BECOMING EARTH... "LEAVES" of GREEN
In spite of high humidity and a whisper of rain showers, spirits at the Mount Auburn Cemetery were not at all dampened. On the contrary, folks who attended the June 14th, 2014 “Graves In the Garden” green burial fair engaged themselves enthusiastically in opportunities to learn about the natural burial concept.
The afternoon schedule of activities enabled people to experience the verdant environment of these venerated burial grounds. It was all about “green” in a setting that exudes it. It was about a matter of death in a leafy arboretum rife with life. Blanketed by an abundance of trees, shrubs, and flowers, the terrain served as an ideal theater for an affair addressing earthly sustenance.
The concept of green burials that has been growing like wildflowers around the country had been embraced by Mount Auburn Cemetery, where that type of elemental burial is now available. Plots for this purpose are scattered throughout the grounds and integrated among traditional sites rather than in a designated, homogeneous section.
In one instance, an area in front of a field of headstones has been framed according to a husband and wife’s wishes, in readiness for their future deaths and natural burials. As a reflection of their joint ownership of a Boston area retreat that features many art pieces, stones native to western Massachusetts represent their legacy of a lifetime appreciation of outdoor art.
This special event at the cemetery was geared not only toward pre-planners like that couple whose gravesite preemptively graces the grounds, but also for anyone who was interested in becoming enlightened about the natural burial concept in general.
At the onset, individuals strolled along a hilly road to reach the Bigelow Chapel, named for Dr. Jacob Bigelow, who had been instrumental in acquiring seventy acres as a foundation for establishment of the cemetery in 1831.
Dr. Bigelow also was responsible for the erection of a stone statue as a memorial to victims of the Civil War.
The lion with a human head and a pharoah's headdress sits vigilantly across from the chapel's entrance.
Spokespeople from relevant organizations and vendors manned tables with literature and posters explaining the essence of their services and missions. Representatives included the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Western Massachusetts, providers who are part of the National Home Funeral Alliance, the Eternal Blessings Cremation Service, and the My Exit Strategy Internet storage depot for end-of-life wishes.
Depictions of family directed home funerals were displayed on a photo board.
Biodegradable caskets appropriate for natural burials were exhibited as well. These are available through Mourning Dove Studio, a treasure trove for varied types of ecologically friendly burial containment, often embellished with meaningful appointments and artistry.
Meanwhile, as guests milled around the premises, a “pseudo-someone” lay motionless, undisturbed by the enlivening chatter while awaiting its “pseudo-burial” scheduled for later in the afternoon.
Next stop on the agenda was the Story Chapel, named for the cemetery’s first president, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story. Constructed of sandstone in the style of a fifteenth-century English church, its Gothic interior style features a ceiling of carved wooden pieces.
People gathered here for the showing of a popular film, A Will for the Woods, which has won acclaim for its poignant documentation of an individual’s end-of-life journey. It follows the progression of circumstances confronted by Clark Wang, a musician and psychiatrist, as he dealt with lymphoma and prepared for his green burial. Thoughtfully placed tissue boxes had been scattered throughout the rows of pews. Following the film, its producers were on hand to answer questions, of which there were many.
Next on the agenda was a demonstration, compelling transport of the “pseudo-corpse” –previously reposing in the chapel – to its grave.
For digging a little deeper into the green burial concept, a grave site had been authentically prepared to conduct a mock burial au naturel.
After meeting at the Bigelow Chapel, staff led folks to the site for further elaboration of details, enabling insights about the differences between this type of burial and conventional approaches along with up-close visualization of the process as it is managed on the Mount Auburn property.
The final element of this occasion was a presentation by Mark Harris, author of Grave Matters, a book extolled for its authenticity captured through his personal observations. Having written articles about natural burials for prominent newspapers and magazines, and as a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, he is widely regarded as an expert resource. Against a backdrop of standard practices and through elaborations of witnessed details, readers are apprised of less familiar, yet burgeoning methods. Benefits of natural endings readily come into focus.
This burial alternative has taken root. During recent years it has been capturing the attention of providers and consumers around the country. In this age of materialism and excess, it entails less, rather than more. It mirrors the past – the old way burials were handled before manufactured goods and funerary accoutrements came on the scene. Yet, perhaps oddly, it is perceived as uniquely new.
Many people still are not yet aware of this ostensibly “new” option for bodily disposition after death. Besides excavating a grave to illustrate it, planners for the “Graves In the Garden” affair opened minds. Through input from various sources, people in attendance were given a realistic look at this earth-friendly manner of physical disposition.
Mount Auburn was the first cemetery in Massachusetts to be certified by the Green Burial Council as a hybrid burial ground. For that designation to be conferred, certain principled stipulations had to be met. Options now include an opportunity for a body to be buried in a biodegradable casket or shroud directly in the ground, without outer containment in the form of a vault or concrete liner. Instead of protuberant memorial stones, such graves may be marked by inconspicuous markers inlayed within nature’s ground cover. Alternatively, a small plaque affixed to a nearby shrub or tree, or the absence of any type of discernible marker, can serve as a sign that an individual’s body has been conscientiously poised to merge with the natural environment.
Here, within this embellished retreat for souls laid to rest, the beauty of nature’s complexion prevails. The possibility of becoming absorbed in its terrestrial vigor in spite of death can be especially alluring. A green burial within this thriving landscape offers an opportunity to literally embed oneself in a sanctuary of ecological splendor.
Mount Auburn Cemetery
Funeral Consumers Alliance of Western Massachusetts
National Home Funeral Alliance
A Will for the Woods film
Grave Matters by Mark Harris
Mourning Dove Studio
My Exit Strategy
Eternal Blessings Family-Direct Cremation Service