When All is Laid to Rest
Written by Mary Edson
Growing up on the east coast, I loved seeing the 4 seasons cycle round and round each year as clear as day and night. Spring: the onset of birth, Summer: a time for great growth and expansion, Autumn: peak beauty, an abundant and final harvest and a time when external energy begins to recede inward, and Winter: a time of rest, the dying back of what is no longer needed, a transition period. I understand the four seasons as being intricately connected to the four stages of life: childhood, adolescence, middle years and old age.
Through observing the seasons, I have started to understand my own life cycle. My long-standing love affair with floral design has propelled me toward an intimate relationship with the celebration of birth and the transition from a living, waking world, to the space that holds us upon our death. It has been with the acceptance of the inevitability that someday, I will pass and leave this earth as I now know it, that I am able to participate more fully in my life right now.
As my appreciation for the many transitions that accompany life grows, I’m discovering that I am more and more curious about exploring aspects of living and dying. Needless to say, I was fully engaged in my weekend class, Dying to Know: Issues of Death and Dying for the Professional (part of the Trauma, Grief and Renewal Certificate Program), where we explored the many options we have regarding our transition from life to death. Among many topics, we discussed the importance of a living will, green and home burial options.
I first learned about green burial years ago when I was introduced to a woman who had a passion for alternative options in the funeral industry. During my work with her, I painted a cardboard coffin which I embellished with a plethora of pressed flowers and I helped dig graves (going truly green, in any life endeavor, means reducing carbon emissions as much as possible, so using a backhoe wasn’t an option). Yet, while I developed a quick respect and fascination for the green burial process, I was not ready to talk about my own after-death wishes.
When I first began to explore new concepts about dying, I was a bit superstitious and nervous to even talk about death, let alone to vocalize about my own demise. While, I hope to live a long and fruitful life, my level of comfort with talking about the process of dying has grown exponentially. I see a candid relationship with my own death as the fuel that feeds my life; knowing I will ultimately die uplifts me to strive toward my highest good and potential. Beyond that, what I realized throughout the course of my class, in which we had to closely examine our hopes and wishes for our own funeral, is that when my time comes, it is shattering to think of my funeral as a time of pain and also potential harm. I prefer that my burial be a balance of grief, opportunities for emotional intimacy, and also a source of tremendous healing for both my loved ones and the earth.
What I find most important about making advance after death choices is not so much the specifics of what someone does or does not want, for their physical remains, but simply the necessity of understanding that one has many, many choices about the care they would like to have throughout their entire dying and post-death process. Laws differ from state-to-state, and may be restrictive, yet, even so, the decisions we have are many and the room for self-discovery, renewal, and nourishment in our unique dying and burial process quite vast. Perhaps you are curious about what types of options there are and would like to learn more for yourself or a loved one, click the links below to view some great resources:
Through Green Burial Council, a document that helps one navigate their wishes around environmental aims, funeral arrangements, body preparation, etc.
The Film: Dying Wish, available on Netflix