Guest Column: Finding beauty in her final resting place

On Dec. 23 a group of people gathered to bury a loving mom, wife, sister, aunt and friend.

A soft mist was falling as gentle words were spoken and stories shared about a person who, when diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer, faced the coming end of her life with admirable courage. You see this person, my sister Viki, had very specific plans she wanted carried out upon her death. The plans were surprising to all of us, and somewhat unusual.

My understanding is that several years ago, Viki read an article about Natural Burials, a practice that has been going on throughout the world for centuries. She was taken with the idea because of the damage done to the earth done through the use of chemicals on a person who has died, along with the damage caused by the caskets or vaults in which we are buried. 

Viki and I are part of a very large family, eight siblings in all. Viki contributed to the largeness thing and had six sons. So, with this huge, huge family in mind, you can imagine how the game of “telephone” affected the sharing of Viki’s plans from one person to another. By the time I heard it, I came to the quick conclusion that my dear sister, who was a very common-sense kind of person, had gone nuts. Rather than continue with the spreading of what I thought sounded odd, I picked up the phone and called Viki. She got a good laugh out of what the story had become: “… her body would have a couple of sheets wrapped around it, put in the back of a car and driven to an empty field to be buried.” Then she got down to business and explained exactly what she wanted done. She also told me that she had been in contact with a place called The Larkspur Conservation in Tennessee and that she wanted to go there to see what this natural burial thing was all about.

By this time, several weeks had passed since her diagnosis and Viki was on oxygen 24/7, but still able to walk a short distance. She was determined in her quest to visit the place in which she might possibly be buried. She was blessed with a loving husband who acquiesced to her wishes and drove her from their home in St. Marys, Ga., to the Larkspur Conservation at Taylor Hollow, Westmoreland, Tenn. 

Viki did not want a bunch of people fussing over her as her condition progressed. Viki did not want a wake, a cremation, a church funeral or to be buried in a cemetery. She liked simple, she liked nature and she loved flowers. A natural burial offered all that. After viewing the area the conservation reserved for natural burials, she and her husband agreed on a site the Larkspur funeral consultant recommended. After returning home, she sent me a picture of herself and her husband standing in their field. Once I saw that photograph and read about natural burials on the Conservation website, I could well understand her decision.

This all took place late this past summer and a short three and a half months later, family and friends from all over traveled to Tennessee and gathered in Taylor Hollow on a rainy Sunday two days before Christmas. We hiked up the side of a mountain to find Viki waiting for us there, wrapped in a 100-year-old quilt made by our grandmother and lying on a board crafted by one of her sons. 

With songs she had selected playing softly in the background, her sons laid her body in a grave, which had been prepared with a moss pillow for her head, and evergreen branches surrounding the opening. As we all helped to shovel a huge pile of earth over Viki’s body, it actually helped us to get through the turmoil surrounding the death of a person we loved. What also helped was the garden we planted, right then and there, using the indigenous natural flora of the area. Her body will now recycle naturally and the garden we planted will bloom into the flowers Viki so loved. She would be one of them. She no longer had to be afraid. She was exactly where she wanted to be. 

I share this story with you to demonstrate an alternative to think about when it comes to preparing for the death of a friend or loved one. Every person attending Viki’s burial is still processing what they were part of in her final journey. Yes, it was sad and very emotional for every person there, but it was peaceful and beautiful at the same time and has given each one of us something to think about.

For people not familiar with it, Natural Burial is the interment of the body into the soil in a manner that does not inhibit decomposition but allows the body to recycle naturally. It is an alternative to other contemporary Western burial methods and customs. There are now 93 registered natural burial sites, also knows as green burial sites, in the United States. They are recognized as natural burial sites, although some are regular cemeteries where both natural and traditional burials take place.

Viki looked into several green burial sites and selected Larkspur Conservation because it was the most beautifully natural of its kind. She was right. It is, indeed, a special place and a peaceful way to celebrate the last journey of a loved one’s life.

The author lives in New Suffolk.

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