Thursday, 11 June 2009

The tree of life is growing

The DIY Green Burial Guide

Recently, my second daughter was stillborn 27 weeks into the pregnancy. Life is full of quirky little ways. Some might say that at least I have one child, I should count my blessings, and they’d be right. I’m not sure I’d have pulled through without the youthful magic that my daughter spills into my life. Others might say that in having a child already I am now painfully aware of the lost future, every depth of emotion and love that accompanies motherhood, the bottomless fountain of joy that each and every child brings, and they’d be right too.

Loss of any loved one, or pet, can be amongst the most traumatic of experiences you may ever have to face. For me outliving my child was incomprehensible. I couldn’t maintain the simplest of daily tasks, yet I couldn’t sit back and allow others to take control of my baby’s final arrangements either. As painful as it was, I clung onto every process and was not able to delegate even the smallest of details to another. That is how it had to be, for me. Death affects us all differently and I accept that my way is just that, my way. We each have our own ways of dealing with things.

So, where do you begin in making arrangements for death? It’s a hard question to answer. We all have preconceptions of what a funeral will involve, personal tastes spiritual beliefs, location, burial or cremation? Plaque or tree? But I found these are things I had only briefly considered in the past, I had not ever given any real thought to it, and when I began, WHOOSH! I was hit by a tidal wave of personal choices, ethical questions, and maternal needs.

Because I have felt my way through this process blindly, learning through trial and error, I thought it may be of help if I shared some of the questions, decisions and ethical considerations that I faced along my way. I hope to help others that find themselves having to plan a funeral and are wondering how to go about it in an environmentally friendly way.

Where would my baby rest?
I am a spiritual person but do not follow the doctrines of any of the major faiths, so I guess a churchyard or crematorium would not sit well with me. Furthermore, I find myself with the dilemma of these transient times. Will I still be living in this town in 6 months? 1 year? 1 decade? I hope not!

So, if not in the hallowed ground of a major faith in the town I reside, where will my baby lie? In a panic, I did consider Christian route, but you know, when I delved into the possibilities available to me I found myself staring at news articles discussing the Health & Safety lunacy of local council’s, tales of topple testing, constant renewal of plots or the danger of your loved one being dug up to make way for a new body, tombstones cast aside, vandalism, desecration of graves. I heard myself screaming NO! Not for my baby girl!

I found my own ethical and spiritual beliefs naturally leaning me towards the path of a green burial. I looked for a site. I managed to find an online list from ‘The Natural Death Handbook’ and located a few places within reasonable distance of my home.

So, now I had settled on where, the question became how?

Burial or cremation?
I had always naturally assumed that when my time came, I would like to be cremated. As a child I had not relished the thought of being eaten by worms, becoming a scary looking skeleton, with age worn teeth, elongated finger nails and wisps or hair clinging to the skull. In my late teens, early twenties, I romantically envisioned that when my time came I would be cremated and ashes cast to the wind of place of outstanding beauty, becoming one with the elemental dances of life.

However, cremation didn’t feel right, not for my baby girl. As I mentioned above, I was an emotional mess, finding the weekly shopping too difficult to complete. Cremation just seemed like one more unnecessary process, one more added complication in an overcomplicated world. I craved for the simplicity that would bring my daughter one step closer to nature. I also had nightmares of the ashes that would be returned to me being a makeup of more than one body; I worried that she would not be complete. As I said, I was clinging onto every piece of my daughter for dear life.

There were the ethical pros and con’s of whether the energy required to cremate a body was compensated for by the space factor. I didn’t need to worry too much about that. Burying a stillborn babe would not take up much more space than an urn full of ashes. Besides, my baby was going to be buried in the countryside where the space criterion is not as high on the agenda as in city plots. My baby would provide rich nutrient for the earth. She could nurture the nature that will in turn protect her and that which she will become a part.

Another question that I stumbled across when making my decision was whether or not burial is safe for a diseased body? I have found research that suggests it is. The earth is a natural cleanser. I am not an authority on this however; you may wish to research this yourself.

There is no right or wrong here, only personal choices.

My baby was buried and did not go through any processes of embalmment. She was buried in her natural state. Something you may need to consider if you would like to have a green burial is whether or not the body will need to be prepared, i.e. removal of pacemakers, prosthetic limbs, fillings etc. You may find that green burial grounds differ in their conditions for the use of the plot. There may be some issues around the embalming process that may prevent you from securing a plot in green burial grounds. It is best to be prepared for this possibility and discuss this with the burial ground prior to cremation/embalmment etc.

So, my baby was to be buried in a green burial site in a rural location the question now became what would she be buried in?

Coffin, Urn, Pod, Box or Shroud?
There are a number of options out there that cater for every taste and whim. If you wish to pursue a green burial you will need to pay attention to the regulations of the site. Green burial sites generally maintain that the coffin, urn, box or shroud should be organic, chemical free, biodegradable and locally sourced. The site will most probably be able to sign post you to suppliers in your area, if not, a list of some suppliers can be found in the free online page of ‘The Natural Death handbook’.

I chose a felt burial shroud fashioned in the shape of a leaf. Personal choices. I found that the choices I made became part of the healing power of processes. Poring over every detail, weighing up all the options distracted my mind, and when the funeral was over, the beauty of the end results, the love integrated into every stage of the arrangements provided some comfort.

Do I use a Funeral Director?
I chose not to, partly because I was conscious of costs (although I have now been advised that most funeral directors won’t charge for a child), but mostly because I could not let go. I needed to do it all myself.

There is no right or wrong answer here and certainly there are many benefits to using a director. For example, funeral directors have their own Chapel of Rest. This makes things much easier to view the body before the funeral. The hospital morgue where my baby was held prior to the funeral twins as the forensic department for the entire West Midlands Police. This means that every dead body found by the police is brought to that hospital. This has a huge impact upon the time demands placed upon the morgue staffs, which in turn places restrictions upon the visiting of loved ones.

A funeral director can shield you from so me of the unpleasant questions you may not be prepared for. The director can request the release of the body and transport the body to the funeral site. There are legal questions to consider here.

You do not however need to use a funeral director if you do not wish to. Some graveyards, crematoriums or funeral retailers will encourage you to or insist upon making arrangements via a director, but this tends to be more out of a sense of loyalty between established business relationships than an inflexible requirement. Some business retailers feel more comfortable dealing with a director than with a bereaved individual or group of parties.

What might you be asked if you choose not to use a funeral director?
Let us begin with the obvious. Obvious on hindsight that is, these questions completely threw me off guard and caused me pain. I am operating here in the spirit of fore warned is fore armed.

The basic thing that the place of burial will need to know is how big is the body? The required measurements will need to include the length, width and depth of the coffin, casket, box etc.

If the body is to be buried, then the retailer of the shroud, wicker basket, cardboard box, ecopod etc will need to know the measurements of the body in order to make the correct size. Depending upon the size of the retailer or the age of the body you may find that the body will fall neatly into small, medium, large categories. The size may affect the price.

If the body is to be cremated you may find this question is not an issue as urns are often come in standardised sizes.

There will also be the questions of registering the death, providing the correct legal paperwork to release the body, transport it and finally intern it. These things are relatively straight forward but can be rather cold and clinical and may be upsetting for the loved ones faced with making the arrangements. You may decide that this is something that you need to do yourself or that you prefer to let a funeral director take care of these matters for you.

Registering the birth, death, stillbirth
This is one of the first things you should think of doing. Differing cultures and/or circumstances may dictate when the funeral shall take place. The body cannot be released from the morgue until the death has been registered. Upon registration of death you will be issued with a certificate that must be shown to the hospital as a legal requirement. You will then need to provide this certificate to the grave yard/ crematorium/ green burial ground prior to the body being interned. This is a legal requirement.
Other legal requirements
In order to transport the body to your home/Chapel of Rest/ funeral directors/ and/or place of interment/burial you must follow the stipulations of the Transport Regulations Acts. Essentially this means that the body must be contained in a sturdy container preferably that locks. The reason for this is to prevent the opening of a police investigation if the transport vehicle is involved in an accident whilst transporting the body. The hospital, morgue or Chapel of Rest ill not be able to release the body unless they are satisfied that you will be able to transport the body appropriately.

I was advised that because I intended to bury my daughter in a felt shroud which would not meet he requirement of the transport regulations, I may wish to consider transporting my daughters body in a large Tupperware storage box similar to my recycling box.

Financial help
Depending upon your household income, the circumstances of the death, the age of the deceased and the capabilities f your family and friends, you may just find that there is a lot more financial support available to you than you initially thought. There are government grants, as mentioned above, some hospitals and funeral directors will not charge to make the arrangements for a child if you are happy with the option they provide. I will be posting some web links for useful sites below, some of which will signpost to government grant application forms. It would be advisable to read through the guidance prior to paying money as there may restrictions on being reimbursed.

A legacy of love
So, now that I had waded through the nitty-gritty of the fundamental choices and legal requirements I found myself able to focus on the pleasanter aspects, the more therapeutic and healing side of planning and arranging a funeral.

I had now to consider the words of the service, the spiritual faith, the music, poetry, prose, plaque, balloons, flowers, bulbs, seeds, tree, woodland or meadow… All these things I pored over endlessly, thoroughly immersing myself into the beauty, sanctity, symbolism of nature, the language of flowers.

As I considered which memorial tree to choose, I learned of the ecosystems attached to each. The hazel supports 3 different types of bee, 5 types of moth, woodpecker, dormouse, red squirrels, fiery milk mushroom or hazel milk-cap (Lactarius pyrogalus), lichen. The dog rose, supports the bank vole, blackbird, bullfinch, common malachite beetle, fieldfare, greenfinch, grey squirrel, mistle thrush, oedemera nobilis, eedwing, song thrush, waxwing, wood mouse and yellow-necked mouse.

I began to allow myself to daydream about th e future beauty of the nature reserve, musing over the differing taste and cultures of each individual buried at the site. One family may choose oak, another ash, myself hazel, snakeshead frattilarys, snowdrops, maybe next year the bird cherry or dog rose. What a rich tapestry of diversity of species the future would behold.

I looked up the native species using the National History Museum post code finder ,learning all about the natural ecology of the area. Each discovery lending me a soothing balm of distraction. I imagined my daughter becoming one with the land, moon gazing with hare, mingling with badger, leaping with deer, flying with skylark. The earth, rain and animals would protect her.

I dreamed of a future where my baby’s resting ground would not only achieve nature reserve status but would become a SSSI, an area of outstanding natural beauty, inhabited by protected endangered species, a place of inspiration to artist and poet alike. I felt the healing, inspirational power of this legacy of love giving peace to our future generations.

And later, on the day of the service, as Catholic, Pagan, Buddhist and Christian stood side by side to honour my daughter I realised the power of nature can offer so much more. Nature transcends religion yet remains revered and encompassed by all. We live in an age where we strive to breakdown cultural barriers, embrace diversity, promote equality, end segregation and promote peace, yet rarely are we laid to rest together. A green burial ground can become a place of harmony and peace for all culture, religions and race.

Just remember that death is not the end
For the tree of life is growing

Where the spirit never dies

[Nick Cave and The Bad seeds]


Tracey said...

I just wanted to reach out to you and say how sorry I am that your daughter is not with you, and these horrible, horrible decisions you've been faced with. These are decisions that no parent should ever face.

Sending you much love and healing along this journey.

ArtSparker said...

Hello, This was a very thoughtful and very complete post, and I am sure it would help anyone in this situation to read it. Such a long journey. I hope it helped to write this, and that you are dreaming of trees as I write this.

yvette said...

Thank you!

Jasmine said...

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

I am dreaming of he tree, lots of trees..

Blessings x

SarahA said...

But she is. She is still with you. Just because you can not see her, she lives on inside of you. I really believe that. Really thought provoking and beautiful write, you.

martine frampton said...

This post is the most moving and poignant I have ever read, thank you so much for sharing your experience. My heart goes out to you for the loss of your daughter. Life is so precious no matter how short.
much love Martine

Jasmine said...

Thank you all for your kind comments

Tracey, I'm sorry for your loss too x