Sorry For Your Loss: Funeral Customs and Joanne Levy’s Newest Novel

September 10, 2021

Welcome to Cantastic Authorpalooza, featuring posts by and about great Canadian children’s book creators! Today’s guest: Joanne Levy. Take it away, Joanne!

When I wrote SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS, a middle grade novel set in a funeral home, I actually didn’t think much about the science around death. My book is about grief and friendships and what happens to us when we die.

But when I was invited to write a post for this blog, I had something of a lightbulb moment. Lindsey is a scientist, so, of course, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about the science of death and specifically how it relates to my book.

Weird and a bit macabre, I know, but stay with me.

Here is a sad but undeniable truth: everything living must die. Trees and flowers, bumblebees, elephants, and, I’m especially sorry to say, you and me.

But what happens when we die? In my book, SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS, I talk about funerals and funeral traditions, particularly in the context of Judaism. My book isn’t religious, but there are some really interesting details that make a Jewish funeral different than ones you may have attended at a secular funeral home or have seen on TV.

And some of those details mean Jewish funerals and burial are, by definition, eco-friendly. Maybe you’ve never thought about this, which is understandable. Funerals are times of grief and pain—we’re thinking about our loss and not necessarily the impact a funeral might have on our planet. But as we talk more and more about the environment, we need to look at all aspects of how we treat the earth. Including how we return to it.

Here are a few ways that Jewish funerals are environmentally-friendly. I want to stress that these practices are (increasingly) not exclusive to Jewish funerals. So, even if you’re not Jewish, you can still plan a green funeral.

The Jewish way is to return to the earth as quickly and as naturally as possible – that whole dust to dust philosophy. That means no embalming. Embalming is a way of preserving a body, particularly for viewing and extending the time before a body is buried, two things that aren’t done in Jewish funerals.

In the embalming process, toxic chemicals are put into the body. Not such a concern to the person being embalmed, obviously, but then what happens? Those chemicals leech into the ground after burial.

Since there are no viewings at Jewish funerals, there is no need for makeup, either. In fact, great care is taken to wash the bodies, including removing any makeup and nail polish.

Returning to the earth also means that what you’re buried in makes a difference too. Starting with how the body is dressed. Only natural fibers—linen or cotton—are used in burial shrouds for Jewish funerals. These break down fairly quickly, unlike fibers like polyester and nylon (which are actually plastics made from fossil fuels) that may never break down.

Then there’s the casket*. Jewish practice requires the casket to break down quickly, so they are made of wood. No nails, screws, or metals are used. No concrete crypts, no brass fittings or handles, no steel, nothing that prevents the body from returning to the earth. Renewable, biodegradable materials are used. Guess what that means? Better for the planet.

All this to say that whether you’re Jewish or not, there are many ways to make funerals green. Why not make your final and lasting impact on the planet a positive one? Reduce your eternal footprint, as it were.

If you’ve found these facts interesting, there are even more in my book, SORRY FOR YOUR LOSS. It’s a work of fiction and isn’t only about funerals and death, but I took great care to put in interesting facts about funerals and grant behind-the-scenes access into a funeral home similar to the one my dad manages.

Also, for further reading, there’s a whole page of my research and a discussion guide on my website at:

I hope you find comfort in the knowing.

*in some places, like Israel, caskets aren’t even used.

To learn more about Joanne and her work, visit her website or follow her on Instagram!


2 Comments on ‘Sorry For Your Loss: Funeral Customs and Joanne Levy’s Newest Novel’

  1. This sounds great—I just ordered it!

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