GBAM Quarterly Event:
A Conversation about Green/Natural Burial:
Experiences and Options
Saturday, February 29
1-2:30 pm with Refreshments
Woodbrook Baptist Church
25 Stevenson Lane, Baltimore, MD 21212
RSVP (helpful but not required)
The event includes an informational slide show. We will hear the story of Board Member Mike Franch and his recent experience in search of a local green burial. There will be time for conversation and sharing.
Gratitude at the Graveside
by Jennifer Downs, Board Member
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 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.
My friend and fellow board member on the Green Burial Association of Maryland, Mike Franch, was abruptly confronted with the need to find a burial site for his wife of many years. Working diligently to make green or natural burial available in Maryland, it was ironic that he had very little choice and had to postpone her burial for ten days. Yet in the end, he and his daughter worked tirelessly to find a way to come to peace with their plan. They prioritized what was most important:
- within or close to Baltimore City
- no embalming
- a wicker casket that would go directly into the earth
- no vault of any kind
It felt just right, this spot in the city, especially because Eileen spent her life here as a lawyer protecting and defending foster children. They found a flexible funeral home, the Parkview Funeral Home, which would care for Eileen’s body as they sorted out the details. The only cemetery that would allow no vault was a stately old Jewish cemetery owned by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation on the East side of the city.
In this cemetery the presiding cleric must be Jewish even if the family isn’t. Mike, in his creative attempt to make it all work, found a Rabbi known for her ability to adapt and adjust. She led the service with a strong, clear voice that gave comfort and inspiration to this motley crowd of dancers, social workers, lawyers and Unitarians.
A Unitarian minister himself, Mike stood and made a few welcoming remarks about the process and his gratitude to those who attended. He then turned it over to the Rabbi. She gracefully incorporated several traditions practiced in Jewish burials. After just enough people shared remembrances and support, she directed us to the shovels in the large pile of clay-dirt beside the grave. The wicker casket was lowered into the earth.
Mike and his daughter shoveled earth into the grave, then we took turns as well. The Rabbi explained this as a blessing to the deceased and a task of offering. At the end, she directed us stand on two sides and invited the family to walk between, back out into the world.
The baby boomer generation, my generation, initiated the natural birth movement. We also led the charge for more natural food, and other practices such as yoga, meditation and complementary healing methods. Many of these are a return to wisdom of the past and are now mainstream. Is it any surprise that our generation, approaching later years, would turn towards the ways of our ancestors to make the time of death more meaningful?
I stood at the gravesite, also grateful for the cluster of mourners, there to mark the moment. How very real to see the dirt, the grave, the beautiful wicker casket and to feel the timelessness of the moment. These images stay with me as I appreciate the work before us to make such a simple and meaningful way of death more easily available.