She called it a cemetery crawl. We were to drive to all the cemeteries in the area and decide where we wanted to be buried.
Both of us are interested in green burial, burial into the soil in a manner that doesn’t inhibit decomposition but allows the body to recycle naturally. No chemical preservatives are used, such as embalming fluid, which may destroy the decomposers that break down the body. The coffin is also biodegradable, often built of wood. A shroud can also let the body contact the soil. And the grave is shallow enough so that microbial activity can take place, similar to composting. More and more people are considering this type of burial for environmental reasons.
Green burial immediately eliminated one big cemetery, where they require burial in a vault made of either plastic or metal. No decomposition, so the earth doesn’t fall in! They also require embalming. No, thank you.
We started the crawl and looked at things like quiet, beauty, naturalness and how we felt being there. One graveyard in particular stood out, so we met with the proprietor and discussed specifics – particular plots, availability, cost, headstones, sun or no sun, proximity to the highway, size of plots, who digs the hole, how deep, what happens if we die in the winter and they can’t dig the hole and other nitty-gritty decisions to make.
After much research and contemplation, I bought the plot! It’s sold by the square foot. Mine is 10-by-10, in the sun and with a sweet grove of junipers nearby. A certificate affirms that I own this for my body when I die. Simple. Done.
Now, I must decide about a casket and headstone. I want a simple wooden box and came across the plans for one in a book I recently read, If Our Bodies Could Talk. The cost is about $200 for materials, and it looks fairly easy to build. I asked my handyman friend if he would build it for me. Maybe he could turn this into a business, as I know other people who are starting to think about this. We baby boomers will all be dying within the next 25 years. This could be profitable!
I am also thinking a wooden headstone, with something written on it that speaks to me about my life. Wood will disintegrate just like my body, and that is good for all of us. Who need hunks of stone sitting around the cemetery for hundreds of years? Perhaps my handyman will make this for me, too.
Why am I doing all this? Am I still trying to control things, even if I won’t be around anymore? Do I just want a pleasant place where I can rest my soul after so many years? Do I want things to be easier for my kids? Do I want to make sure I’m not affecting the earth any more than I have? Yes, all these things.
I also think these preparations help me see the attachment I have to my body and help me release my identification with it. Visualizing the actual burial and decomposition brings me to a sense of myself as just a spirit, and to the impermanence of all life. It reminds me to soften and let go of the fear of the uncontrollable.
Interesting stuff, and it all started with the crawl. Now, it’s time to switch to pubs.
Martha McClellan has been a developmental educator in early childhood for 38 years. She has moved her focus now to the other end of life, and has written a book, The Aging Athlete: What We Do to Stay in the Game. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.