by Dina Stander
What is a burial shroud?
A burial shroud is a wrapping for a deceased being's body. We also call them winding sheets, grave clothes, cerecloth, Tahara, Kaffan. I have learned many words for shrouds since my first personal shrouding experience in childhood, when I wrapped a dead bird in leaves tied securely with long grass before burying it in the meadow. That instinct to protect the remains of the beloved, and to make the body easier to transport for disposition, has many cultural and historical expressions. From ancient art to fine art to photo montages of a modern day pandemic, we are not strangers to seeing images of shrouded bodies. Shrouding customs are practiced in significant world religions and cultures (widely by Hindus, Muslims, and Jews, in African communities, and by some Christian sects), each with its own rules and specifications. No one culture, group, or custom originated shrouding. It is a loving kindness that human beings have shared through collective memory over time.
By Lucinda Herring
I almost missed the email that day. Luckily the words “exploring a book project” caught my eye. I had been writing a book over many years about my mother’s remarkable death and home funeral on our family land in Alabama, but I had put it down after a disappointing journey with an agent/publisher. And life happened; I got the opportunity to become a licensed funeral director, to strengthen the work I was already doing as a home funeral and green burial guide, and that work became all consuming. I answered the email from Tim McKee of North Atlantic Books right away, and the rest is history.
by Holly Pruett
My father’s death was my first experience of serving as a home funeral guide—I just didn’t know it at the time. In fact, what was missing at the time of his death has been one of my greatest teachers.
My father was super fit and healthy, in his early 60s, when he was diagnosed with an aggressive and nearly-always terminal form of brain cancer. He had a six-month prognosis but ended up living for 18 months. I joined my step-mother in caring for him at home, with the support of hospice. Once he exhaled for the last time, strangers arrived with a gurney, zipped him into a body bag, and drove him off for a direct cremation. A few weeks later I was given a portion of his remains and some of the artifacts of his life. Not only was there nothing you would call a home funeral; there was no funeral at all, no memorial. He didn’t want one, I was told—and that was pretty much the end of the story.
by Freddie Johnson
The plan for a local conservation burial ground began in 2007 when a friend of mine, Larry Schwandes, shared his discovery that such a thing existed. I was immediately energized by the vision of such a place in our Gainesville, FL community. I suggested as a first step in our action plan that we meet with another friend, Robert (Hutch) Hutchinson, who was the Executive Director of Alachua Conservation Trust (ACT), a local land trust. Hutch was totally supportive of the idea and eager to help.
by Josh Slocum
Mention green burial and people’s ears perk up. It’s an appealing idea to people who don’t see why the disposition of their mortal remains has to involve unnecessary merchandise, chemicals, or energy-intensive burial practices. When you choose thoughtfully, you can have a greener burial that’s easier on the environment and sometimes, on your wallet. It helps to think it through.
by Ruth Faas
In 1984 my father died suddenly. Coming from a working class family, we had to use the least expensive casket and I instantly thought—“People will think we didn’t love him!” My brother gets frustrated with me when I tell this story, and I understand that—I would never think this of someone else. Yet, we don’t always know what we’ve internalized.
by Lee Webster
Often when I begin talking about conventional cemeteries requiring a vault, I see blank faces in the crowd. I ask if they have ever noticed anything underneath the casket the last time they attended a graveside service. Still blank, I nudge them with memories of green astroturf and a curtained casket skirt. Nothing. I back up even further, explaining that the casket they saw was going to be lowered into a concrete box and have a lid placed on it once they left. Blank becomes confused becomes disbelieving.
by Jodie Buller
For the past seven years I have stewarded a conservation burial ground in Washington state. It is an honor to support families to lay their loved ones to rest in this earth—reminding people to use their legs during the hand-lowering process, working together to help close the grave place, and receiving the stories that tend to tumble out when family are breaking a sweat and saying goodbye.
by Father Charles Morris
The date: October 9, 2019. The location: City Hall Auditorium in Port Huron, Michigan. I am showing a video. The video pans to a large rock in the middle of a field. There is an audible gasp from the audience. My name and birthdate are on the rock. There is a hyphen and then nothing yet. That rock is my tombstone along with a number of other folks who are to be buried in the field in the Preserve Natural Burial Ground at All Saints Cemetery in Waterford, Michigan.
by Jennifer Downs
I drove into the cemetery just as the service was to begin after passing through a bleak neighborhood in Baltimore. It was a grey day and large trees reached into the sky, birds chirped as I gazed at the expanse of green space with a stone wall surrounding us. Standing with a large group of friends and family around the freshly dug grave, I looked around and found myself sighing with ease. I teared up at the reality of what I know this family had gone through while also mourning the loss.
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