Typical burial sites at CBBG

Burial site 02-P1040176 03-P1040177 04-P1040178 05-P1040179 06-P1040180 07-P1040181 08-P1040182 09-P1040183 10-P1040184 11-P1040185 12-P1040186 13-P1040187 14-P1040188 15-P1040190

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Thinking out of the casket: Film on green burials to be screened on St. Patrick’s Day

  • By Joann Mackenzie Staff Writer, Gloucester Daily Times
In 1963, British-born journalist Jessica Mitford looked at the American funeral industry and concluded that the cost of dying was rising faster than the cost of living.

The best-selling expose she wrote on the subject, “The American Way of Death,” skewered the funeral industry for its gross materialism and was hailed as a landmark in investigative journalism that led to the Federal Trade Commission enacting new legislation regulating industry practices.

Mitford would be thrilled with plans by the Essex County Greenbelt Association to promote local dialogue on “green, or natural burials” in response to what Mary Williamson, who is director of development and community engagements for the Greenbelt, calls “growing community interest … in exploring the implications of green burials for land conservation.”

That dialogue, with Candace Currie, of Green Burial Massachusetts and the Mount Auburn Cemetery, will take place this Thursday, March 17, at Sawyer Free Library, following a free 6 p.m. screening of the award-winning documentary, “A Will for the Woods.”

Williamson, who organized the event, which falls on St. Patrick’s Day, swears that any connection between green burials and the wearing of the green was an unintended, if ironic, coincidence. That said, the Irish are famous for their reverence for the dead, and “green graveyards” are a growing trend on the Emerald Isle, while across the Irish Sea in the United Kingdom there are more than 340 established natural burial grounds (NBGs).


Jeremy Kaplan, cinematographer and one of four co-directors on the American-Australian filmmaking team, will introduce the one-hour advocacy documentary, which draws the viewer into a “life-affirming portrait of people embracing timeless natural cycles” through the narrative of Clark Wang, a young musician, folk dancer and psychiatrist who, while dying of lymphoma, becomes passionate about green burials and determined to make a gift of himself back to the planet.

Nobody wants to die, let alone be buried, including Wang. And that, says Williamson, “is one of the things that makes the film so thought-provoking.” In his seven-year battle against cancer, Wang left no stone unhurled against the disease that was killing him. He wanted to live so much, he says, that it was the thought of living on through the ecosystem that sustained him.

Wang’s presence in the film — as a living, loving, joyful, humorous and brave being — makes the concept he is unabashedly selling (in his words, “self-composting,”) palatable to audiences long used to “The American Way of Death.”

The concept of green burials is actually neither new nor the reserve of extreme environmentalists. Mainstream media analysts attribute its sudden growth spurt in the United States to the HBO series “Six Feet Under” (2001 to 2005) which explored the trend amid heightened audience awareness of environmental concerns. There are now about 40 certified green burial grounds nationwide and a “natural death care” industry, which advocates — including religious communities and clerics — see as an extension of end-of-life palliative care, and a return to ancient sacred rituals.

Just as Clark Wang is a great salesman, the film itself is a great sales vehicle. Beautifully shot and edited, it’s had wide theater release in the United States and Canada, swept awards at nine film festivals, aired on PBS, been hailed by TED as “a must-see documentary,” and praised by Discovery News as “a film that has hit a cultural nerve.”

Going green

Green or natural burial may not be something you want to think about, but this film will make you “think out of the box,” as green burial advocates are fond of saying.

Williamson, who admits to being initially squeamish about the subject when first approached by local advocates, asks that you “bring an open mind,” and says one thing that won her over was realizing “the incredible amount of materials that are put into the earth that won’t decompose.”

An estimated 60,000 tons of steel and 4.8 million gallons of embalming fluid are put into American soil each year through the $20 billion a year American funeral industry. Green burials, by contrast, lay the deceased to rest in the earth in biodegradable materials.

“Shrouds speed up decomposition and reunion with the land,” says Williamson. Other materials run the gamut from a bed of wood chips to wicker basketry to simple, biodegradable pine caskets.

The funeral industry is adapting traditional practices to accommodate the green burial movement, and a growing number of cemeteries, including Cambridge’s historic Mount Auburn Cemetery, now provide “options” for green burials.

‘Lots of interest’

But, says Williamson, local interest in green burials centers on the creation of a dedicated land preserve that would provide an option to traditional cemeteries. “There’s so much to learn,” she says, “so we’ve organized a group. There are so many aspects, we feel we need an expert partner to help us make sure we’re doing things right. We may find that it won’t work for us. But it was instigated by members of the community and there’s a lot of interest out there.”

The film’s trailer opens with an anonymous voice-over saying, “They don’t call them cemeteries, they call them preserves. ..”

Wang is buried in one such preserve — a green, leafy clearing in a forest in North Carolina that somewhat resembles Dogtown.

Like Dogtown, its grounds are scattered with stones that are carved with words. Only these stones are small, flat and unobtrusive, and instead of carrying commanding instructions on how to live, they suggest how to die with grace and gratitude.

The stone featured in the film’s trailer marks the grave not of Wang, but of a woman called Evelyn, and says simply, “Dear Nature, Thank you.”

Joann Mackenzie may be contacted at 978-675-2707, or at jmackenzie@gloucestertimes.com.

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“A Will for the Woods” screening & discussion

A Will for the WoodsJoin Greenbelt for a free community film screening and facilitated discussion on the emerging topic of Green (or Natural) Burial.

Thursday, March 17, 6:00 – 8:00pm
Sawyer Free Library
Friend Conference Room
2 Dale Avenue, Gloucester MA 01930

Capacity is limited to 50 people. Light refreshments provided. Go to web page to reserve a place.

Join Co-director Jeremy Kaplan for a screening of Will for the Woods, an hour-long documentary, weaves a beautiful story of one person’s life and his approaching death, which ultimately results in his choice to pursue natural burial.

After the film, Candace Currie of Green Burial Massachusetts and the Mt. Auburn Cemeterywill guide a facilitated discussion on the the film, its implications, and the information on current efforts underway to establish a natural cemetery in the state.

Green or natural burial is a simple and natural alternative to resource-intensive contemporary burial or cremation. The deceased is laid to rest in the earth using only biodegradable materials and without a vault or toxic embalming, in a woodland or other natural setting, often with a fieldstone or indigenous plant marking the grave. This practice can be used as a conservation tool, enabling the acquisition, restoration, and stewardship of natural areas.

Admission is free; donations are accepted for the work of Green Burial Massachusetts.

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What are my rights?

Rights differ from state to state.

Your Funeral Consumer Rights in Maine

2013 Funeral Ethics Organization 87 Upper Access Rd. Hinesburg, VT 05461 funeralethics.org

For complete information on the State of Maine regulations and for other states visit: http://www.funerals.org

Funeral Arrangements

You may name an agent for body disposition if you want someone other than your next-of- kin to be in charge.

It is legal for a family or designated agent to handle everything without a funeral director. To find a home funeral guide, check: http://homefuneraldirectory.com/

If you will be using a funeral home, prices must be given over the telephone. You must be given a General Price List (GPL) if you visit in person and before discussing any services.

You must be shown a Casket and Outer Burial Container Price List before selecting either.

You must be given a Statement of Funeral Goods and Services Selected with the total cost before any services are provided.

The Funeral Consumers Alliance of Maine does a price survey periodically: www.funerals.org

Do not sign any contract for more than you can afford to pay. If the deceased was indigent, there may be limited municipal funds. There is no other organization that assists with costs.


If the death was unexpected or the cause of death uncertain, the state will probably require an autopsy.

If you have questions about the death, you may request and pay for a private autopsy.

If a viewing is planned, there will likely be extra charges to repair the body for embalming.

Organ, Body, and Tissue Donation

If death occurs in the hospital, you are likely to be asked about organ donation. Only about 1% of the deaths are eligible for major organ donation. The organ procurement organization (OPO) will pay for any extra body preparation needed if you plan a viewing. Decline any such charge you might find on the GPL.

After-death donation of eyes, skin, and long bones may be considered. Ask the hospital social worker or the funeral director about this.

Whole body donation to a medical school is one way to lower costs. After study, the school will cremate the body and return the cremated remains to the family if requested. You should have back-up funeral plans if your body cannot be accepted for any reason.

There are also non-academic companies that accept whole bodies for research and education. Various body parts will likely be shipped around the country and possibly internationally. The state has no laws regulating these companies. Note that this is an entirely different category of body donation from the traditional cadaver donation to a medical school.

To find the nearest body donation option, the cost if any, and the reasons for body rejection check: www.finalrights.org

Embalming and Other Requirements

Embalming is not required in this state for typical funeral arrangements.

Bodies to be shipped by common carrier must be embalmed or in an airtight container.

Many funeral homes have a policy that requires embalming for a public viewing. Embalming does not protect the public health. It merely delays decomposition.

Caskets and Vaults

Neither is required by state law for burial. A rigid combustible container is required for cremation.

A casket will not prevent natural decomposition.

You may build your own or purchase from a casket retailer. Vault dealers rarely sell to the public.

The purpose of a vault is to keep the ground from caving in. It facilitates maintenance for the cemetery. It has no preservative qualities regardless of how much you spend.


Family burial grounds of not more than a quarter of an acre are protected as a “burial place forever.” If you wish to set up a family cemetery, check local zoning. It must be 200 feet from a water supply and 100 feet from a house. A good practice is 25 feet from a power line with two or three feet of earth on top. You must draw a map showing where the family cemetery will be and have it recorded with the deed. A fence or other markers are also required.

If you purchase a lot in a commercial, town, or religious cemetery, you will have the opening and closing costs in addition to the cost of the plot.

Some cemeteries have restrictions on the kind of monuments or plantings and adornment allowed.

A disinterment permit can be obtained from a local clerk.

Cremation or Burial at Sea

There is a 48-hour wait prior to cremation.
A medical examiner’ s permit is required.
A pacemaker must be removed.
Some crematories will let the family witness the cremation.
The cremation process takes about two-and-a-half hours for an average adult. The staff will remove any metal and pulverize the bone fragments to small particles, similar to white or gray coarse sand, about 5-10 pounds.

Cremated remains may be kept at home, scattered or buried on private land with the landowner’s permission, interred in a cemetery or memorial garden, or placed in a mausoleum niche. If scattering on public land or water, don’t ask, don’t tell. Park service people are concerned that some may want to create a little shrine at the site and would prefer not to know your plans. Be discreet. The Environ- mental Protection Agency (EP A) says they must be scattered three miles out to sea. That’s because the federal agency has no jurisdiction over the first three miles; the bordering state does. Most states (except for California and South Dakota) have no restrictions on the dis- position of cremated remains, and there are no “cremains police” even in those two states. Do as you wish.

If flying with cremated remains, be sure they are in a non-metal container to pass through the scanner.
Cremated remains may be sent only by U.S. Postal Service. Use Priority Mail Express with delivery confirmation. FedEx and UPS will not knowingly accept cremated remains.

All cremations must be in a licensed crematory.

Crematories are registered with the Department of Health.

Veterans and Their Dependents

You will need a copy of the DD214 discharge papers for gaining benefits.

The VA cemetery in Togus is closed to new interments. There are four state-run veterans cemeteries: in Augusta (two, but one does only cremated remains), Springvale, and Caribou. Interment and marker are free of charge for the veteran, spouse, and certain depend- ants.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides markers for veterans no matter where they are interred. Markers can be up- right or flat, and they come in bronze, marble, and granite: (800) 697-6947.

A free flag can be ordered through the U.S. Postal Service.

A comprehensive list of veterans benefits can be found here:

Veterans- funeral-and-burial-benefits

The Maine Board of Funeral Service has eight members, three of whom are consumer representatives. 


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MPBN show, Maine Calling, Modern Funerals

Joyce Foley, President of Cedar Brook Burial Ground has been invited to participate on the MPBN show,  Maine Calling.  The topic will be conversations about death and dying and the need to have “the conversation” with family.

Modern Funerals
Wed, November 4, 12pm – 1pm

Guest speakers
Josh Slocum, Executive Director, Funeral Consumers Alliance (via ISDN from VPT)
Jim Fernald, Brookings Smith Funeral Home in Bangor (Bangor studio)
VIP Call-in: Joyce Foley/Cedar Brook Burial Ground (a Green Cemetery)


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Living Tree by Robert Morgan : The Poetry Foundation

Living Tree by Robert Morgan : The Poetry Foundation.

This lovely poem lead a couple to Cedar Brook Burial Ground.

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The History of the Burial Shroud

Forest shroud This information was shared by Kinkaraco, a supplier of shrouds.


Kinkaraco is a culturally and spiritually diverse company that cherishes the Death Rituals of Human Beings all over this Earth.Here is a brief collection of Burial practices and histories of peoples who incorporate BURIAL SHROUDS in their sacred practices as well as herbs and flowers.

For more information go to Kinkaraco – History of shrouds

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Earthrise – Green Goodbyes

Death is a messy business. In America alone, 1.6 million tonnes of cement and over 870,000 gallons of embalming fluid – commonly containing formaldehyde – are buried along with 2.5 million caskets every year. One solution is to use eco-friendly biodegradable coffins made out of cardboard or even banana leaves. Campaigners also hope to increase the number of natural burial sites, where plots blend in with the natural surroundings. There are currently fewer than 40 in the US.

AlJazeeraEnglish will not allow us to view the video they prepared after visiting CBBG. If it becomes available in the future we will reinsert the link.

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Funeral Consumers Alliance of Maine June 2013 Newsletter

Funeral Consumers Alliance of Maine (FCAM) is a non-profit, all volunteer, educational organization dedicated to helping members make informed decisions about after-death arrangements that are dignified, meaningful, and affordable.

The following was included in their June Newsletter


Peter McHugh’s Death

We are sorry to hear of the death of Peter F. McHugh of Limington, Maine. Peter founded the Cedar Brook Burial Ground, one of only two green cemeteries in Maine. He was a strong supporter of the Green Burial movement, Do-It-Yourself burials, and of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Maine. Peter spoke at our annual meeting on more than one occasion.

Peter set aside two acres of his 150-acre tree farm as a green burial cemetery, to preserve the natural beauty of the land in perpetuity. He was buried there on March 12th, next to the large stone marking the old Joshua Small family cemetery.
You can see what Peter created, and what his family carries on, at http://mainegreencemetery.com.

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‘Ecofunerals’ on the rise in the US

Environmentally conscious Americans are opting for ecofriendly “green” funerals.

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