My forever home?

I spent last week in Prince Edward County, cozied into a lovely air bnb, all by myself, working on my book. It was a glorious week. I got a lot of writing done, ate when I wanted to and spoke to almost no one. I also read an excellent book: The Dictionary of Lost Words, which I highly recommend to anyone who likes words.

Despite the chilly, wet weather, my daily routine included a walk about town. Early on, I found the Glenwood Cemetery, which I remembered was one of the very few places in eastern Ontario offering green burials, so I decided to check it out.

Fortunately, I found a detailed map close to the entrance of the cemetery, with the green burial area clearly marked. I set off confidently, but soon realized that the map failed to capture either the size of the cemetery or the number of steep hills. My pace slowed, as I stopped to look at grave markers from the large and ornate to the more humble, while catching my breath.

By the time I got to the top of what I had decided would be my final hill before conceding defeat, I was gasping for breath and wondering whether I might need immediate occupancy of my green burial site. Happily, immediately in front of me was the scattering area for people’s ashes and, just past it, the natural green burial area.

There really was nothing to see. No tombstones, no markers, no arrangements of plastic flowers. Just a forest, barely beginning to wake up from its winter’s sleep. For all of its simplicity, it was a beautiful and peaceful spot. I could see signs of one recent burial, and it looked like daffodils had been planted in a few spots, but that was it.

I’ve returned a couple of times since. After all, when we buy a house, we often inspect it several times before making a final decision and, while I don’t believe in life after death, it seemed responsible to look at my body’s possible forever home more than once.

The principles

Since then, I’ve gathered more information. As the Glenwood Cemetery’s Green Burial FAQ sheet states, the cemetery follows the five principles of green burials:

  1. No embalming: Decomposition is nature’s way of recycling a body.
  2. Direct earth burial: For green burial, no outside grave liner or protective vault is used. The shrouded and/or casketed body is buried directly into the ground.
  3. Ecological restoration and conservation: Site preservation and perpetual protection is a key component of green burial.
  4. Communal memorialization: Ultimately, it is the green burial site as a whole that becomes a living memorial to the person interred there.
  5. Optimized land use: A well-planned green burial cemetery (or cemetery section) will optimize the land it occupies.

Point number five is a polite way of saying that bodies are buried more closely together in a green burial site than in regular cemetery plots. In fact, a friend recently told me that in some European green cemeteries, what remains of people’s bodies (generally just the skeleton) is removed after about 10 years to make space for more burials.

What does it cost?

The cemetery also provides an up-to-date price list. There are a lot of options to wade through, many of which were unfamiliar to me. Columbarian niches, as I learned when I looked up the term, are spaces, often in a marble wall-like structure, where the ashes of people who have been cremated are placed. Had I any interest, I could buy one. Or, I could buy a bench or walkway paver on which I could be memorialized. I now know the cost of disinterment, too: $2,500+ for a body but just $650 for cremated remains.

I can pay for interment rights, thus guaranteeing myself a spot for when I need it, for $1,300, which also covers care and maintenance in the future. The spot is for one body and the ashes of up to three other people, although I am not sure that anyone would want their ashes to share space with my decomposing body. (My cat could be cremated for $350 and then I could bury her ashes with me for $100.)

The cost of getting me into the ground is another $1,300. Then, of course, there’s the cost of the shroud (unbleached, natural fabrics only) and/or casket (sustainable and fully biodegradable materials), of getting my body to the cemetery, which has to be sorted out with a funeral home, and of any kind of ritual I might want to have as my body enters the earth. (Important note: there’s no HST on the direct cemetery-related costs.)

I had hoped to avoid funeral homes altogether, and perhaps by the time my dead body needs to be dealt with, that will be possible. In the meantime, I’m going to check out natural fabric for my shroud — the brightest colours I can find — and skip the casket. And, rather than a cemetery ritual, I’m going to hope that my friends and family will opt for a party, with live music, good cocktails and great food, either before or after I have slipped quietly — but colourfully — into the ground.

My partner has long wanted to have his body left on top of a hill for the crows to enjoy. That’s not very practical for an urban dweller, so I think I can persuade him that this is the next best option. In that case, I’ll be booking us both into the green burial site, without committing to a check-in date yet.

One thought on “My forever home?

  1. This is great info, thanks. Although cremation has long been our expectation, this makes so much more sense. I’m curious about the “middlepersons.” You have to use a funeral home to shroud/transport your body?
    Is that aspect a new niche for someone out there to explore?

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