Sunday, August 14, 2011

Green burial at Greenhaven Preserve, Columbia, SC

I am filled to my top with delight at, perhaps, the most morbid thing ever*.

10-acre pond at Greenhaven Preserve, Eastover, SC
At yesterday evening's Wild Summer's Night  game feast and auction at the Columbia Conference Center (benefiting the South Carolina Wildlife Federation), I won a green burial plot at Greenhaven Preserve!

This is huge. Major. Big-time adult responsibility item, now checked off the list. Sweet!

When my mother passed away in 2008, my sense of responsibility was flipped up pretty much overnight. I had to grow up 700% in the space of a week, and as her Personal Representative, I found myself handling all of Mom's funeral, probate, and financial matters.

Inspired by the realization that I had nothing in place should I get hit by a bus, I immediately created a living will for myself. Without my mom's living will, we wouldn't have been able to implement my mom's wishes easily. And it was hard enough making the decisions we did, even with her blessing on paper.

I still need to draw up a formal last will and testament, but at least the living will I drew up in 2009 (after Mom's paperwork maelstrom died down) states that I want to be buried without a casket or vault, straight in the ground, at a nature preserve in South Carolina.

Ramsay Creek Preserve, Westminster, SC
In 2009, the only green burial preserve of which I knew was Ramsay Creek Preserve, hours from Columbia, west of Greenville. So, this is the place specified in my living will, with the caveat that if a less expensive green burial option should arise, then my family should go for it.

I had read about green burial over a decade ago, maybe around 1999 -- in Columbia's weekly Free Times paper, funny enough -- while I was living in San Francisco and researching the American funeral industry for a web animation client, Spinthebottle.com.



As part of my research, I had read The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford, the scandalous 1963 tell-all about the funeral industry. (It's in the vein of exposes like Silent Spring and The Jungle.)

Thoroughly grossed out by what embalmers do to bodies, I vowed never to be embalmed or buried in a casket, vault, or other non-biodegradable structure.

From The American Way of Death (1963):
 "...the blood is drained out through the veins and replaced by embalming fluid pumped in through the arteries...About three to six gallons of a dyed and perfumed solution of formaldehyde, glycerin, borax, phenol, alcohol and water is soon circulating through [the body], whose mouth has been sewn together with a 'needle directed upward between the upper lip and gum and brought out through the left nostril,' with the corners raised slightly 'for a more pleasant expression.' If [he] should be bucktoothed, his teeth are cleaned with Bon Ami and coated with colorless nail polish. His eyes, meanwhile, are closed with flesh-tinted eye caps and eye cement."
 Awful. And it gets so much worse:
"The contents of the abdomen and chest cavity are pumped out and replaced with "cavity fluid," and the face "is heavily creamed (to protect the skin from burns which may be caused by leakage of chemicals)..."

"Swollen necks and cheeks are reduced by removing tissue through vertical incisions made down the side of the neck. 'When the deceased is casketed, the pillow will hide the suture incisions...as an extra precaution against leakage, the suture may be painted with liquid sealer."

So, yeah, I'm pretty much never going to sign on to have *that* done to my body.

And of course, in watching every single episode of the HBO TV show "Six Feet Under," which focuses on a family-run funeral home, I got even clearer on wanting a green burial.

Just put me straight in the earth, wrapped in a natural fiber shroud. Easy-breezy.

Except that kind of burial is considered 100% illegal in most circumstances -- except in the fast-growing green burial industry. (Remember in "Six Feet Under" when Nate went to bury Lisa in the wilderness according to her wishes and it was a really big deal? As in highly criminal?)

Green burial also hasn't been so easy-breezy, price-wise, until recently, now that multiple green burial preserves have started popping up, creating some price competition.


What I learned when I researched it in 1999, and what I learned researching options at my mom's death in 2008, is that green burial is still far, far less pricey than a full-fledged funeral with embalming, open-casket visitation, graveside velvet casket-draping, and theatrical bells and whistles like a dove release or a 21-gun salute.

Recently, I read an very recent, updated piece on green burial in the Free Times by Eva Moore -- turns out more green burial retreats have opened in South Carolina!

One of the newest is Greenhaven Preserve, near Columbia in Eastover, SC, which has an easement to be a wildlife preserve in perpetuity. This sounds really terrific to me.

So, imagine my delight when the winning bid number at last night's SCWF auction was mine! A burial place at a green cemetery! In SC! (Plus I won a pet burial plot, as well. Sweet. As a self-avowed crazy cat lady, I like this.)

Ecstatic at my win, I fell asleep last night with the Greenhaven brochure folder in my hands. Naturally, I'm dying to go and tour Greenhaven.

Ha! Dying!

(Ahem.)

Anyway, loving the section names in the site plan, below. Anyone who wants to posse up for a visit out to Eastover, let me know!




*Is this all just way too morbid? Possibly, but I just don't feel doom and gloom thinking about my final resting place, especially when I know it can be fully in line with my hippie, environmentalist passions.

Plus, it's one of those "adult responsibility to-do list" items that can so easily get put off and put off and put off. You know, cause of the whole morbidity thing. (Not to mention the cost. Ay yi yi.)

Nailing down a post-mortem plan, in advance, is one of the most considerate things you can do for your loved ones left behind -- trust me. My mom knew her health was in decline, and without our knowing, in the final years before her death, she researched** and put into place everything we would need to administer her passing when the time came.

It was such a moving gift.

Thanks, Mom. You rock.

**BTW, as of 2008, the best price in the Greater Columbia area for cremation was at Barr-Price funeral home in Lexington, SC. They were very nice and very accommodating. I would recommend them to anyone going that route.

2 comments:

  1. I love this! Thanks so much for writing such a thoughtful piece.

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  2. I am so sorry for your lost. I'm sure your mother is somewhere looking upon you and wishes for everything to be okay with your life.

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