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  Wednesday January 28th, 2015    

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Parting is such sweet compost (08/08/2004)
By Janet Lewis Burns

One of the best ideas I've heard of in a month of Sundays! Why not back-to-nature burials? The August AARP Bulletin's article by Barbara Basler, "Green Graveyards" offers a beautiful repose. Death is not the final word...nor the last pine tree.

But, it seems that this renewed concept of bidding loved ones adieu is raising quite a stink out in Westminster, S.C., a town of 2,700 skeptical residents. Twenty graves, hand-dug, marked with flat stones engraved with the names of the dead, the burials are legal. The town's only doctor, Billy Campbell owns cemeteries in three states.

"By setting aside a woods for natural burials," Campbell explains, "we preserve it from development. Our burials honor the idea of dust to dust." Pointing out that the mortuary-cemetery business is a $20-billion-a-year industry, $2 billion a year could be going toward land conservation. A burial in a simple casket costs about $2,300. The average conventional funeral costs about $6,500.

Put your money where your spouse is. It is obvious, in the throes of the natural, that "green cemeteries" are full of life, not death! Memorials wouldn't be needed for perpetual care of lavish cemetery grounds, but rather used to restore the land for future generations.

If this open-air practice goes against your grain - take note, the money saved could be your own! I wrote the following epitaph for flowers after visiting my parents' Bethany Moravian grave site, and finding the drab geraniums half-dead (so they might just as well have been.)

I rant, "I would let no ordinary plant die in my name! Cemetery urns gag with dully-red geraniums. So let them have geraniums! As for me, I'd hope to fertilize an eight day bunch of red roses, that they would leave this world adored, blushing from the wanton life they had sashayed through." Amen.

I have already casually chosen my casket, but I can always cancel the order. As we selected a proper farewell bed for a family member, who I am happy to report is very much alive and well, I fell in love with the wabi-sabi, knotty and raw wood box, its lining in camouflage print with khaki overtones. No hassle, no indecision, and no nylons it would go well with most anything in my closet.

The most profoundly clinging thoughts concerning that big "D," spoken by a dying man, were recorded by his former student Mitch Albom, in a treasure of a read. In "Tuesdays with Morrie," Albom writes, "At 78, he was as giving as an adult and taking a child." (Time's pendulum swings both ways.)

Yes, Morrie Schwartz reflects, "Aging is not just decay, you know. It's growth. It's more than the negative that you're going to die, it's also the positive that you understand you're going to die, and that you live a better life because of it."

I reread Mitch reflecting, "I felt the seeds of death inside his shriveling frame, and as I laid him in his chair, adjusting his head on the pillows, I had the coldest realization that our time was running out." A vivid image flooded me with the recollection of something a dear friend told me.

I see it now as a beautiful way of saying goodbye, like restoring your loved one to a resting place amid rippling wildflowers, and beneath fluffy skies whipped with light, and the fragrance of honeysuckle. A middle-aged woman sat at the side of her dying father, perplexed that she didn't know how to let him go, and seeking words that wouldn't come.

So full of love and impending loss, she undressed, crawled in bed beside him, and held him like a child, his emaciated body curled in a fetal position. All the deep-set adoration, and the bond that had sustained them throughout her forty-eight years, turned the bed of pain and sorrow to a comforting and peaceful farewell. I had never heard of a gesture as openly compassionate.

Morrie said it best..."once you learn how to die, you learn how to live. Dying is only one thing to be sad over, Mitch. Living unhappily is something else."

Carpe diem! 


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