My Personal Story of a Green Burial at Langley Cemetery
My husband Robin died on January 2014. Hospice provided everything we needed, medicine and equipment and answers to any questions that we had. My son who is a paramedic came home for two weeks to help me, and my daughter came from Seattle.
Robin died at home in his study on a misty afternoon with his family around him, and his little dog on his bed. Marilyn Strong a dear friend, who had worked as a death midwife, immediately got the death certificate signed by his doctor. She then went to Payless to get some dry ice so that he could be laid out at home for three days.
We dressed him in his gold silk wedding shirt and his favorite dancing pants. At first we tied a colorful scarf around his head to close his mouth. Then we laid him out on the ice and took the scarf away. We lit candles and incense. People played music or sat with him night and day for three days.
We were relieved he was not scooped up and taken away by people we did not even know. Instead we had time to be with him. These three days helped us with our grieving journey. and the community coming and going during that time, gave us great comfort.
My son and friends dug his grave. It was pouring with rain, there were warm drinks and a little whisky to help out. At first my son was reluctant to “dig a hole for his dad” but the next day he announced that he wanted to. It was a cathartic few hours for him and he has said he would do the same for me.
We had already bought a plot that summer in the green burial part of Langley Cemetery when we learned of his terminal illness. The grave had to be 4’1/2 feet deep and long enough to fit his 6’4” dad. I arranged for a silk saffron shroud to be made with a John Donahue poem “To the Beloved” sown into the seam. We had to go to Everett to pick it up since it might not have been delivered in time. I shall never forget that journey with my son, how bonding it was and how close we became taking care of his dad during those last days.
On the third day a friend, Jerry Wennstrom made a bamboo stretcher so that he could be transported to the Langley Cemetery, and Marilyn obtained a permit from the Island County Public Health Department in Coupeville.to transport him to the cemetery. We wrapped him in the shroud and lowered him onto the stretcher and took him to the cemetery.
That morning we lined the grave with cedar boughs. Many people came and formed a big circle around the grave, there was music and poetry and as he was lowered into the grave by the straps sown on to the shroud. We placed white flowers that Aleah Chapin had sent us on top of him and filled the grave.
That night I went to up to the cemetery, a large owl was up in the tree just beside his grave. A year later a beautiful headstone made by a Whidbey Island artist, Alexandra Morosco was brought and installed. At dusk I went up to the cemetery to have another look and there was the owl again!
Father and Son
It was only a few days before he died.
A winter mist enveloped the island and
the moon lingered through the
tips of pines as if in lace.
Our once robust patriarch who paid bills,
supported his children’s way out schemes,
and always, an engine for robust debate,
now lay under blankets on the day bed.
Son and father catching conversation
before there would be no more words.
This night he had no strength,
we wanted one more night together,
though the hospice scaffolding was
already in place.
Dad, I heard you say,
“You have carried me my whole life
let me carry you up to bed now.”