Death of the funeral

Trends in commemorating those who die are shifting away from tradition. And, as the population ages and times change, the City of Kamloops is looking at how to manage the dead


A statue of Jesus stands among the remains of loved ones in a mausoleum at the city’s Hillside Cemetery. Funerals with large gatherings are on hold amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Jessica Wallace

Dead are the days of traditional casket burials for all.

These days, a dying man’s wish may be to grow into a tree, while another may choose to be buried in a certified eco-friendly cemetery.

Last spring, Washington became the first state in the U.S. to legalize human composting.

Funerals — once a place for obligatory tears and dark clothing — are today often substituted with a “celebration of life,” complete with funny stories and laughter.

Trends in dying are shifting away from tradition. And, as the population ages and times are changing, the City of Kamloops is looking at how to manage the dead, with an update to its Cemetery Master Plan.

The plan focuses on the city’s primary cemetery, Hillside Cemetery on Notre Dame Drive.

City civic operations director Jen Fretz said the plan will address current trends as traditional casket burial declines in popularity.

More common these days is cremation, Fretz said, noting the plan will look at demand for increased mausoleum space at Hillside Cemetery. The current mausoleums, she said, are “fully subscribed.”

Schoening Funeral Service manager Sara Lawson lauded the city’s planning, telling KTW the industry is rapidly changing.

She said some people may be surprised to know that in British Columbia, 85 per cent of people are cremated after death, with 15 per cent buried in a casket.

In Kamloops, that number is slightly lower, at 80 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively.

The overall trend, however, is a rise in cremation. Lawson believes that is happening for multiple reasons, primarily a new generation and loss of tradition.

“Newer generations aren’t attending church as much as grandma and grandpa,” Lawson said. “Back in the day, that’s what you did. You had a casket burial. You had service at the church.”

Another reason cremation is increasingly popular is due to urgency for gathering that comes with casket burial and desire for options. For example, if a family cannot unite in one place for some time until after a loved one’s death, cremation might make more sense. Perhaps everyone wants to meet in a place that was meaningful to the deceased.

“It happens more and more where there is a bit of a delay for the service,” Lawson said.

In addition to mausoleum space, the city will explore trends in green burials.

The Green Burial Council describes a green burial as a way of caring for the dead with “minimal environmental impact that aids in conservation of natural resources, reduction of carbon emissions, protection of worker health and restoration and/or preservation of habitat.”

Green burial requires non-toxic and biodegradable materials.

Lawson said only one cemetery in B.C. is certified to meet green burial standards — Royal Oak Burial Park in Victoria, which opened in 2008.

According to its website, Royal Oak is the first urban green burial site in the country, where it “returns human remains to the earth in a simple state permitting decomposition to occur naturally and so contribute to new life in a forest setting.”

Green burial prepares the body without embalming.

The body is buried in a biodegradable shroud, simple container or casket made from natural fibre, wicker or sustainably harvested wood.

Lawson said the difference between regular cemeteries, such as Hillside, and a green cemetery is the grave liner. While most cemeteries have grave liners made of concrete, wood or fibreglass, green cemeteries use dirt as a way to return remains to the elements as quickly as possible.

Schoening does offer green options, but there is no green burial site in the B.C. Interior. Green burials are not yet a common request, Lawson said, but she expects it will become more in demand in the next five to 10 years.

The city will also explore the potential for a scattering garden, which is a place to scatter ashes. Lawson said scattering gardens may look like flower gardens, wherein ashes can be scattered for a fee.

Compared to scattering someone’s ashes in a backyard or elsewhere in nature, cemeteries are permanent — meaning loved ones won’t return to that special location one day to find a development in its place, a rose garden dead or a tree chopped down.

“Cemeteries stay the same,” Lawson said. “The record must remain forever.”

Updates to the Cemetery Master Plan are expected by the fall.

With need for expansion of the cemetery, rates may also be on the rise.

The city said its fees are between 20 to 25 per cent lower than similar-sized communities and the goal is to recover operating costs with revenue collected.

MODIFYING THE MEMORIAL

While funeral servcies undergo a transition, a Kamloops pastor has noticed memorials are also changing.

Rev. Steve Filyk, a minister at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, said newspaper obituaries increasingly state “no funeral by request.”

He suspects it is due to the taboo nature of death. As a culture, he said, people don’t want to acknowledge death, as it is finite.

“Perpetual youth is sort of what the focus of our culture is, right? In that way, I don’t know how well prepared we are to face it — to face the loss of loved ones or face our own death,” he said.

Filyk said he worries about the psychological impact of not marking someone’s death.

“I think to set apart and designate a time, not just for yourself but for everyone, where the world will stop for a few moments. It’s about that,” Filyk said.

“A moment of silence at Remembrance Day, where the world just stops to acknowledge that this person was special. They had warts and foibles, but they were special to a bunch of people and had an impact and that their loss is felt. I think it’s important to acknowledge that.”

Of memorials that do occur, Filyk said they rarely involve a casket and often involve photo slideshows in an increasingly media-driven, photo-centric society.

In addition, Filyk said he has noticed memorials are getting longer and are often called celebrations of life.

Regardless of whether people follow a faith tradition, Filyk said it is important to acknowledge wisdom from centuries past.

Memorials can be secular or religious, he said, noting there are unique ways to honour someone. with the better memorials providing opportunities to share stories.

“Any story often reveals something interesting about who they were and I think there’s something about telling those stories that somehow helps us heal,” Filyk said.

“Maybe because we’re all together having that similar focus.”

Complete Article HERE!

Offering Sympathy From a Distance in the Time of Coronavirus

When a friend is grieving a loss, here are ways to provide support

By Margie Zable Fisher

When my good friend, Nikki, told me a few days ago that her father had just passed away from natural causes, my first reaction was to offer sympathy. Then I asked, “What are the funeral arrangements?”

Her answer: “I’m not sure. We will have a memorial service, but we don’t know when. This pandemic is kind of getting in the way.”

Well, yes, it is.

Nikki and I are part of a group of friends who met playing tennis over 20 years ago. We’ve celebrated and helped each other over the years, through marriages, births, divorces and deaths.

But after Nikki’s response, I was stumped. How was I going to support her through the grieving process, when there was no memorial and when we were all supposed to be practicing “social distancing?” I reached out to experts to get some ideas.

The New Rules of Gathering

David Kessler, a Los Angeles-based authority on grief and founder of Grief.com, is in a similar situation. Someone he knows recently died. “This is a strange new world of grief,” he says. “If we can’t gather for a funeral, mourning gets very complicated.”

In the blink of an eye, the world’s burial rituals — which have traditionally helped people through the grieving process — have changed. Italy has banned traditional funeral services. Countries around the world (including the U.S.) have suggested limits on the amount of people attending services.

People over 60 may have the toughest time attending funerals of family members or friends. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that those at a serious risk of COVID-19 avoid gatherings of 10 or more, and older people are at highest risk. Some funeral directors, including Virginia Kerr Zoller, co-owner of Kerr Brothers Funeral Homes in Lexington, Ky., are already suggesting that people’s older relatives stay home, according to a recent article in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

James Olson, funeral director of Olson Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Sheboygan, Wis., and a spokesperson for the National Funeral Directors Association, notes that Wisconsin’s governor declared that no gathering be larger than 10 people. This seems to be the most common suggestion around the country. But, as Olson notes, this could change daily or even hourly.

Matt Levinson, president of Sol Levinson and Bros. Funeral Home, serving the Jewish community in Baltimore, says they are still conducting burials quickly (as commanded by Jewish law), but are recommending that only the immediate family of 10 people or less attend. The funeral home is also offering the option to conduct the memorial service at a later date.

Levinson and his team are offering comfort the best way they can during this time — by alleviating some of the worry of gathering.

“Funeral arrangements are made over the phone, chairs are continually sanitized and spaced farther apart at the cemetery, and gloves are used for people who want to use a shovel to place earth in the grave,” he says.

Levinson also notes that he is working hard to keep his staff healthy. He has them working in shifts, not only to protect them from infection, but also to give them time off to handle the daily demands of this crisis.

One thing that hasn’t changed: informing friends and family about a recent death through phone calls, texts, newspaper obituaries and in Facebook posts. What’s missing are funeral arrangements, and details about gatherings such as shivas, where, in the Jewish tradition, loved ones and friends get together at a home for a week after the burial to support the family of the deceased.

Phone Calls Are Important

So if we can’t mourn together in person, how do we offer comfort?

“We aren’t able to hug, and physically connect, so we need to rely on using our words,” says Kendall Kridner-Protzmann, a pastor of congregational care at St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Kridner-Protzmann suggests calling mourners frequently. “Reach out through phone calls, and leave a message if necessary. Even just saying ‘This is really hard,’ is very healing.”

“When you can’t be physically present with a grieving loved one, you can still offer your emotional presence,” says Kelila Johnson, founder of Communing with Grief in Seattle. “There is solace in sitting quietly with someone, even if it’s over the phone or a video call. Often what grievers need most is to know that they don’t have to speak but that they are safe to speak, if they wish.”

Kessler suggests that in the first week after someone has passed, check in with loved ones multiple times. “If the person is in tears for an hour, you probably need to call daily,” he says. “If the mourner says that things are okay, you can probably check back in a couple of days.” He also strongly recommends calling instead of texting, and using FaceTime or Skype, to create a visual connection.

Technology Can Help

When you can’t gather in person, technology offers opportunities to comfort:

  • As mentioned, video calls are a great way to deepen your connection beyond audio.
  • Live streaming, which has been available for long-distance loved ones to view funeral services for many years, is now a necessity.
  • Social media is also helpful. “I’m usually not a big fan of Facebook,” says my friend Nikki. “My sister suggested we announce my dad’s passing on it, and I was floored by the comments we received.” Not only did Nikki receive hundreds of condolences, but she also heard from people from her childhood who shared stories about her father. “It was the greatest thing to hear from so many people. It really made me feel better,” she says.

Other Ways to Show You Care — In Person

I also learned four creative ways to get out and about to support those who are grieving.

Visit the grave. Just because you weren’t able to go to the burial, that doesn’t mean that you can’t go to the cemetery. “Any time after the burial, and while cemeteries are still open, you can go to the gravesite on your own, or at a distance from others, and pay your respects,” says Olson. Letting loved ones know you did this can offer comfort.

Bring food. “When you go food shopping, buy a bag of fruit for your friend, and drop it off,” says Kessler. “You don’t even need to go in the house.” Does your friend have a favorite restaurant? Order takeout, and deliver it.

Walk together — at a distance. Exercise is important to our mental and physical help at any time, but especially when grieving. “If you live nearby, offer to go for a walk with your friend,” suggests Dave Wyner, psychotherapist and certified grief counseling specialist in Louisville, Colo. “Make sure to follow health experts’ advice on keeping your distance. It might feel a little weird to walk that far apart from each other, but it can still feel incredibly supportive to the person grieving. It really comes down to helping them know they’re not alone with their pain.”

Volunteer. Obituaries often list charities you can donate to in someone’s honor. “Why not volunteer for that charity, by helping them out in person?” suggests Olson. He gives an example of The Humane Society. Instead of donating money (or in addition to it), you could offer to walk dogs, in the name of the deceased, he says. This is needed all the time, but now, it may be especially helpful.

How I’m Helping My Friend

Now that I’ve learned how to provide solace and love to those grieving during the pandemic, I’m planning to reach out to Nikki more often by phone. I will give her space to talk and I will listen.

I’m also going to offer to take a walk or a bike ride together (at a distance, of course). And I’m going to ask her what type of meal she and her family would like me to deliver.

The bottom line: We’re all struggling during this health crisis, but people mourning the deaths of their loved ones really need our support. While you may not be able to offer comfort through traditional grieving rituals, I hope these suggestions can help in a time when it is so needed.

Complete Article HERE!

She discovered a lost graveyard and a mystery she longs to solve:

Who is buried there?

A footstone lies in a secluded section of the woods west of downtown Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Amateur historical researcher Bonnie Zampino says she believes the site is a forgotten Civil War-era cemetery.

The neglected plot of land in the woods of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., may hold remains dating to the Civil War era

By Peter Jamison

It was last summer that Bonnie Zampino first noticed something unusual about the wooded plot of land in the hills above this historical town.

Zampino, a case manager for recovering drug users who lives in the neighboring community of Bolivar, was used to encountering curiosities from the past on her hikes through Harpers Ferry, a town where history has left its imprint several times over. The village overlooking the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers is most famous for the failed anti-slavery raid led by abolitionist John Brown in 1859. It was also the site of a Civil War battle and hosted large contingents of Union and Confederate troops.

Zampino, 50, had made a hobby of her interest in abandoned rural properties, taking photographs and researching old land records. But the lonely section of woods to the west of Harpers Ferry’s historical downtown and national park were unlike anything she’d seen before. Thin, jagged slabs of stone stuck up in rows. There were bathtub-size depressions in the ground — what Zampino would later learn can be a sign of settling graves. A small, white footstone sat unsteadily in the earth, like a loose tooth.

She set out to learn more about the town-owned property. Records were scarce, but after months of archival sleuthing, Zampino developed a theory that this section of woods is a forgotten remnant of some of the nation’s darkest and bloodiest days. She thinks she has discovered a lost graveyard of Union dead.

Her hypothesis, at this point, is only that. Even if soldiers’ remains are buried at the site, the number of bodies is uncertain. Zampino’s detective work has been complicated by confusing and sometimes contradictory records from the years immediately after the Civil War, a time when many of the corpses left behind by America’s deadliest conflict were disinterred and — at least in the case of federal troops — moved to special resting places.

But Zampino has uncovered compelling documentary support for further investigation, including National Park Service and military records — some dating back 150 years — that point to a soldiers’ cemetery at the location in question and suggest it fell into neglect not long after the war ended.

“Whoever’s here, I’d like to know,” she said, standing at the site in Harpers Ferry on a recent afternoon. A narrow lane of cracked pavement runs through what Zampino believes to be the old cemetery. The ground was covered in matted leaves and fallen branches. “This shouldn’t look like this,” she said.

The roots of the mystery Zampino has been trying to solve lie in a largely forgotten epilogue to the Civil War. The American military has long prided itself on the faithfulness with which it recovers the remains of those who die in conflict. After the war’s end in 1865, that endeavor took place on a huge scale, with federal officials fanning out to battlefields to retrieve the bodies of soldiers, sometimes in advanced states of decomposition. Those remains were reburied in new national cemeteries.

The job, while harrowing, was deemed essential by the government and welcomed by relatives of the fallen.

“Words fail to describe the grateful relief that this work has brought to many a sorrowing household,” wrote David Wills, a lawyer who led the effort to create the Gettysburg National Cemetery.

John Frye, a local historian and curator of the Western Maryland Room at the Washington County Free Library in Hagerstown, Md., said it was unlikely that the federal government could have overlooked a sizable number of bodies in Harpers Ferry during its retrieval efforts. Zampino said she believes anywhere from dozens to several hundred soldiers may have been interred at the site based on records she has reviewed.

“I can’t imagine the United States of America letting 300-some graves of Union soldiers go unmarked,” Frye said in an interview.

Zampino has gotten used to skepticism — or plain confusion: At the outset of her research project last year, most people seemed unaware that bodies had ever been buried at the site she discovered. “The more I couldn’t get information, the more I was like, ‘Man, I want to figure this out,’” she recalled.

She eventually discovered a 1959 National Park Service report that identified the plot as Pine Grove Cemetery, established in or around 1852. The report stated that “the cemetery was used as a burial ground during the Civil War.”

At the National Archives, Zampino discovered letters between military officials from 1866 to 1869 that discuss a “Citizens Cemetery” — separate from the other known cemeteries in Harpers Ferry — that she believes to be Pine Grove. An 1866 quartermaster general’s report says the cemetery “contains a number of soldiers graves, said to be not less than 75” that are “not distinguishable from citizens graves.”

Some of the stones Zampino says she believes were part of a wall surrounding the now-forgotten Pine Grove Cemetery in Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

Even then, however, confusion reigned over what the graveyard held.

In 1867, a military officer, responding to a request that the cemetery walls be rebuilt to protect the commingled grave plots of soldiers and civilians, replied that “all the bodies of U.S. soldiers interred at Harpers Ferry” had already been moved to Winchester National Cemetery in Virginia. Military records of the war dead from the time state that hundreds of soldiers’ bodies were moved from Harpers Ferry to Winchester between 1866 and 1867, but they are vague about what cemetery they came from. Zampino said they might have come from the more famous and centrally located Harper Cemetery.

At this point, Zampino said, the only way to resolve the questions raised by the documents is to conduct a physical examination of the site for graves and human remains. To that end, she is hoping to work with the Harpers Ferry Historic Landmarks Commission to apply for a grant that would fund ground-penetrating radar.

“I think it’s worth pursuing,” said Deborah McGee, the commission’s chairwoman.

If such research confirms the presence of soldiers’ remains, the National Cemetery Administration said, it “stands ready to provide government-furnished markers and/or grave space in a national cemetery.”

Whatever the outcome, Zampino said, she believes that after a century and a half, it’s time to solve the mystery of who rests in Pine Grove cemetery.

“There are people here,” she said. “And nobody knows who they are.”

Complete Article HERE!

“Mushroom Burial Suit” Called Into Question

By

You may remember the “mushroom burial suit,” the alternative-burial product that promises a gentle return to the earth as your body becomes compost and nourishes a thriving colony of fungi. Sold as an eco-friendly burial option, the Infinity Burial Suit claimed to cleanse the body of toxins, return nutrients to the soil, and support plant growth around the body. Now critics question the accuracy of the suit’s claims.

Mushroom burial suit goes viral

The Infinity Suit took the green burial world by storm in 2011. A TED talk by suit co-creator and artist Jae Rhim Lee went viral with over a million online views. Lee presented a compelling case that our modern, chemical-laden bodies need extra detox before burial. Her suit claims to go beyond natural burial to actually remove and neutralize toxins from the body.

The hype reached a peak when news broke that 90210 star Luke Perry had chosen the mushroom suit as his preferred burial option before his sudden death in early 2019. In a highly publicized Instagram post, the actor’s daughter called the suit “genius.”

The suit relies on a “biomix of mushroom mycelium and other micro-organisms” to speed decomposition, neutralize toxins, and return the body to nature. Most notably, it’s use of mushrooms imagery implied that a colony of fungi will grow out of the shrouded corpse.

From movement to industry

As an art project meant to promote a “radical acceptance of death” with a compelling visual symbol of our return to the soil, the Infinity Suit clearly strikes a chord. Its arresting symbolism can doubtlessly inspire difficult conversations. Ultimately, though, the product doesn’t live up to its claims as a practical burial option. It turns out the purported benefits of the Infinity Suit differ little from the regular decomposition of an unembalmed body. 

Dr. Billy Campbell, co-founder of the first conservation burial ground in the United States, addresses the mushroom suit in a blog post. He explains that organisms like soil bacteria, insects, and nematodes all take part in decomposition much earlier than fungi do. To him, the complex biology of decomposition and mushroom ecology makes it difficult to design a better system than nature already has.

While our modern bodies contain sometimes alarming levels of heavy metals and toxins, these amounts prove inconsequential to surrounding soil. Contamination can take place when toxic sludge or pesticides get dumped in the same location repeatedly. However, there’s little danger of any substantial pollution from buried human remains. 

Lee’s other claim—that the Infinity Suit speeds decomposition—also falls flat upon closer examination:

“Faster decomposition means that carbon leaves the body and returns to the atmosphere as CO2 more quickly … nutrients such as nitrogen are released more rapidly. What if they are released at a speed faster than surrounding plants can actually take them up? Then they make their way into waterways and cause algae blooms just as fertilizer pollution does.”

From movement to industry

Critics also argue it falls into the same trap as the traditional funeral industry. They believe Infinity is selling “a solution to an invented problem” that has simpler, cheaper (if less visually striking) answers. In a piece for AlterNet, authors Sarah and Tim Crews call the suit’s claims “wildly misleading.” They also accuse the budding “green burial” industry of manipulating customers to buy unnecessary products.

As with any trend, the popularity of “green burial” will bring out products of varying quality. It’s inevitable as eager entrepreneurs mine a lucrative new market. As a generation of eco-conscious baby boomers ages and young people embrace “death positivity,” interest in alternative burial options will continue to grow.

In an industry not overly familiar with change, the public demand for alternative burial and memorial options has left providers scrambling to provide their customers with new choices. In 2019, the Green Burial Council recognized 72 cemeteries certified for natural burial, up from only 36 in 2012. Hundreds of cemeteries and funeral homes already offer a variety of environmentally friendly options. These include wicker caskets, shrouds, and eco-friendly urns.

Let the earth do the work

Creative, personalized memorials and innovative burial techniques can help us make peace with dying. They also can help us develop modern mourning rituals, and reduce the carbon footprint of burial. At its core, natural burial is simple and economical. The key is to keep humans out of the way (when they, for example, wan to enclose a grave in a concrete vault). The earth’s self-regulating mechanisms can do quick work of decomposition, needing no specialized equipment.

Supporters of the green burial movement value simplicity, affordability, and sustainability. Therefore, they must turn a critical eye to the upsurge of commercial interests like the Infinity Suit. These threaten to undermine their ethics and co-opt the movement with misleading claims.

Complete Article HERE!

Did Neanderthals bury their dead with flowers?

Iraq cave yields new clues.

The bones of a Neanderthal’s left hand emerging from the sediment in Shanidar Cave in northern Iraq, is seen in an undated photo.

By Will Dunham

A Neanderthal skeleton unearthed in an Iraqi cave already famous for fossils of these extinct cousins of our species is providing fresh evidence that they buried their dead — and intriguing clues that flowers may have been used in such rituals.

Last week, scientists said they had discovered in Shanidar Cave in the semiautonomous Kurdistan region of northern Iraq the well-preserved upper-body skeleton of an adult Neanderthal who lived about 70,000 years ago.

The individual — dubbed Shanidar Z — was perhaps in his or her 40s or 50s. The sex was undetermined.

The cave was a pivotal site for mid-20th-century archaeology. Remains of 10 Neanderthals — seven adults and three infants — were dug up there six decades ago, offering insight into the physical characteristics, behavior and diet of this species.

Clusters of flower pollen were found at that time in soil samples associated with one of the skeletons, a discovery that prompted scientists involved in that research to propose that Neanderthals buried their dead and conducted funerary rites with flowers.

That hypothesis helped change the prevailing popular view at the time of Neanderthals as dimwitted and brutish, a notion increasingly discredited by new discoveries.

Critics cast doubt, however, on the “flower burial,” arguing the pollen could have been modern contamination from people working and living in the cave or from burrowing rodents or insects.

But Shanidar Z’s bones, which appear to be the top half of a partial skeleton unearthed in 1960, were found in sediment containing ancient pollen and other mineralized plant remains, reviving the possibility of flower burials.

The material is being examined to determine its age and the plants represented.

“So from initially being a skeptic based on many of the other published critiques of the flower-burial evidence, I am coming round to think this scenario is much more plausible and I am excited to see the full results of our new analyzes,” said University of Cambridge osteologist and paleoanthropologist Emma Pomeroy, lead author of the research published in the journal Antiquity.

Scholars have argued for years about whether Neanderthals buried their dead with mortuary rituals much as our species does, part of the larger debate over their levels of cognitive sophistication.

“What is key here is the intentionality behind the burial. You might bury a body for purely practical reasons, in order to avoid attracting dangerous scavengers and/or to reduce the smell. But when this goes beyond practical elements it is important because that indicates more complex, symbolic and abstract thinking, compassion and care for the dead, and perhaps feelings of mourning and loss,” Pomeroy said.

Shanidar Z appears to have been deliberately placed in an intentionally dug depression cut into the subsoil and part of a cluster of four individuals.

“Whether the Neanderthal group of dead placed around 70,000 years ago in the cave were a few years, a few decades or centuries — or even millennia — apart, it seems clear that Shanidar was a special place, with bodies being placed just in one part of a large cave,” said study co-author Graeme Barker, a University of Cambridge archaeologist.

Neanderthals — more robustly built than Homo sapiens and with larger brows — inhabited Eurasia from the Atlantic Coast to the Ural Mountains from about 400,000 years ago until a bit after 40,000 years ago, disappearing after our species established itself in the region.

The two species interbred, with modern non-African human populations bearing residual Neanderthal DNA.

The Emotional Wallop of My Friend’s Green Burial

What I learned about the realities of this new, but old, practice

By Janet Siroto

My friend Carla saw almost everything in life as a creative challenge — a moment to brainstorm and make a statement.

If there was a potluck brunch, no way was she picking up a dozen bagels. Instead, she’d find a recipe for pear-ginger coffee cake, go buy some fresh yeast and get baking.

Any home-improvement project triggered a deep dive into materials, colors and a discussion of what kind of light bulb would cast the right glow.

So when she was telling me about some fabric she’d found — “It’s moss green velvet and looks like the forest floor in a fairytale,” Carla said — the enthusiasm was familiar, but the circumstances very surprising.

Carla had heard about the concept of a green burial and had gone all in. Even though she was in her 60s and in good health, the idea spoke to her; her love of nature, her love of doing things a little bit more individualistically. The fabric she was describing would be her burial shroud.

Getting Back to Basics

A green burial is an “everything old is new again” practice: After death, no chemicals are used to preserve the body. No heavily shellacked coffin is placed in the earth. Rather, one’s burial is done as naturally as possible so the body can return to and nourish the very earth beneath our feet. Everything that goes into the soil must be biodegradable — and the velvet Carla found fit that bill.

This closer-to-nature concept is in sync with society’s growing concern for the planet. Before the advent of the modern burial, when loved ones died, their bodies were wrapped in a shroud and put in the ground. But by the time we reached the early- to mid-1900s, a very different, non-eco-friendly tradition had taken over.

According to Scientific American, “funerals [in the U.S.] are responsible each year for the felling of 30 million board feet of casket wood, 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid. Even cremation is an environmental horror story, with the incineration process emitting many a noxious substance, including dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and climate-changing carbon dioxide.”

About 50 years ago, our collective consciousness and conscience about burial began to change. “American sensibilities about environment shifted, with Rachel Carson in the ’60s and the launch of Earth Day and the formation of the EPA in 1970,” says David Charles Sloane, an urban planning professor at the University of Southern California and author of Is the Cemetery Dead? “We’ve become a much more aware society about environmental impact.

That awareness enveloped end of life, and the idea of a good death and green burial began to be entwined and gain interest. Last year, a study found that 54% of Americans were actively considering this option, and 72% of cemeteries reported an increased demand (many are responding with green zones on their premises).

Another reason why green burials are catching on: the lower price. Joyce Foley, who owns Cedar Brook Burial Ground in Limington, Maine, where Carla chose her plot, says green burials typically cost $3,000 at the very most, versus $5,000 and up for traditional burials.

Being There: At a Green Burial

But no matter how much one may read about green burial in principle or how many statistics one might absorb, little can prepare you for the actual experience. So, back to my friend Carla.

Picking the green velvet was just one facet of her creative expression. She also hunted for a natural headstone. Many green cemeteries offer local stones, but Carla wanted something special — and somewhere, somehow found a petrified tree stump that could be engraved with her name and the dates of her life when the time came. (Foley, the burial ground’s director, approved of the choice given how well it harmonized with nature.) Because the stump was so heavy, it stayed in the back of Carla’s car for at least a year, as she researched who could engrave it.

As blithe as Carla seemed about the prospect of her green burial, things took a serious turn a few years later. Her increasing fatigue led to tests, more tests, and a diagnosis of a rare blood cancer. A bone-marrow “perfect match” was found, but alas, after the procedure, graft versus host disease destroyed the hope of recovery. In her final days, Carla would say, “I hope you’ll come picnic by my spot in Maine. I’ll be helping the trees grow. The cycle of life.”

Just shy of her 70th birthday, she died in a hospice not far from her home in Cambridge, Mass., and plans were quickly made for her burial. My family — myself, my husband and our two college-age sons — joined about 10 other dear friends that day. We drove into, and then walked across, what looked very much like every nature preserve I’d ever visited. Trees everywhere. Quiet. Bird song. Rustling leaves. A gray-blue winter sky.

There were none of the manicured lawns and stately tombstones in regimented rows as you’d see at most cemeteries. We assembled at the gravesite, which had been hand-dug prior to our arrival, and barely noticed the other plots nearby, so subtle were the markers. A bunch of dried flowers or perhaps a small pile of stones revealed them to us.

The bottom of Carla’s grave had been covered with boughs to make it a soft resting place. A hearse pulled up and the driver asked my husband, sons and a couple of other men to assist. And then came the shock of seeing a plain wood board pulled from the back of the long car with my friend’s shrouded body on top of it.

I may have gasped a bit, as this was so unexpected and so far from the “avert your eyes” nature of death and burial I had grown up knowing. For a moment, I felt like a child recoiling from a scary movie.

My friend’s shrouded dead body was right there in front of all of us. We could see Carla’s silhouette — her long, slender body; her aquiline nose. There was no coffin to shield us from the truth that her incandescent spirit had left this world and only her remains were now here. It was quite an emotional wallop.

How often are any of us in the presence of a corpse, let alone one about to be put into the soil? How often do we have this kind of unmediated, unmedicalized contact with someone who has departed this realm?

Before Carla was lowered into the ground, a few of us placed a hand on the contour of her shoulder (yes, you could make it out) and said our goodbyes. The board with her body was then lowered via straps into the grave by the men in the group. Some people tossed in loose flowers. Carla’s friend Louie had brought his guitar and sang her favorite song, “Here Comes the Sun.”

Carla’s daughter said, “This is exactly what she wanted. It’s all so beautiful.”

The Simple Truth

It’s been a couple of years since that day, and I have visited only once, when I was heading to Maine for a wedding. I spent a bit of time by Carla’s gravesite and that stump tombstone and thought about the gift of her friendship and how much I wished she were still here.

The green burial was one of the gifts of her friendship. She showed those closest to her a path of possibility, different from the mainstream.

My family and I still talk about the raw beauty of the burial, of how we felt so close to Carla and so intimately involved with her transition to whatever may be ahead. My husband and sons still talk about the visceral experience of transporting and then lowering her body — feeling its weight — so Carla could become one with the earth and “feed a tree,” as she said.

It was a jarring experience in the moment, to be sure — but one I will always remember. It connected me to Carla at the end of our time together and also to the most elemental way of saying goodbye to the dead, as our ancestors had done for generations. It brought a simplicity and meaning to one of life’s hardest passages.

Complete Article HERE!

Why ceremony matters

By Lois Heckman

Creating ceremonies is what I do, and every once in a while it’s good to stop and remember why. To my way of thinking, there are three really big transitions in life: birth, death and marriage. Every culture and religion, all around the world, has different ways to honor these milestones. Momentous occasions are honored and celebrated in diverse ways, almost always involve ceremony; rites of passage.

Elizabeth Gilbert wrote: “Ceremony is essential to humans: It’s a circle that we draw around important events to separate the momentous from the ordinary. And ritual is a sort of magical safety harness that guides us from one stage of our lives into the next, making sure we don’t stumble or lose ourselves along the way.”

That really nails it. I probably don’t have to even say anymore. But naturally I will!

Besides those three big ones, other life changing transitions include coming of age, sexual identity, and any major disruption in relationships— especially divorce. All are deserving of recognition, in small or big ways. We also have ceremonies for graduation or receiving awards and even retirement.

Each tradition has its own way to express the meaning, with specific rituals, readings or actions. And let’s remember that cultures and traditions evolve, changing with the times, or struggling to do so.

Perhaps you have heard of one of the most unusual coming-of-age ceremonies. It takes place in a remote island in the South Pacific, where boys risk their lives jumping head-first from a 90-foot tall wooden tower with nothing but vines wrapped around their ankles. Yes, ceremony can take many forms.

While I specialize in honoring weddings (what I think of as the No. 3 spot in the all-important life changes challenge) I also officiate funerals, baby welcomings and occasionally other types of events. I recently performed a lovely renewal of vows, and I have also created interesting anniversary celebrations, blessing of animals, and community events. I even create secular confirmation programs and ceremonies.

A funeral or memorial service is another important milestone. Sometimes people choose to do something a few weeks or more after the person has died. It can be somewhat more uplifting, and also allows people time to make plans to travel. These are often called a “celebration of life” rather than a funeral. But some traditions do not allow for this. Devout Jews and Muslims are required to bury almost immediately after the death. However, this still wouldn’t preclude a celebration of the person at a later date, after the burial.

I know there are times when families skip a formal ceremony for the dead. The reasons for this are varied. Sometimes it is a discomfort with religion, especially if the deceased had given up on her or his faith, or the family has a mixture of beliefs and they are unsure how to handle that.

There could be costs that make it prohibitive or seem wasteful to the survivors.

There might be family dysfunction and no one wants to come together, especially if it feels like you are honoring someone who was not a good person. We know how people always say nice things about the dead, even if they don’t deserve it. These are tricky issues, but if you loved the person who has died, even without a formal ceremony, it is worthwhile to take some special time to honor that loss. As we often hear (and rightly so) — a funeral is for the living

Weddings are entirely different. Even elopements deserve to be properly honored. A wedding is a joyful time and the ceremony is meant to move everyone through this transition. The wedding ceremony honors the partner’s separate lives, their past, and the journey that led them to one another, then marks the moment of commitment, and takes them into their future as they walk down the aisle, beginning a new path, side by side.

Even for couples who have been together for years, it is still important. Getting married is meaningful at any time or stage in one’s life. There are so many good reasons to marry, including legal rights and science has shown that a healthy marriage promotes better and longer lives. And let’s remember if the couple getting married has children, it is also an important moment for them.

Big changes have always deserved recognition, and I believe they always will. I hope everyone realizes the importance of taking the time to do just that, in whatever way works for you. And of course, I’m happy to help if you need me.

Complete Article HERE!