Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A green burial in the Tennessee hills

Last Sunday, October 28, 2018, on my way to Georgia, I made a stop at my usual highway rest stop in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, along Nickajack Reservoir Lake.  In some earlier posts I showed pictures of this lake in the winter and summer, this time it started to look like autumn.  It was a sunny day, around 74 degrees F (23.3 C.)  A mist was slowly evaporating from the water.  I walked on the little path along a tree showing vivid red fall leaves.  Sun and nature always heal sadness.

The roof of our house in Georgia was scheduled to be replaced in early October.  I had planned to drive from Nashville to Georgia then.  But life had other plans.  My husband of 51-years passed away in his sleep on Monday October 8, 2018.  He was still walking 3 days before his health took a down turn.  The doctor had told us that he would be slowly declining in the next 2 or 3 years because of his Alzheimer's disease.  We did not expect to lose him suddenly like this, and it was a shock.  I had to quickly come up with funeral arrangements.  My husband dedicated his life to nature, the environment and wildlife so I was fortunate to find out that the first conservation burial ground in Tennessee had formally opened in mid September 2018.  This 112 acre property of rolling hills and meadows had been an old family farm in Sumner County, Tennessee, on the Western Highland Rim, and had been minimally impacted by human activity.  Native American artifacts can still be discovered on the ground.  (Photo courtesy Nature Conservancy.)

This burial preserve is adjacent to Taylor Hollow Natural Area, a 172-acre restricted access natural area owned by the Nature Conservancy.  Taylor Hollow was once a part of the magnificent mesophytic (moderately moist) forest system of middle Tennessee, and is now one of the last undisturbed remnants of this historic and majestic habitat.  It contains such endangered plants as the Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna,) the Ozark Least Trillium (Trillium pusillum var. ozarkanum) plus several others.  In spring there is a spectacular display of wildflowers on the grounds.  (Photos courtesy Nature Conservancy.)

In a future post I'll talk about my husband's illness, but I just cannot do it at this time.  The natural conservation cemetery and Taylor Hollow Natural Area are privately owned, non-profit, with a conservation easement, preventing development of the land forever.  This is the first natural burial ground in the United States protected by the Nature Conservancy.  It will prevent this land from being developed, contaminated and abused.  There are no metal caskets, fertilizer, formaldehyde, concrete or metal vaults, plastics, or foreign matter introduced into the landscape in a natural burial.  A conservation cemetery does not displace pollutants into the environment.  Naturally native plants and animals flourish in its sanctuary.  The funeral director of this conservation cemetery told radio station NPR: "This is not something new; this is something very traditional.  It is more of a return or revival of traditional burying practices.  And it really and truly becomes a place where people can go to reconnect with a loved one."  "A lot of people want to go to a place to say goodbye, and it becomes a sanctuary, a preserve, and a place to connect to nature as well as the memory of your loved one."  He added "People [who] choose to be buried in this area are the people who want wildflowers blooming on their grave and butterflies fluttering about."

This is the way our ancestors were buried but, after the Civil War, it changed with the introduction of embalming.  These natural burial grounds are rare in the U.S. (about 100+ and over 200 in the U.K.) because the 21,000+ modern funeral homes in this country are strong and persuasive.  They are responsible each year for the felling of 30 million board feet of casket wood (some of which comes from tropical hardwoods,) 90,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million ton of concrete for burial vaults, and 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid.  Even cremation is not environmentally safe, with the incineration process emitting many a noxious substance, including dioxin, hydrochloric acid, sulfur dioxide, and climate-changing carbon dioxide.  There is no law regarding embalming or the use of these toxic chemicals which are flushed into our sewers and create an enormous environmental problem.  A natural burial in a conservation cemetery is an eco-friendly option.  There, visitors feel a connection to the earth, a quiet way of saying good-bye to the loved one surrounded by nature.

On Friday October 12, 2018, we drove to the conservation burial grounds in Westmoreland, about 1 hour northeast of Nashville in Sumner County, in the state's northern border with Kentucky.

The ride was pleasant.  We drove through open land and rolling hills.  There were no large towns or malls, just a quiet country setting.

We drove on a narrow country back road to the conservation cemetery.  There was no sign, just a gravel parking area and a wood fence (as shown in the heading photograph.)  The site chosen for my husband's burial was in a wooden area, close to a trail.  The funeral director told me that he had seen a 10-point buck there that morning - my husband would have liked that.  Motor vehicles are not allowed and there are no roads, just rugged paths.  Hiking up the trail we did not pass rows of tombstones, soaring monuments, or plastic flowers as in the standard cemeteries.  We read poems, listened to specially selected music pieces and songs, and then my husband was laid to rest.  Men and children shoveled the dirt back and plants were returned.  It was a simple burial like they used to have in the old west in days of yore.  In this conservation cemetery native stones from the property can act as grave marker, although a GPS tracking device can pinpoint the location of each grave space.

I was still disoriented by my husband's sudden transition.  It seemed that just a few days had passed since he was in the assisted living gardens watching our grandchildren play.  Below is such a picture and also one from last March in a Nashville park.

Everything had happened so quickly.  My head tells me that as hard as it is, going in his sleep is better than having suffered two or three more years from this awful disease; now he is free.  The day before he passed, on Sunday October 7th, I was next to him playing the music he liked on my cell phone.  The next morning, he was gone.  I remember we listened to some Chopin music as in the video attached below.  Now I'll keep listening to his favorite music, alone.

 The song is ended
But the melody lingers on
You and the song are gone
But the melody lingers on ...
 Irving Berlin (Russian-American composer 1888-1989) 



Elephant's Child said...

My heart aches with and for you, but what a lovely place you found for him to rest. Absolutely perfect for a man who cared about the environment.
Eco-funerals are rare here too. Too rare. I hope to have one when the time comes. And would love to have wildflowers and butterflies above me.

DJan said...

Oh, VB, my heart breaks for you in your sudden loss. I know how hard it is to lose a loved one suddenly, but you are right that he will not have to endure the slow deterioration that was ahead. And I applaud the wonderful, beautiful place he has been laid to rest. It's exactly that I would like for myself when it's my turn. Thank you for the link (in your previous post) to his obituary, which I read with great interest about his lifelong environmental efforts. Sending you and your children much love and hope that you will continue your lovely blog for a long time to come.

Susan Heather said...

Sorry to hear of your husband's sudden passing but pleased in another way that you both did not have to go through a lengthy decline. Even though my husband had been completely dependant for well over a year it was still a shock to get a phone call in the middle of the night saying that he had died in his sleep. On the other hand it was a relief that his suffering was over.

You will have lots of mixed emotions. It was so good that the eco cemetery had just opened. It looks a lovely spot.

Hugs and kind thoughts from New Zealand.

Jojo said...

Dear Vagabonde, I am so sorry that you have lost your dear spouse and friend of fifty-one years. Thank you sharing your loss with us. The burial place sounds heavenly in the way you describe it. I'm so glad that you found such a place. How beautiful to have shared some final moments with your husband listening to Chopin. Thinking of you now and in the days to come.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

Dear Vagabonde, I am so sorry for your loss of your beloved. . That is such a beautiful and fitting place for your dear husband. The pictures and your our description of this natural cemetery are lovely. The suddenness is shocking, but I know you were comforted with your thoughts that he did not have to suffer any longer from this very cruel disease.

Mary Bolton said...

Please accept condolences from this stranger. Peace

Marie-Anne said...

Désolée d'apprendre le décès de ton cher époux, je te présente mes sincères condoléances chère Vagabonde.
Qu'il reste en paix dans ce spendide eco-cimetière!!! Je ne savais pas que cela existait aux USA ou ailleurs.

David said...

Vagabonde, I understand your sorrow and grief. Losing a loved one is tough enough but when its unexpected, it magnifies the impact of the loss. When my mother died, we'd visited her the night before and she was upbeat, no complaints and very lucid. The next morning, she passed at about 5:50 AM just as I was having a kidney stone attack. My wife's father died suddenly when she was 16...really a bad situation.

Love the idea of a natural burial. We're both being cremated with our ashes spread on the lake we live next to. I've been a donor to the Nature Conservancy for probably 3 decades now...a great forward thinking and well run operation.

Our prayers are with you and your family...

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Vicki Lane said...

Such a beautiful post. May his memory be a blessing.

Pixel Peeper said...

My condolences on your husband's passing. What a beautiful place for him to be buried.

I had never heard of conservation burial grounds before. Now you have me thinking.


claude said...

Chère Vagabonde !
Tu le sais déjà, je suis profondément désolée de la disparition de ton Mari. Il est dans un bel endroit pour reposer en paix. Je suis de tout coeur avec toi dans ta peine.
Je t'embrasse.

Jeanie said...

The head is right. But that doesn't diminish the sense of loss, shock, emptiness that the heart feels.

This is a beautiful post and I can't think of a more perfect resting place. I suspect you will visit and you will feel that spirit of your husband in the butterflies and flowers, trees and streams.

I am so very sorry for your loss, my friend. I went to send a card to you when I returned home and I don't think I have your new address. Would you mind sending it to me?

Sending hugs and love and wishes for peace and healing.

Sally Wessely said...

Dear, dear Vagabonde, I am so very sad to read this news. I knew that your husband was ill, but I also was shocked to read of his passing. I can’t imagine the sorrow you are feeling right now, and the sense of loss, but I am also grateful to know that he did not linger with terrible disease destroying him.

You have chosen such a beautiful place as his final resting place. There is so much beauty here.

Sending hugs and blessings your way. May you find peace and comfort during this time.

Magic Love Crow said...

I am so very sorry my friend! Sending Big Hugs!! Bless your husband! Like you said, at least he is at peace now, instead of suffering 2-3 more years, with that awful disease! I LOVE how he was put to rest! I have to see if there is something like this in Canada! Please take care! You are in my thoughts!

Shammickite said...

What a beautiful area for your husband's resting place. You will always think of him at peace, surrounded by nature, wild flowers and trees, with the sky above him, and the woodland animals and birds living their lives around him.
A place full of love.

Joared said...

What a lovely site for a final resting place. The scenes in your photos are spectacular. You have my condolences for the sadness you must feel. The sudden unexpected loss of a loved one whose future would be subject to only declining health releases a multitude of feelings. My husband of almost 43 years also departed unexpectedly in his sleep in 2006, so I have some sense of your experience. Had we known of or had ready access to such burial ground as you describe here, our children and I might have chosen it. As it was, we did have cremation, had the ashes distributed from the air over a legally designated national park area significant to us in Sedona, Arizona. I’m glad you are in such proximity you are able to visit the area where you know your husband would appreciate being.. Do take good care of yourself, dear lady. My caring thoughts are with you.

Nadezda said...

Dear Vagabonde,
your post is so touching... Yes, the things happened too quickly. I love the photos where Jim is with his grandchildren.
I see you drove to your old house to check the renovation. Is not it done till now? Lovely pictures of the Nickajack Reservoir lake, autumn is a colorful season.
Take cake, dear!

Cergie said...

Je passe prendre de tes nouvelles et j'aperçois tout d'abord en faisant défiler les images celles de ton mari avec ses petits enfants et je pense "alors tout va bien" et puis en lisant je découvre que ta vie a changé brusquement et que tu as dû faire face au destin. Toutes mes condoléances d'abord pour cette perte cruelle si rapide et surtout la perte inexorable de la mémoire de ton mari. A présent c'est toi qui en es dépositaire et tu as su si bien continuer à le garder à tes cotés, continuant malgré les difficultés à vivre, avoir des projets, allant jusqu'à déménager...
Vagabonde, tu as eu le meilleur de ton mari avant qu'il ne devienne le pire. Et puis cet endroit où il repose, qui ne souhaiterait y faire son séjour éternel ? Moi j'aimerais en tous les cas car les cimetières traditionnels n'ont rien d'éternel, ce sont des soucis pour les descendants quant à l'incinération ce n'est qu'un pis aller alors que le retour dans les bras de Mère la Terre est une grande consolation.
Je t'embrasse avec beaucoup de tendresse....

Down by the sea said...

I'm so sorry to hear of your loss, it must have been such a shock to you all, my thoughts are with you at this difficult time.
That is a wonderful location and I'm sure it will be bring you some comfort when you visit it through the seasons. It seems a fitting place for your husband. Sarah x

Glenda Beall said...

I had never heard of such a cemetery, but it is the most wonderful place. As hard as it is to lose our loved ones, it must make you feel good that he will rest here in this garden.
My sympathies go out to you as you deal with the aftermath of losing him.
God Bless You.

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

Oh my I totally missed this post as I get more behind in reading and posting. Such a shock for sure. My condolences to you and family. I love your burial choice and music too. Sending you lots of positive vibes.

Thérèse said...

Ayant ralenti mes visites sur les blogs je n'ai donc pas lu ce billet et c'est en revenant en arrière que je lis la disparition de ton cher mari.
Toutes mes pensées vont vers toi M. aujourd'hui. Quel endroit magnifique que celui que tu as choisi! Pouvoir venir et se promener dans une Nature que ton mari a tant aimé: quel réconfort.

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