On a summer journey home in July to officiate a family wedding near where I was born in Ontario, I spent a day with my Aunt Beryl at her request. At 84, Aunt Beryl wanted to visit the Cemetery where she had pre-purchased a plot many years earlier, in hopes of discussing her wishes for a tree to be planted after her death.

We arrived to be greeted by a couple, caretakers of the Cemetery and another man who managed the Cemetery on behalf of the Anglican Church.

We were told it would be impossible to plant any further trees in the area near Aunt Beryl’s plot nor another option she had of a tree on the laneway leading into the grounds. We were also informed of just how difficult it is to maintain the grounds because so many folks pre-purchased their plots when they were under a hundred dollars, and no new money was coming into the cemetery to support its care.

The obviously exhausted caretakers picked up falling branches as we talked. They pointed off in the distance to a large adjoining acreage – a large open field with not a tree in sight.

See! They said. Barely any new plots are even being sold these days! They looked at the field with dismay.

Immediately I imagined the empty field full of trees, indigenous plants, trilliums and other green ones, butterflies, dragonflies flitting about and bird song in the air. The image grew as families with picnic baskets and blankets, animals and children walked among the verdant park, or sat in shade of maple and birch, poplar and oak. I watched as seasons changed, gold and red leaves fell around children playing and attempting to catch them. I could see a community gathering to rake leaves into big piles with children and adults alike jumping into the large autumn colored mounds strewing leaves about, the sound of laughter and joy in the autumn air.

In my mind, that large open field stretched out just waiting and calling – to welcome Green Burial.

Not so fast!

There are restrictions, regulations, you know.

Yes, I acknowledged, and there is lots of information available now to support you. What an amazing opportunity!

I could immediately feel the tension of the way things have been done for the past hundred plus years bumping up against a new vision unfolding in the hearts and minds of those of us who know seven billion bodies cannot all be buried in cement and steel lined vaults in caskets that will never break down, in unmaintainable cemeteries such as the one we were standing in. Nor can we all be cremated!

For a moment I imagined my grandparent’s bodies turned to liquid inside their velvet lined boxes, never returned to the earth … What happened to ashes to ashes, dust to dust?

I empathized with the loss of income and care for the place, and perhaps a little too enthusiastically … and inspired by the vision, encouraged them to explore becoming one of the first in the area surrounding Ottawa to bring Green Burial! I have friends and colleagues who will be interested.

This seemed like a perfect opportunity with an open and empty field designated for burial already, a model clearly no longer working and a new/old vision which could preserve park space, indigenous plant life, encourage family interaction and responsibility of care and more!

I could feel my vision was not readily welcomed and decided perhaps a small seed had been planted for now. I gazed over my grandparents headstones in the distance to the open field, may others come and hear you, I said to the green ones.

As we walked from Aunt Beryl’s plot to my grandparent’s graves, she pointed out the headstone beside them was that of their best friends and neighbors, the Kennedy’s, with whom they had played cards in life. Your grandfather told Dorothy Kennedy when they were all laid to rest here she’d better keep her hands to herself! I could immediately see Grandpa Carmen, always a joker, saying this and laughed out loud imagining him.

He used to walk around coughing all the time whenever your great grandmother Hannah would bring out brandy – her cure all for whatever was ailing anyone, said Aunt Beryl. We decided to pick up a small bottle in Great Grandma Hannah’s honor, visit her grave where I had never been, and come back to make an offering at my grandparent’s grave too.

We drove to the small liquor store near the cemetery. As I looked into my purse to pay I caught site of a basket filled with bags of fresh cheese curds on the counter. I’ll take one of those too! I said as I paid for the small bottle of brandy.

We returned to the cemetery and used the car mats from my brother’s borrowed van, to set up a picnic at Grandma Gert and Grandpa Carmen’s grave.

There we made a toast and blessed them.

If you hadn’t been, I wouldn’t be, I said. Thank you, and for any assistance you can offer to greening this cemetery!

Beryl talked about what she would like for her own funeral, which she had asked me to do many years ago, and long before I formally became a Celebrant and Home Funeral Guide.

I encouraged her not to over plan as her children and the rest of us would also need to contribute our own ways of meeting our grief.

I could see how important it was for her to imagine into this future gathering in her name, and why not??? Imagining a time after our death when others will gather to remember can support us in meeting the biggest transition we will ever go through in this life with care and maybe a little more ease.

The cheese curd squeaked in my mouth and the tiny sip of brandy warmed my throat all the way down to my belly. The cheese curds had been a familiar treat on our weekends at our family cottage on the Big Rideau Lake, as Forfar Cheese Factory was one of our favorite stops on the road, purchasing the cheese curd still warm and dripping in whey inside the bag.

As we sat sharing family stories, taking just one more piece of curd, I felt there was no where else I’d rather spend my day with my beloved Aunt than this, and imagined returning one day to see this place welcoming family and friends in green burial.

Maybe even in my lifetime, Aunt Beryl said. Yes, I agreed as I licked the whey from my fingers. Yes!

Penny Allport is a Life-Cycle Celebrant, Home Funeral Guide and a certified Insight Funeral Celebrant, Board Member for The Centre for Earth & Spirit and Facilitator of the Living Well – Dying Well program. Penny offers end-of-life care in the form of support with Advanced Care Planning and other practical details, as well as guidance in bringing ceremony and care aligned with the personal wishes of the dying.  PennyAllport.com     MovingCeremonies.com

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