TerraCon 2024: What You May Have Missed and Why It Matters

Funeral Industry News Green Funerals Products & Services April 2, 2024
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TerraCon 2024: What You May Have Missed and Why It Matters

More than 250 individuals gathered in Tacoma, Washington — with another 200 joining online — on February 21 and 22, 2024 for TerraCon 2024, the first convention to explore all things natural organic reduction (NOR), or, as the gracious hosts, Return Home, have dubbed it, Terramation. If you weren’t able to attend, you missed something extraordinary.

It was different

First of all, Terracon didn’t feel like a deathcare convention. Yes, there were vendors, attendees, and speakers, and they were all connected in one way or another to the deathcare community. And, of course, the topics that were included in the two-day agenda were all related to deathcare or, more specifically, NOR. The content was educational and inspiring, and most of those in attendance left with more knowledge than they had when they arrived.

In some ways, that’s where the similarities ended, though. While there were several folks who would look right at home in a “traditional” funeral home, there were plenty of others with gauged earlobes, bright-colored hair, and facial piercings — and everyone was welcomed warmly and equally. Speakers included professional funeral directors, organization leaders, and subject matter experts, of course, but also politicians and (gasp!) family members who had selected NOR for a loved one. And while there was plenty of applause, there were also a fair share of standing ovations and honest-to-goodness heartfelt tears being shed … even by men.

People were at Terracon because they wanted to be there; they didn’t come for the free drinks or continuing education credits or to see the sights of Tacoma in February. Excited people carried on  animated conversations about all things NOR — even at breakfast and dinner. They knew they were part of something new, and special, and, if you will, groundbreaking.

Terracon didn’t feel like a convention. It felt like a movement.

Camaraderie, not competition

Terracon was perfect for anyone who was even the least bit interested in the process of Terramation, even if it wasn’t yet available where they lived. In fact, some of the most anticipated and appreciated presentations, like the one provided by Oregon State Representative Pam Marsh, detailed the exact steps for developing and implementing NOR legislation. The enthusiasm for NOR was palpable.

Although Terracon was hosted by Return Home, the Auburn, Washington-based Terramation provider, other NOR and green burial providers — who might seem like “competitors” — participated in Terracon as presenters, vendors, and attendees. For example, Seth Viddal and The Natural Funeral team from Colorado and former Green Burial Council president Brian Flowers offered powerful messages of support. And, even though families can do pretty much anything with the soil created from the NOR process, Terracon even welcomed a team of talented cemetery landscape architects to encourage permanent memorialization.

Pablo Metz, founder of Meine Erde, an NOR provider in Germany, traveled to Terracon to share how his company overcame obstacles to organization — one being potential objections from the Catholic Church, which, surprisingly, never materialized. Attendees even flew in from France, Belgium, and a host of other areas just to learn how to make NOR available to the families they serve. 

Most importantly, perhaps, were the number of mortuary school students who attended either in person or virtually. As the next generation of funeral professionals, their engagement and insightful questions demonstrated their enthusiasm for providing new or alternative methods of disposition should serve as confirmation that the future of deathcare is in good hands.

From the heart

One of the more unusual aspects of Terracon was the emotional undertone that ran throughout every presentation and every interaction. Sure, deathcare is a profession fraught with compassion fatigue-inducing emotion; some folks may even greatly appreciate the fact that conventions are usually an emotion-free escape from the reality of their careers.

But at Terracon, no one was afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves, and feelings were unashamedly on display as people shared their personal NOR experiences. Attendees heard stories from mothers who had chosen NOR for their sons, wives who visited their husbands’ vessels during their lunch breaks, and a skeptical funeral home/town mayor who escorted a 19-year-old firefighter (and family friend) to Return Home in Washington to personally oversee her laying-in process.

There were even some surprising revelations, like the statement from a preneed provider that the majority of clients to whom he has been selling NOR arrangements and policies were younger than 30 years old, with the most recent client being a perfectly healthy 20-year-old from Utah who set up a 10-year payment plan. Or the panel that consisted of a rabbi, a Buddhist, and an evangelical pastor (and no, this is not a “walked into a bar” joke) who shared the reasons why they believe NOR aligns with the beliefs and customs of  religions and cultures.

Get your surfboard

It’s been more than a month since Terracon, and everyone has returned to their respective homes and families and jobs. Hopefully, though, what was sparked at Terracon will become a full-blown metaphorical wildfire. On the second day of the convention, one panelist wisely predicted that “what started as a trickle will become a wave,” and another turned to the crowd to say, “Get your surfboards out and let’s go.”

Natural organic reduction is coming, and probably sooner than later. As soon as Gov. John Carney signs the Senate-and-House-approved legislation on his desk, Delaware will become the eighth state to legalize Terramation. More than a dozen other states are considering the same type of laws. More mainstream media outlets are sharing the Terramation process with their viewers and readers, and more families are interested in learning more. So, the question is, do you have your surfboard? The NOR wave is headed your way.