Natural Burials: Planning for the death of a loved one

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WATERFORD TOWNSHIP (WJRT) - (02/29/16) - Personalization in the funeral industry is changing the way people think about death.

Green burials are an option more cemeteries are starting to offer.

An Ann Arbor man has decided to "go green" after years of thinking about it. He recently purchased two plots at The Preserve at All Saints Cemetery in Waterford Township.

"I do have mine picked out," said Rob Chie.

The healthy 42 year old has a teenage daughter and works as an insurance agent. He said pre-planning his funeral has been helpful.

"It's a big deal," Chie said. "You feel like that weight (is) lifted off your shoulders once you finally get that set."

Chie's final resting place will be at The Preserve at All Saints Cemetery. It's a 50 minute drive from his home.

"I can't wait to bring my family back here and show them the plots that I picked out, and where I'll be," Chie said.

Michael Chilcote is the general manager of the Mt. Elliott Cemetery Association. The Preserve at All Saints Cemetery is one of its properties. It opened in 2010 and was developed exclusively for green or natural burials.

"Personalization is really what that's about," Chilcote said. "I think it's again another option where people have looked at it and are saying, 'Oh, I never thought of doing that', but it's really going back to the original ways burials were done."

Simply put - green burials are a way of caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact.

"You can be buried in The Preserve in any kind of bio-degradable container - wooden casket, cardboard cremation caskets (and) even shrouds," said Russ Burns, director of The Preserve at All Saints Cemetery.

It's one of a few in Michigan certified by the Green Burial Council, which sets the standard in North America. Pesticides and herbicides aren't used on the grounds. Embalming fluids aren't allowed and neither are burial vaults, which are usually made of concrete.

Cremations in bio-degradable containers are accepted at The Preserve at All Saints Cemetery. Native plants or rocks serve as headstones.

"The most appealing aspect of it again (is) people that want to lessen their carbon footprint," Burns said. "They want to do more for the environment."

That's why Chie decided to "go green".

He recycles and drives a fuel efficient car and wants to carry that same mind frame to his grave.

"My view is you take a lot form this earth when you're here," Chie said. "I feel it's kind of your time to give back and there is a cycle of life there."

A childhood memory of seeing his grandmother's casket lowered into the ground also shaped his decision.

"At that moment, it struck me that I didn't find it really natural to be disconnected from earth in that way," he said.

The thought of not being "trapped" inside a casket is reassuring. He used a garden analogy to explain his feelings.

"If you're in the garden planting flowers and you're in with the dirt (and) touching the dirt, I think it's fantastic," Chie said. "And if you wanted to compare them, you could get inside a box for a minute and see which one you like more. Being with the earth like that is very important."

About 300 burial plots have been purchased at The Preserve at All Saints Cemetery. So far they've had about 35 burials.

Management expects green burials to increase in popularity in the years to come, but they don't think they'll become the norm.

"We offer that choice and a lot of places don't do it," Burns said. "And it's worked out very well for us."

Chie's wish is for his close family to choose a green burial, too. He admits there's still some convincing to do.

"They're trying to catch up with it too, but in the end, I'd sure love to have them all out here with me," he said.

Pre-planning is recommended because it eliminates questions should a death happen unexpectedly.

There are different levels of certification for green cemeteries. Costs associated with the burials are typically lower, mainly because people are not spending as much on items like traditional caskets.

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