Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Prepare for the worst, Hope for the best

This is about a touchy subject -- one I rarely see covered.  My reading reminded me that not everyone survives regional emergencies.  Tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and earthquakes kill people.  If the usual commercial funerary methods are not available, families will need to bury their own, at least temporarily. This may sound macabre, but for sanitation and peace of mind, it is necessary. When life returns to normal, the bodies can be exhumed from backyards and properly interred.

I'm pushing 60 and my spouse is older than I am. We won't live forever, and disasters take a toll on us 'elderly' and on children. I don't plan to have coffins for both of us handy.  Cremation is probably not going to be an option in an emergency, as it requires very high heat to do properly and fuel may be at a premium. Initially, I bought enough heavy canvas from Walmart to make shrouds for both of us. I already had the heavy needles and upholstery thread.  Recently, I found something I think is better -- which I'm sure all you hunters will recognize immediately: an elk bag.  These are heavy canvas game bags just the right size for a tall person's body.  (Elk quarter bags may be sufficient for smaller people.) They are already sewn and have ties on one end, like a big pillow case.  They are not expensive compared to other solutions (most I've seen are under $20) and are common enough to comparison shop. They take up little room -- each folded, packaged large bag is about the size of the Carla Emery Encyclopedia of Country Living (which I recommend!). They can also double triple as a mattress cover.  This leaves me 7 yards of nice heavy canvas for other purposes, and relieves me of explaining a new sewing project to my spouse.

If the need arises in an emergency and the local processes are not available, check with local law enforcement (if it is functioning) for their recommendation.  If not available, remember that the speed needed to inter human remains is directly related to the ambient temperature. If you can store your loved one in a shed or garage below 32 degrees Fahrenheit until order is restored, that may be all you need.  If, however, it is 90 degrees outside and there's no power, time is of the essence. It may not be practical to dig the classic 6 feet deep. This is probably the depth below which animals can not detect the scent of the deceased.  If you have a walled or fenced area, you can probably use a shallower grave. The classic western rocks ( up to basketball size) on top of an earthen grave serve several purposes. They deter folks or critters from digging in the spot, they remind you where to remove the body for other burial when order is restored, and if that takes a long time, they help level the ground as decomposition occurs.

If faced with this task, remember that grave site selection must take the living into account. It may seem romantic to bury someone by their favorite stream, but don't! Products of decomposition are not good for the living, which is how the burial customs and practices originated.  Graves should be far from water sources and not located in swampy land (decomposing bodies will float up).  Floods can occur without notice and disinter burials.  You really don't want to see your loved one in this type of event, or have to move and re-inter them.

If you are in a location with other families, decide on a 'cemetery' location and use common methods. Don't use the best farming spots either, just in case order is farther away in time than originally estimated! In cities, an existing fenced park area (like a dog-park) may be a good solution.

Sorry to bring the subject up, but especially in regional or prolonged disasters with law enforcement focused on restoring order, this aspect of reality may confront us.  Better to be prepared than caught short.


  1. Not being a hunter, I didn't realize the elk bag existed. Good treatment of a sensitive subject! Thanks for info.

    1. Thanks for reading and for your comment. Not one of my favorite subjects, but one that too often is overlooked.