferber, Confluence Participant and WSM Board Member

My respiration will keep going with me until I expire. I’m very happy about that.  I’ve been so fortunate during my almost seventy-eight years to do a lot of unreflective breathing.  I’ve also been very lucky to experience a little bit of awakening to my breath: some Tai Chi, a bit of Yoga, dabbling in TranscendentalMeditation, and Feldenkrais in my thirties; some Karate in my forties; and then a little more Tai Chi, Kabbalistic meditation; and most recently a ten-day Vipassana retreat.  

The InhaleExhale workshop I attended this past fall that Window Seat Media presented, was one of those happenings that come along at just the right time.  In my mid- seventies I began to identify the warp and weave of my life and to prepare myself for my very own, unique, mysterious, unplanned (at this time), and inevitable death. The workshop helped me mightily in weaving together the loose strands in the fabric of my life. I don’t fret about my mortal end nearly as much as I used to. InhaleExhale helped me so much find comfort and personal agency with this grave topic. More about graves later.

I’ve had a vague sense of what I needed to do to get my earthly affairs in order.  My wife Lynne and I are doing our due diligence regarding our Five Wishes, our Powers of Attorney, our wills, and such.  But what about our human remains?  How to dispose of our dead bodies?  It was exactly here that I found InhaleExhale beautifully helpful and informative.

I have a lifelong attachment to my Jewish roots.  I would call myself a radical traditionalist in my Jewish practice.  When I moved to Olympia to start a new life with a brand-new life mate and soon after a brand-new baby who is now thirty years old, I joined the local Jewish congregation, Temple Beth Hatfiloh.  Almost twenty years ago while on the Ritual Committee, the Temple affiliated with the progressive movement called Reconstructing Judaism. This has suited me very well. It’s enabled me to grow and fine tune my personal Jewish practice within a community of co-religionists who share my values and sensibilities. 

The information I received from the workshop was incredibly eye-opening about all the various ways to dispose of human remains. There’s Aquamation, where a body is dissolved in an alkaline bath.  Recomposition will be available in Washington in November 2020. Here, a body is completely composted within thirty days in a cylinder filled with organic matter and controlled for moisture and temperature.  There are a few cemeteries and land trusts here in Washington that enter human remains in shallow graves with no coffin and no liner or cement vault.

Humm…. all of this was such good food for thought.  How could I combine traditional Jewish burial practices with environmentally sound burial methods? I want to have my body prepared by the local Chevra Kadisha, the Sacred Society of volunteers who perform the ancient ritual of Tahara/Purification, washing and wrapping the body in a shroud in preparation for burial.  

I learned that Washington has no law regulating a grave’s depth, or requiring a liner or vault. Vaults are required by the cemeteries themselves for convenience of maintenance and for trip and fall liability issues from grave subsidence.  With that knowledge, I now want my shrouded body to be laid into a grave no more than four feet deep and have it lined with lots of other organic matter.  I want no coffin, no vault, no liner, only earth and all the organisms waiting to receive me that thrive in the first four feet of depth. My human remains will be completely composted, bones and all, easily within two years.  The one-and-a-half-foot mound of earth over my grave will subside in that time and become level with the surrounding cemetery surface.

Now that I know exactly what I want done with my dead body, in collaboration with other like-minded people, I’m taking active steps to open a creative dialogue with the local cemetery authorities where the Jewish Cemetery is located, in order to have my wishes followed. This is a great blessing in my life right now, and I’m positive it will continue to be a blessing to my surviving family right after I die and beyond as well.