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A Journey to Serenity Ridge
I’ve always been interested in handing the next generation a reasonably healthy planet, so when my friend Sue asked if I was interested in green burial I said “of course” and became an early member of the board of the Green Burial Association of Maryland (GBAM).
GBAM is interested in non-polluting burial; returning to practices common before the civil war made embalming desirable for shipping casualties home, and our customs evolved to include putting concrete liners around bodies and using up lots of valuable lumber on coffins. A green burial has none of this. Things are done the old-fashioned way; bodies are wrapped in a shroud and possibly put in a biodegradable coffin and are buried without concrete or chemicals, nor sending cremation pollutants into the air.
As it turns out, my friend Pete McQuillin had started a green cemetery near Pittsburgh, where we had lived for a number of years. Since there were no green cemeteries in Maryland at that time, my husband and I visited a few years ago and thought of buying plots in Pennsylvania. However, during the Covid pandemic, we thought it would be challenging to ship bodies across state lines so we held off buying plots.
As a member of GBAM, I worked on the website and written materials, and visited some cemetery directors to sound them out on green burial. Only one, Brent Hanson at Parkview Funeral Home, was actively interested. Others just said they’d consider green burial if there was customer demand.
Then my life became overwhelmed with family responsibilities during the pandemic, including caring for my aging mother, Anne, who was living with dementia, and I gave up a lot of activities including participation with GBAM. My mother had said that she wanted to donate her body to the Anatomy Board but, as I spoke about it, she liked the idea of a green burial.
In the fall of 2022 after surviving Covid, Mom stopped eating, walking and speaking, and entered a hospice program. At about that time, there was an article in the Baltimore Sun about the opening of the first exclusively green cemetery in Maryland. My sister was visiting so we went out to look at Serenity Ridge. As it happened, the horticulturalist was there and spoke about ambitions to develop an arboretum at Serenity Ridge using native plants; creating a welcoming environment for family and friends to visit, take a walk, maybe have a picnic. The manager, Chelsea (a niece of two brothers who decided to use their family farm for this purpose) showed us around, and we loved the peaceful and beautiful location.
Anne turned things around and started speaking, eating, walking, and participating in activities and our weekly family dinners. She celebrated her 101st birthday on February 1 and met one of her new great-grandchildren. But she was fading, so I purchased a plot for her at Serenity Ridge, and for 6 other members of our family. I also made arrangements with Parkview Funeral home to take care of transporting and enshrounding her and keeping her body chilled while family came in and we arranged a burial date with Serenity Ridge.
Then, in March, she closed down again and returned to hospice care. Anne died on April 19.
Her burial ceremony was simple and lovely, with those closest to her in attendance. She was buried in a simple shroud of canvas…like the sails on the ships she sailed on all her life. She was lowered onto a bed of straw, with straw and flowers above her, and then her beloved dirt–Anne had been quite a gardener. Words of love were spoken and a few of her poems read. After the grave was filled in and a bouquet placed in a bio-degradable container, her one- and three-year-old great-grandchildren walked up the hill and put flowers on her grave. Everyone reminisced for a bit and enjoyed the bittersweet beauty of the day and the view. The simplicity of returning Anne to earth in a natural way felt exactly right, and that day has a special place in the hearts of those who loved her the most. Anne’s green burial has given me enormous comfort, knowing that the last caring acts we could do for her were so natural, personal and simple.
Posted with permission from Evelyn Bradley.
Working with the Green Burial Association
Serenity Ridge Communications
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