After years of working on it, we have a new green burial option near Ann Arbor! The Forest Lawn Cemetery is developing a small but beautiful section where folks can be buried in a more environmentally friendly way. I’m working with Brian Koval, sexton, to make suggestions and help them decide layout and plot details, as well as beautification and markers. Now is the time to visit the cemetery and make your preferences known!
This will be an area on the tree-lined border of the cemetery. It will be close to the conventional section in an area that is currently being mowed. The cemetery has a lot of decisions to make. Will they continue to mow it? Will they plant native grasses or wildflowers instead of grass? How will they contour the graves to make the best use of the natural features that are already present? What kind of markers will they allow (and what do people want)? Three things we know:
- There will be no concrete grave liners
- They will not bury embalmed bodies
- The burial container must be bio-degradable.
No concrete grave liners means figuring out how to handle the settling of the ground that occurs as decomposition takes place. One cannot move heavy equipment (lawn mowers, tractors or front hoes) over a recently filled grave. Does that mean they will decide not to mow? How will they dig a grave with a front hoe near a recent burial? Will they decide to bury people in succession, filling one area first? Succession burial makes it easier for the cemetery, but will people be happy with not choosing an exact plot? And will they allow huge granite grave markers or just wood or stone?
Those who choose green burial also usually want more family participation in the burial. They won’t be allowed to dig the grave but they will be encouraged to help fill it in, if that is what is meaningful to them. They might choose to use a cart or wagon to transport the body. They might bury in a plain, pine box or a shroud. The cemetery workers and funeral directors involved will also have a lot to learn, like how to lower a body by hand, rather than using electronic equipment.
How does green burial look different? How does the graveside ceremony change? Why do people choose this option and what do they want? What appeals to you? I’m so glad that this option is now available close to where I live. Perhaps other cemeteries will follow suit. I’ll keep you posted!
Day 1: Supporting the Dying Person and The Family – The Doula Model of Care
- What is a “good death”?
- Exploring the dying process
- The needs of the dying and the family
- Biopsychosocial-spiritual-cultural aspects
- Introducing the doula model of care
- Accompanying the dying (holding vigil, creating a peaceful atmosphere)
- Facing fears and grief
- Hospice and Palliative Care
Day 2: Essential Skills for End-of-Life Caregivers
- Scope of practice
- Active listening and communication
- Family needs assessment
- Hands-on comfort measures & support
- Self-care for the caregiver(s)
- Networking and referrals
- EOL Doula practice considerations
Day 3: Natural After Death Care Workshop ~ Home Funeral and Green Burial
- Current funeral practices in the U.S.
- How to care for the body at home after death
- Creating sacred space and funeral ceremony or ritual
- Legal and cost considerations
- How to locate and work with a funeral director
- Special circumstances
- Green Burial (What is it and where is it available?)
- The importance of planning ahead
- How to form a circle of support
What is an End-of-Life Doula?
An end-of-life doula accompanies the dying person and their loved ones through the dying year. S/he provides support, resources, education and friendship for those who accept and embrace dying as a period of life, not just an abrupt ending. This period of life may last a year or a day. It brings challenges and joys, sorrows and opportunity. The end-of-life doula adds a layer of support for both the dying person and their family to help them live life to the fullest.
End-of-life doulas enhance and empower, rather than usurp the role of friends, family, medical team and spiritual care providers. As more and more of us live longer and face chronic and life-limiting illness, the period of dying has extended from a few days or weeks to months or years. Medical care focuses solely on cure and treatment. Patients often feel adrift among medical choices while grasping for ways to live with illness in full awareness that death will come. Life choices include acceptance, growth and sharing gifts of love and preparation.
There is much meaning to be found during the “dying year” that is profound and life affirming. It is a time of opportunity and growth to be embraced, not shunned. The end-of-life doula guides and accompanies the dying person and their family as they explore this territory and live to the fullest during this transition time.
We are finally catching up to other states; soon it will be possible to designate someone to make your funeral arrangements for you instead of having to just leave it up to your next of kin. A Funeral Representative is like a healthcare advocate: they are authorized to make decisions regarding your funeral and burial or cremation. Until now, there has been no guarantee that your funeral wishes would be followed, because carrying out the funeral wishes does not come under the purview of the designated healthcare agent. Now you can rest assured that your funeral representative will be able to have decision-making capacity.
Here’s an example: Say you are a member of an unmarried couple. You have chosen your partner to be your healthcare representative, meaning you have written your end-of-life healthcare wishes out, signed a form that names your partner as the one who will make healthcare decisions for you if you can no longer speak for yourself, and your partner has agreed to do this. When you die, those rights go away and the next-of-kin, meaning your long-lost sister or someone you aren’t close to, is the one who is legally responsible for carrying out your funeral. If you wanted to be cremated, the funeral director had to locate the legal nest of kin and get their signature in order to do the cremation. Many people have been caught off guard by this; they had assumed that they would be able to request the cremation without a problem. Now, you may sign paperwork designating your partner as your “funeral representative” and your partner can authorize the cremation.The long-lost relative no longer has to be located and made to sign.
You can imagine the difficulty this has caused in same sex relationships, or in the case of someone wanting very specific after death care such as home funeral or green burial. It will be more likely that your wishes will be followed.
It is imperative that you plan ahead, designate a funeral representative that knows and will honor your wishes, and fully inform them of the type of funeral and disposition arrangements you would like to have. While you are planning and signing forms, you can also put aside money to pay for what you want. The
For a form to use, please contact me.
Fine article with data about preferences of most Americans for natural burial. But there are no local options for those of us in or near Ann Arbor. We have some work to do to establish this. If most of us want it, why are we lagging behind demand? Because we are afraid to talk about death, and therefore, we don’t plan ahead, which results in doing what our family has always done – conventional funeral and burial. Visit your local cemetery and ask them for natural burial. Chances are they will tell you that they don’t offer it because no-one is asking for it! Or they don’t really know what it is. You have to inform them.
As I write, the wind is howling and the sun is shining on this beautiful winter day. I have been busy consulting with folks from all over the state, and elsewhere, about one of my favorite topics: How to have a funeral and burial that is in line with our values to protect, preserve, and strengthen the earth. Everything from mushroom burial suits that mediate toxins to backyard family cemeteries to creation of new township burial grounds to collaboration with existing cemeteries to start offering natural burial. I’ll be attending the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association Annual Conference in New Orleans in April to assist the Green Burial Council in spreading the word among those “in the industry.” I continue to do presentations whenever I am asked. So many of us want to change the paradigm and it takes the support of all of you to do that, slowly but surely.
I had the privilege of helping a family that found out about green burial at the Ann Arbor Green Fair last June. Sadly, after chatting with us and taking home some literature, a family member became ill. Through facing his death, educating himself, and making his wishes known, he was able to have a home funeral and green burial that gave everyone peace of mind and comfort. This is the work we do.
Thank you to all of you who have signed our petition. Melissa Anne Rogers and I met recently; here are our plans for this year:
- Encourage and help the Ann Arbor City Council to sponsor a resolution saying that they support green burial and that we need more green burial options locally. (Last year we met with county officials and they stated that there are NO public health concerns with green burial that would stop any cemetery from offering it in our county.
- Produce an educational article, video, CTN television show and radio show about green burial, highlighting local families that have had one.
- Host an Earth Day event (April 22). Currently, I’m thinking about a fundraiser concert!
- Have a table at the Green Fair again, which is on June 10 in the evening.
Obviously, we need a good amount of help to bring these goals to fruition. Please email me if you are willing to help us by being a planner and doer. We especially need help with social media and connections.
I hope to hear from you!