Some of us work for a better living. I work for a better post-deathing. As a one-woman funeral service in the rural town of Boring, Oregon, I am eschewing big profits to prophet old-school burial practices that are kinder to humans and the Earth. I feel the green burial movement is crucial to restore this freedom and choice, both during the actual death and in the arrangements made after death, and to enable a more ”natural” death, surrounded by one’s loved ones in one’s own surroundings.
Like a lot of passionate professionals, I met my dream career in childhood. My mother and grandparents died when I was young. I read about different cultures' death rituals in National Geographic magazine, had a mock cemetery on my dresser, and when friends' pets died, I would perform the funeral. My father worried that mortuary school would severely limit my career path and encouraged me to study journalism, a nice, normal field of study.
And so, I majored in communications in college. Did commercials. Taught ballroom dancing for Arthur Murray. I could have gone on this way, dancing La Vida Traditional-Professional, had Opportunity not knocked its bony hand on my door. I was offered the chance to be a live-in night keeper at a funeral home on a big hill, and I slept in a trailer on the spooky edge of the cemetery with a shotgun under my bed. It was the scariest summer of my life.
Fast forward two decades and two books, I own a repurposed goat barn funeral home in rural America. Country life certainly runs on a clock that moves to the rhythms of random farm equipment easing down my road. Spending my last several years working as a small-town funeral director has given me the unique pleasure and privilege to serve families during their greatest time of need. I am always honored to be chosen to facilitate the journey of their loved one’s passing. What else? I'm currently the voice of the autopsy exhibit in the forensic wing at the United States National Museum of Medicine. I have a farm full of rescue goats and sheep. And I love to put my head on my pillow at the end of my day I feel that I did the best I could.
ABOUT THE GREEN REAPER
I am known as The Green Reaper, a name I have affectionately been given as the green burial funeral director, educator and advocate who is always ready to lend a hand, or a shovel. I have had the pleasure of assisting people with sustainable burial options and love helping in this aspect of death. It truly makes people's eyes sparkle to feel as though their last act on earth contributes to a positive purpose. Those who have laid loved ones to rest this way have found comfort in knowing the body will return to the earth as the circle of life continues.
So what is a “green burial?” It is primarily defined by doing less of what is involved in a typical burial. Traditional burials involve loading the body with embalming fluids, placing it in a casket, and interring the body and casket in the ground in a concrete burial vault. An eco-friendly burial can mean skipping the use of embalming fluids and burying the body in a biodegradable shroud or a simple wood coffin that will biodegrade over time.
One hundred and fifty years ago, most burials were green in nature. We also had a heck of a lot more deaths due to accidents and less advanced healthcare. When a family member would pass away, the steps were modest: bathe, prepare and place the body in a simple wood box. The body would stay at home for neighbor visits, and then the wood box body was buried in a family plot on the family farm or in a simple town or church cemetery. The funeral industry evolved to take care of matters of death and green burials all but disappeared.
Today, many people are trying to lessen the negative impact of human society on the environment in a multitude of ways: by supporting renewable energy, by driving hybrid or electric cars, by eating healthy foods, by promoting sustainable agriculture, by using their own cloth bags at the grocery store, and so on. Our green lifestyle is carrying over to how we handle the dead.
I am the owner and operator of Cornerstone Funeral Services, outside of Portland, Oregon, in a tiny town called Boring. That makes me the Undertaker of Boring, Oregon. I serve on the Advisory Board for the Green Burial Council, and live on a farm with my husband, daughter and many rescue goats.
Want to learn more? Please check out my funeral home, Cornerstone Funeral Services in Boring, Oregon.