Sunday, October 8, 2017

Life, Death, Life

The Mystery within...
Life and death are so inextricably linked and yet we now keep death at arms length and in the shadows.  Not too long ago our ancestors had first hand experience with the dying and death process.  It was common for people to die at home, and family members to simply prepare the body for natural burial.  They also lived closer to the life/death/life cycle in nature from which our modern, specialized lives now distance us.  Thankfully, we have hospice organizations to help us transition through the dying process at home or in health care settings.  And now a return to simple natural green burials is beginning to be understood as vital to furthering new life on our finite planet.

I have attended two natural burial presentations over the past few years sponsored by the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center’s, Spiritual World of Nature Program.  I went to the first program because I knew I did not want to rot in a sealed metal casket, encased in a concrete vault with my bodies’ natural fluids replaced with toxic chemicals.  I was curious if there were other options besides cremation to return me to the earth.  Presenters at the first natural burial program told of individuals willing to help family members prepare a deceased loved one’s body for natural more environmentally sensitive burial that included being interred in a simple shroud, or biodegradable basket, or cardboard box.  I also learned of a new environmentally sensitive, inexpensive process called alkaline hydrolysis that could quickly return the energy that was once me back to the earth from which I came.    

Natural burial sounds simple but there are hurtles to overcome.  The business side of death does not support simple inexpensive burials and not all cemeteries allow them.   Natural burials do not have to be restricted to cemeteries but then zoning laws can be another hurtle.  Being regarded as weird because of wanting to be buried naturally is another stumbling block and is what prompted me to return years later to a second natural burial program at the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center.  What a great environmental leap forward it would be to open nature centers and natural areas around the globe to natural burials.  I hope to live long enough to compensate the earth for all I have taken from it during my life by being buried naturally.

When my daughter’s beloved cat, Sophie, became seriously ill and the vet suggested it would be best to put her down, I suggested to my daughter we could bring Sophie back home with us and bury her ourselves.  She was reluctant until I asked the vet what our options were.  The list was long and started with private cremation for $360.00 and ended with the vet saying, “Or you could just take her home with you.”  I knew Sophie would have wanted to come back with us so we wrapped her in a soft towel and brought her home.  Clearing a spot for her burial, sawing away large underground roots from nearby bushes to dig a deep enough hole was hard work.  But when I watched my daughter gently wrap Sophie in a cream colored sheet, carry her to the grave, and nestle her in, I knew it was the right thing to do.  She put bright flowers on top the sheet, sprinkled some of Sophie’s late buddy Ben’s ashes around her, and then lit some sage.  That little ceremony reclaimed our connection to Sophie and Ben and all things beyond.  It was very cathartic.  After covering her with earth we put large flat stones on top to mark her grave. One of the flat stones has a straight six-inch long, inch wide, quarter inch deep, gouge running across it.  I learned it is a skid mark from a stone once encased in a glacier that etched that flat rock as it moved over it. Every time one of us mows the front lawn now, Sophie’s simple, yet magnificent gravesite, reminds us of where she and we are in time.

I am grateful to the Audubon Center, and John Hoff, who coordinated the first Spiritual World of Nature natural burial program, and to Sister Suzanne Moynihan who presented the second.  Thanks for helping me become more comfortable with being thought of as  “weird.”    

Sister Moynihan shared her poem “Transformation” at the end of her presentation and has given me permission to share it with you.


When I die
and after some time
has passed,

do not come to one marked oblong site
to remember me.

But rather,

feed the hummingbirds.
I am there.

Water your herbs.
I am there.

Relish violets, wild, persistent.
I am there.

Caress a cedar
whose branches respond
by gifting you with deep knowing
that all is indeed one.
I am there.

Listen to Sandhill cranes in love.
I am there.

I will be compost—that robust, dark life force:
nurturing oaks
feeding wrens,
breaking open seed.

Poem was written April 13, 2016
As I was reflecting on natural burial.

Suzanne Violet Moynihan, School Sister of Notre Dame

What if we all lived closer to nature's life/death/life cycle? 

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