It is Easy Being Green

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I buried Jamey.

Actually, a few people did.

I mean, obviously I’m not suggesting that I just did it recently; he’s clearly been taking his eternal dirt nap for a while now.

What I mean is, I dug a shovel into a mound of earth, then sprinkled the earth on his shrouded body.

And yes, I do mean body, not casket.

Jamey wasn’t buried in a casket.

We rented one for his wake(yes, you can do that) but buried him in his soccer kit and a light muslin wrap.

Jamey’s burial was a green burial.

It was absolutely stunning.

I actually received compliments on it.  How often can you say that about a burial?

I’m going to come clean here–Jamey never gave me any concrete instructions on what he wanted done with his body after he passed. Up until the very end, he was convinced he wasn’t going to die.

He’d often say to me, “What do you mean I’m dying? I’m fine. I’m going back to work on Tuesday.”

His refusal to accept, understand and/or believe his inevitable demise was a helpful coping mechanism for him.

It was gut-wrenching for me.

It left me alone to make decisions about his health, his life and yes, his death.

The only suggestions he ever gave me regarding his burial were as follows: just throw me in the backyard and let the vultures eat me.

I gave him a send-off slightly less rustic and definitely more legal.

He did begrudgingly look at websites of local funeral homes with me in between eating his second breakfasts and watching “Let’s Make a Deal” one day.

On the home page of our local funeral parlor, Fertig Funeral Home, was an ad for something I’d never heard of before–green burials.  It piqued my curiosity and the more I read(and tried conveying to Jamey), the more fascinated I became.

The The Green Burial Council has a list of standards required of funeral homes and cemeteries in order to be “certified green”.

(You can read up here on the history of the funeral industry if you’re a nerd like me.)

Essentially, a green burial is environmentally and ecologically kind, both for the deceased and the environment.

It seeks to disrupt as little as possible with regards to the body’s natural dying process.

I’ll explain how Jamey’s wake and burial differed from a more traditional one.

First, he was not embalmed.

Second, I was planning on doing an open casket.

The facts that we were keeping Jamey’s body “au natural” AND I wanted an open casket was, admittedly, kind of tricky because I was planning on having a traditional Catholic wake  for a few hours the day before his funeral.

Apparently, when people choose a natural burial, they usually do a viewing and a funeral service on the same day.

And most people opt for a closed casket.

As vile and caustic as embalming fluid is, it does a great job doing what it’s supposed to do–preserving the human body and delaying the natural processes of a dying body.

Without it, the dying body does what it does–it begins to die.

 

Bob, our funeral director, assured me he’d do everything possible to make sure that Jamey was waked the entire time in full view of all the grieving coming to pay their last respects.

And Jamey, as always, was a trooper–he held out for the entire wake.

(Suffice it to say, they were cranking the air conditioning the entire time).

Not only did he “remain viewable”‘ for the entire wake —get this–he actually “looked really good.” (Everyone who’s ever been to an open casket viewing service is probably snickering when hearing that statement).

It’s true, though.

He looked good.

He looked like Jamey.

The day after his wake was his funeral service. He was still in his (rented)casket, but this time it was closed.

After the service, Bob and his wife Denise prepared Jamey’s body for burial. They wrapped him in muslin and covered him with forsythias branches and evergreen sprigs.

It was rustic and simple.

It was total Jamey.

They placed him in the back of their Ford Explorer(no hearse) and we all met down at the cemetery.

The cemetery dates back to the 1700s. It is adjacent to hundreds of acres of wilderness found in Belleplain State Forest.

entranceBurial plots are offered in one of two places: either in an open meadow or along a walking trail like the one seen in the picture above.

Jamey’s buried in the meadow.

The burial plots are dug by hand–yes–by an actual grave digger!

There are no vaults placed into the ground to “preserve” the body.

Although the cemetery allows for biodegradable caskets, I chose to have Jamey buried without one.

I simply didn’t see a point to it.

His body was placed on a wagon-cart of sorts and guided from the back of Bob and Denise’s truck to his plot.( I think in the “olden days” the cart would’ve been horse-drawn).

We all walked in a makeshift procession towards the large hand-dug hole in the ground which would be his final resting place. Behind the hole was a large mound of dirt with several erect shovels poking out. The shovels were for us.

Admittedly, this was the only part of the burial I was ambivalent about—actually throwing dirt onto the body of my dead husband.. Although Bob had assured me that burying Jamey myself was entirely optional, he also mentioned that many people had told him how wonderful the experience had been.

 

Ummmm….yeah….I wasn’t sold.

 

They transferred his body from the cart to a wooden plank with thick ropes attached to it.

With the help of family and friends, they lowered the roped plank and Jamey into the earth.

A neighborhood priest said a small prayer and I was left with the dirt decision.

In the end, I decided to “man up”, walk over to the dirt mound, and grab a shovel.

I plunged the shovel into the earth, carried the dirt over to his grave and dumped the first round of mound onto his shrouded body. It hit with a dull thud.  After I started to dig, several family members and friends followed suit. Even his little nephew joined in(he’d brought his own plastic kiddie shovel).

As bizarre as it may sound, tossing shovelsfull of dirt on my dead husband’s body was a wonderfully cathartic experience. It started out as a solemn, slow and silent activity, but as others grabbed shovels it quickly turned into something entirely different.

We started talking…. We chose what parts of Jamey’s body we were going to target, “I’m going for his head”…”I’ve got his crotch..” “Bam!” “Thud” “Splat“! We grunted and joked and bent and dug and cried and laughed.

I felt angry.

I felt determined.

I felt connected.

I felt.

We all pitched in and worked hard(I mean really hard) to fill his grave. I watched as the last remnant of his creme-colored fabric disappeared under crumbled dirt.

I watched until he was gone.

I remember wiping some sweat off my forehead and looking down at my hands. There was a fine layer of grit on them and I had some dirt under my fingernails. I wandered around and chatted with family and friends under the canopy of trees and gleaming, warm mid-April sun.

I walked around and found a stone that was laying off the side of the meadow and placed it on his grave as a natural marker of his final resting place.

Jamey’s buried under a large tree in the middle of an open meadow surrounded by wildflowers and trees and a stream.

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There’s a tiny chapel with white clapboard and black shutters in the background.

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It’s simple.

It’s quiet.

It’s Jamey

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Painting his headstone–a week after his burial.

 

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5 Comments

  1. This was such a moving and informative post. Thanks for sharing such a personal moment. This also struck up a conversation between my husband (a former co-worker of Jamie’s) and me about how we’d like to be handled after death. I like the idea of letting nature do its thing and also the closure it provides by having the family participate in burying their loved one. You’ve given us a lot to think about, thank you.

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    1. I’m so glad you got something out of it. Bringing up “end of life” issues when you’re so young seems so ugly, unnecessary and depressing, but it really is one that should be addressed when you’re healthy and of sound mind.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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  2. That is a wonderful way to honor your hubby’s humble and holy death.
    I wasn’t aware of Green Burials.
    Thank you for this post, I plan to talk with our local funeral home.
    My husband has some very creative suggestions for how I am to dispose of his cremated body but they ain’t happening! I just nod ‘yes’ to his ideas but I have no intentions of: putting him in shotgun shells, throwing him out of a plane to drift down over a wheat field after I mix his and the dog’s ashes, turning him into a stepping stone or a coral ‘ starter stone’ and dumping him in the gulf. Earrings ?!
    Nothing against anyone who wants to do this but they all make my Parish Priest bang his head on the table. My hubby isn’t Catholic but I am.
    He’s been sanctifying me with his illness, helping me grow closer to God.
    I don’t feel that way most of the time but I’ve been assured it’s happening.
    I owe him in a big way so it’s gonna be a green burial for him.

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    1. You crack me up, Judy. Curious–are all of your husband’s um…creative..last wish requests brain-tumor related or has he always shown such an interesting approach towards his final send off?
      Jamey was tried and true before and after brain tumor–“toss me over the fence and let nature take over” which is mostly why I kind of went with the green burial.

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  3. Just caught up on this to reply,
    In answer to your question, oh yeah, all creative funeral plans on his part are directly related to the tumor. He likes to dream up a scenario, then another, and another.

    We had ” the talk” about final wishes and wills back in 2012 before he started spinning out on me so I stick to that. Early on, a wise social worker connected to his neuro oncologist told us to do it NOW!

    Good thing, because his way of thinking, reasoning, remembering, talking, seeing; it almost all hails from ‘planet brain cancer’ these days.

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