Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Ritual of Blessing for a Home Funeral

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"A Ritual of Blessing for a Home Funeral"

Image Courtesy of Heartslice

Does that word ‘ritual’ set your teeth on edge? I use it deliberately…it’s a word that has gotten a ‘bad name’ in current popular usage—invoking cult activity or arcane irrelevant mumblings. But it’s my opinion that it’s a human instinct to create rituals. We love them and we know, intrinsically, how to use them and what they are for. In western culture we’re often a bit held back in terms of what we think we’re ‘allowed’ to do in a ritual or ceremony. But given a bit of room, I often see beautiful creativity arising out of even the most apparently stolid folks.
Let’s talk about Liminality.
Liminality refers to ‘the space between’, when something or someone is ‘neither here nor there’. A ritual provides liminal space…or perhaps it is better said that it provides space for the liminal to be noticed. And a ritual serves to guide us through a liminal portal delivering us, transformed in some way, to the other side. Think of a wedding-- which originally involved leaving one’s family (this was the original symbolic purpose of being escorted by mother or father to the altar). For the couple, standing before the community in that liminal- “in between”- state, it’s the ritual, then, that guides them through the portal to land safely on the other side”, in their new life together.
This same kind of transformation can be accomplished when friends or family members take on the sacred task of bathing and dressing the body of someone they love who has died. A ritual for this can be especially helpful whether you have been there and attended the death, or if you are arriving after the fact.
Imagine it like this: Several of you have gathered to honor your dead loved one. You want to bathe and prepare the body, but how? There is some nervousness, certainly there is grief. But you are there, together. One of you lights a candle, then another and that simple act begins the process.

One of you has brought flowers from a garden…so there are scents of rose, lavender, lilac. Another of you has brought a flute or guitar and begins to gently play music. You gather around the body of your friend, looking deeply, seeing differently. It’s quiet…peaceful in a way that maybe it hasn’t been for some time. One of you has prepared a small table with a basin of warm water, some wash cloths, some towels. One of you scents the water with essential oil, and you , yourself, spontaneously pluck some of the rose petals and float them in the basin. Looking at one another, you all breathe together for a moment and begin.

Image courtesy of Roger Ericson

After an initial self conscious awkwardness, hands remember how to be tender. Wetting the cloth, you smooth it across the cooling skin, lifting an arm, turning a shoulder. Rinse the cloth and wring it out, hold a hand and bless it. In the stillness you work together, a sacred sense of peacefulness and grace settling over everyone. There are murmurs. Tears shimmer at the edges of eyes or slide down cheeks. Sometimes one of you smiles with a remembrance of something sweet. Some of the flower petals remain here and there on the body and someone begins to offer a blessing where they land. “Bless these feet…that took you so many places….Bless these knees that kept you flexible, Bless this belly that enjoyed many good meals! Bless these hands that held and carried and helped so many. Bless this mouth that spoke with wisdom….” These words just flow out of each one of you…easily, effortlessly…because they make sense, because you knew this person and because these words, they are simply true.
You take the special burial clothing, or a shroud and dress or wrap the body. The ritual has taken on its own life and any sense of shyness or embarrassment is somehow not present. You have entered the liminal space now, and worldly considerations have no meaning or weight here. There is just the grace. You are aware that you are all held in a state of grace. As if from some signal, you find yourselves each with both hands resting on some part of the body of your friend, including the head and the feet, and one of you begins to sing. It’s a song that your friend loved and sang often and you are all comforted by singing it together. Many tears flow, but no one is ashamed. It just feels right.

This is how we can change the way we grieve. This is how we can change the way we come to accept and understand Death. The grief rides along with the deep peace. The caring of the body in this way often brings a profound and settled acceptance. It is from this place that the healing of our loss can begin.
As I write this today I am aware of so many people in Haiti who have no one to do this for them. So many bodies are now in mass graves. What can we do? What I know is that when we offer love, it is always received. It may not be outwardly acknowledged but it never ‘goes to waste’. So I would like to invite you to spend a little bit of time to light a candle and read this passage through once again…maybe with a friend or two…and offer it from your hearts to the ones who have left their bodies so abruptly, and to their families, who long so desperately to be able to care for their dead in a proper and graceful way. I’m doing the same and I thank you from my heart for joining me. Until next time….~Marian

This is the extended article from the E-Zine of a Fine Farewell . We post there twice a month, with additional information included in this blog. I invite you to subscribe here.
Newsletter and blog content copyright A Fine Farewell, January 19, 2010

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Natural Burial and Land Conservation

"Natural Burial and Land Conservation"

"What we're doing is basically land conservation. By setting aside woods for natural burials, we preserve it from development. At the same time, I think we put death in it's rightful place, as part of the cycle of life. Our burials honor the idea of dust to dust." Dr. Billy Campbell
"Conservation Burial Grounds"

The photos from the previous and this issue were taken at Memorial Ecosystems at Ramsey Creek,the nation's first Green Cemetery, established in 1998 in Westminster, South Carolina. There, the "proprietors" Billy and Kimberley Campbell, prefer the term "Natural Burial". They are taking the idea further than many of their erstwhile counterparts by pioneering a new and (ok, I'll say it...) 'well grounded' concept called "Conservation Burial". This honors the dead and the living, conserves land and preserves and enhances biodiversity. (Biodiversity is a good thing--the term refers to the variety of genes, species and ecosystems within a given area--which could be your stomach, the ocean, or in this case, many dedicated acres of land. In general, the greater the variety of genes, species and ecosystems, the greater the health of the location.) The Campbells have a concise definition for what they do at Ramsey Creek.
"'Conservation Burial', very simply is natural burial that serves a higher, significant conservation purpose."
Kimberly brings it home in a personal way when she says what they've been doing is to "establish conservation burial as a meaningful option, that hopefully helps with healing broken hearts and broken landscapes..."

In a world where 'Green' has been identified as a "hot new marketing trend", there is concern that "the public will be confused, and might not recognize the difference between a superficially green (“green-washing”) project and one that makes a significant contribution to conservation and sustainability." At Ramsey Creek, there is no slap dash green washing going on. The land is stewarded conscientiously, even lovingly, native plants carefully nourished (just look at the photos on their website!), graves sited mindfully and most often dug by hand. In some cases a recent gravesite can "be one of the most diverse and sensitive spots in the vicinity ". Listen to what they say about their philosphy for managing the land; "The whole idea is that each burial protects and lovingly restores a specific spot. Burial is not a waste of land, it protects and restores the land. Much of the expense is dedicated to this process. Some options might be less expensive, but not as good for the environment."
I've met Billy and Kimberley and heard them speak passionately and humorously about their journey toward creating this option and keeping it going in the face of many kinds of trials and opposition. Their idea is taking hold now, and they have recently acquired another parcel of land to begin restoring in their patient and careful way. At Memorial Ecosystems they've really set the standard for beauty and conservation in natural burials . We, A Fine Farewell, wish them continued growth and success, and thank them for the work they continue to do. Please visit them at www.memorialecosystems.com.

This is the extended article from the E-Zine of a Fine Farewell . We post there twice a month, with additional information included in this blog, I invite you to subscribe here.
All contents copyright © A Fine Farewell, January 5, 2009