Promession is an innovative method of ecological burial. Its primary principles are preservation after death in organic form, and shallow burial in living soil that quickly converts a body to a form that is primed to foster new life. Promession is a natural, practical, and some may even say a beautiful approach because of its focused intent to foster new life from death.
Susanne Wiigh-Masak, a Swedish biologist, spent over 20 years on the concept before making it public. Susanne is an extraordinary woman with the brilliant mind of a scientist and the imagination of an artist. The idea of promession came to her as she gained expertise and understanding of the soil she was working with in her gardening business. She wondered how it would be possible to use human remains to create soil that was primed to foster new life, essentially, creating life out of death. While this concept can be observed in nature on a continual basis, it is a concept that may seem foreign and perhaps a bit uncomfortable when applied to the death of a human. But, why is that?
The process is described by Susanne as gentle and environmentally-friendly, especially in comparison to the process of cremation (which requires fire, fumes, etc.). The result is a product that is transformed into an organic, hygienic soil in about 6-12 months that can then act as a nutrient for new plants as a living memorial for family and friends.
The process of promession is simple and straightforward:
The body is frozen to -18 ° C and is then placed into liquid nitrogen to make the body more brittle.
The body is then vibrated, which causes it to break down into an organic powder.
The body is then placed into a vacuum chamber to evaporate all liquid.
The resulting dry powder passes through a metal separator where any metals and mercury are removed.
The remains are now ready to be laid in a biodegradable coffin, which is buried in the living topsoil.
The coffin and its contents become compost in about 6-12 months.
A bush or tree can be planted above the coffin.
The compost can be taken up by the bush or tree,
The plant stands as a symbol of the deceased.
We talked with Susanne recently about the progress that is being made to make promession available in the US. Currently, she is working with a few select people in the US to define regulatory barriers and other considerations. We will keep you posted on their progress.
Mary Roach writes about Susanne and Promession in her NY Times
Bestseller, "Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers." Be sure to read
the entertaining and informative chapter titled "Out of the Fire, into the
Compost Bin," describing Mary's research into the process of Promession.
"Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers." Copyright © 2003 by Mary
Roach. Used by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.