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Senior Citizen's Guide to South Jersey

Natural Burial

Owning a “Green Burial Cemetery” has given me a different prospective from traditional cemeterians on the funeral process and what it can mean to someone.

Natural burials are not only better than traditional burials for the environment; they can also be very beneficial for the families of the deceased. Even though green burial preserves give back to the Earth in many ways, what I have really learned from the natural burial process is that it is truly about taking the family members and turning them from spectators into participants. Green cemeteries are most certainly more focused on life than death. This may seem ironic, but death is an inevitable part of life so we must celebrate life and then embrace death, as it is part of the unchangeable cycle of existence on Earth. Most natural burial grounds have dual purposes. Even if people are uninterested in the benefits of green burials, they can still use their eco-friendly trails to enjoy the surrounding nature. I believe that is the missing piece, making a cemetery into not only a final resting place but also an integral part of everyday social life. Getting the community and the families of the lost loved ones involved makes for a more meaningful event.

People are afraid of cemeteries, and rightfully so. A funeral is obviously never a joyous event, but it also does not have to be a terrible one either. Natural burials are a celebration of one’s life and the way they chose to live it. Being in a green cemetery and listening to the wind wisp through the trees and the songbirds singing can make for a very soothing and calming end-of-life event. When people come to the cemetery, they are grief-stricken and searching for closure. The families can participate in every aspect of the funeral service. They can carry their loved one to the gravesite, lower them down, and fill the grave themselves. As they take part in this process, you can slowly see the grief and pain ease from their faces. It may sound strange, but many family members come to a natural burial crying but actually leave smiling by the end of the service. This is not because they are happy by any means but because they were active participants in giving their loved ones a proper and heartfelt goodbye. It is a very cathartic process. By participating in the burial, they have a more concrete grasp of accepting the loss. Partaking in a natural burial ceremony is the only way to fully understand how beneficial it can be for family members and friends of the lost.

During a recent green burial funeral, the family had a gathering in the chapel following the graveside service. Everyone was so upbeat and there were no tears being shed. If a stranger had walked in, they would have never guessed they were stepping into a wake. It was truly a surreal experience. At this moment, I thought to myself “This is I do what I do”. Although I whole-heartedly believe in what natural burials do for the environment, I feel even stronger about helping the families heal throughout this entire process.

The green burial movement may be getting stigmatized and perhaps some people are just not buying it. Some say word “green” is just a trendy buzzword that will fade away in time, that it is only another avenue to make money. I must strongly disagree with those individuals. The average customer who uses a natural burial cemetery really believes in this movement. They have a different opinion on what their death should mean after they are gone. It is all about getting back to nature and helping to complete the cycle of life. They are purely about the environment and enrichment provided to the families in their most vulnerable of times. Selling “green” is not the purpose. Natural burial grounds are not about the almighty dollar. The way of the past has once again become the way of the future.

Natural burial will probably never overtake traditional burial or cremation, but it has recently become a substantial option. Many people do not even realize that natural burial is a legal. Americans are still about five or ten years from the public becoming educated to the fact that this is a great and meaningful funeral option that is legal and available to the public. As conventional cemeteries begin to explore and include this service, I believe they will too enjoy the benefits of accommodating families with this alternative.

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