Back in 2008, Pete McQuillin and his wife Nancy Chubb had a conversation familiar to many of us. They discussed their end of life wishes, speaking candidly about their desires for a simple return to the Earth -- a green burial. Neither of them realized it at the time, but in expressing this desire, they tipped the first domino toward creating a community that forever changed the green burial landscape.
Pete died unexpectedly on January 8th, 2022 and his burial matched his original desires exactly. This comes as no surprise, seeing as he dedicated the last 14 years of his life to building and operating Penn Forest Natural Burial Park, Western Pennsylvania’s first and only exclusively green cemetery, certified by the Green Burial Council.
“Pete’s death has made me reflect a lot, especially on that initial conversation” said Nancy on a snowy January day, nearly a week after Pete’s burial. “When we had that talk, it set the course for the rest of his life. We were burying him in this cemetery that didn’t exist yet.”
Author, Our Last Best Act: Planning for the End of our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love
After his sudden death in 2005, my father had a natural burial in his neighborhood cemetery—although I’d never heard the phrase “green burial” at the time. When I was growing up, my dad built the prototype of a pine casket, the size of his palm, and my mother kept her jewelry in it.
“I want a funeral that relies on family and friends,” he often said, reminding us that embalming wasn’t required by any state. “The contract for the cemetery down the road doesn’t require vaults,” he said.
When my mother was killed in a biking accident in 2003, my father reviewed his directives with his grown children during a vibrant spring with azaleas in full bloom. We agreed to do everything on his list—his bluegrass band at the gravesite and shovels so young and old could fill the grave. But I didn’t think we’d have to enact his plan anytime soon: He was in the best shape of his life at 62. Yet my mom had died at 58, a hiker and cyclist like him.
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