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.
The Why of Green Burial
How I say goodbye to this life can be my best and most lasting witness I leave to those who were nearest and dearest to me. As I have discovered throughout my life and ministry as a Catholic priest, witnessing to Creation Care is more than putting in solar power and eating organic. When pastor of St. Elizabeth in Wyandotte, Michigan, we reduced our energy use by 70% through energy efficiency and conservation. We put solar and wind on the parish rectory, planted an organic garden with rain barrels, and even sponsored presentations on sustainable living.
All those actions were important. But I can also make the ultimate witness when the time comes for me to shed this mortal coil. Funerals and burials represent the ultimate statement as to what one’s life project was about. If I want to “walk the talk” then I can think of no more final statement to the world than green burial. Burial without vaults, without chemical embalming and with simple biodegradable caskets or shrouds is the ultimate act of recycling. With a green burial, I leave a lowered carbon footprint for those who will be living on this earth after I am gone.
Why Wills Are Essential In Green Burials
I have, for the aforementioned reasons, chosen a field at the All Saints Preserver Natural Burial Ground for my final resting abode. But if green burial is so key to my ultimate life project, I need to make sure that request is honored. To do that, I need to explicitly state my wishes for a green burial in my will (or, in my case, a revocable trust).
Not every funeral home is knowledgeable about green burial. Not every cemetery is set up to accommodate a green burial. The one way that I can guarantee that my final vision is honored and understood by those who have charge of my earthly remains is to make explicit directives in my will how my body will be prepared and buried. I can’t assume that even my loved ones will know the steps that need to be taken to honor my final wishes. With explicit directives in my will, then I can guarantee that my last act will be a blessing to our families, our friends and all those who walk this good earth.
Father Charles Morris is a former Green Burial Council board member and green burial activist in Michigan.
Green Burial Council
2720 Cold Springs Road
Placerville, CA 95667