Sunday, May 29, 2011

Briana's Burial

Our whole family pulled together to make Briana's burial beautiful and personal. We are all fierce do-it-yourselfers, as you will see.
Here is an educational show and tell / how-to about Briana's burial. This was the first time we had to think about funeral and burial plans in our immediate family given how young Bri was and how suddenly she died. I think we are all happy with how it turned out, and even proud of ourselves for figuring out what to do and navigating our way through the system to a burial that was involved, meaningful, and even healing for us.
I want to share our process, hoping what we learned my be useful to you and your family someday.

Green Burial "How-to:"
1. Don't embalm. Embalming is the norm, so you have to specifically request not to have it done. Luckily, Candice remembered to request this when Briana was transported from the hospital to the funeral home. Arrange to see your deceased loved one as soon as possible (if you are going to) because an un-embalmed body decomposes rapidly. Briana was in a car accident, so I was nervous to see her body. I am very glad I did, though, because it brought closure to her life and gave me memories of her I can recall when I wonder where she is. She didn't disappear, she died.
2. Dress your deceased loved one in decomposable clothes. This means natural fibers like undyed cotton, wool, silk. In our faith, we dress our dead in symbolic clothing. *For other LDS folks: the commonly available clothing items are all polyester but you can order decomposable clothes from the Salt Lake Distribution Center.
3. Find locations for green burial sites. We were surprised at how few we could find. We ended up choosing Fernwood Cemetery in Mill Valley, CA - 5 min North of the Golden Gate Bridge. It isn't close to any of our family members, but the beauty of the location, the symbolism of the fern (her midwifery practice was called Fern Midwifery), and the meaning San Francisco had for Briana (she often talked about living there, and was even on her way to visit friends there when she died) made Fernwood an easy choice.

4. Find or begin making a wood casket. Other options are to use a burial shroud (thick, natural fiber fabric covering) and a woven basket as a support beneath the body. Our cousin, Ben Blackwelder, is a carpenter and volunteered to make Briana's casket. He only had two days to design and build the entire thing - and it turned out beautiful, perfect. It is made from maple and uses no nails to hold it together, just interlocking joints and wood pins.

A stencil for the fern design was made by my cousin Hiedi (who also designed the memorial service program).

The design was sandblasted and then painted with 'green drink' (my Uncle Donny's breakfast specialty of juiced kale, collard greens, parsley, etc. I heard they also added alfalfa powder to increase the green-ness).

Everyone helped!

Since we decided to transport Briana to California ourselves (instead of pay to transport her by plane), I made a burial shroud for her privacy and our protection.
Here is Candice trying it on - she had thought it looked too small.

(We bought 9 yards of undyed cotton canvas. 7 yards were used to make a simple, rectangular, double-layer 'bag' and the remaining yardage was cut into 4 strips, one to tie the shroud closed and three to tie around her body - head, hips, feet - to lift her while transporting).
The end result:

Here are some casket and burial shroud links: Kinkaraco, Oregon Wood Caskets,
5. Choose site at cemetery. Fernwood required 2 days digging time (the graves are all hand dug) from the time the burial site was chosen. In our case, we were driving from Utah and would not have time to wait around for 2 days of digging (and, No, we couldn't dig it ourselves - we asked! - legislation and liability indicated it had to be dug by their own employees). Fortunately, Briana's close friends lived in San Francisco and picked out a beautiful hillside location for her.
Briana's new neighborhood:

Briana's grave (you can see the dirt at the base of the center tree):

6. Transport body to cemetery. Blackwelders love road trips and we turned the task of transporting Briana to California into a memorable family road trip. A 3-car caravan drove from Salt LAke to San Francisco. The funeral home provided us with a Zeigler case - a special sealing case for transporting bodies - packed with dry ice
The minivan with Briana's Zeigler case (grey) below her wood casket:

Gas station rest stops:

picnic lunch:

Delicious vegan food:

7. Plan graveside service. After carrying Briana in her casket to her grave, we had a simple graveside service of a few memories, some hymns, and a prayer to dedicate the grave. Then we lowered her into the earth and closed her grave.
Waiting for everyone to arrive:

Carrying her body:

Lowering Briana into the earth:

Closing her grave:

My parents:

8. Post Burial plans. After devouring Tartine pastries on the cemetery grounds, we arranged to be serenaded by Sonya Cotton and Gabe Dominguez of Tiny Home (thank you!) and then ate a delicious meal at Farina, in San Francisco (thanks Bridgette and Brit).

9. Make future trips to visit your deceased loved one.

We love and miss you, Bri.


Brooke Reynolds said...

Thanks for sharing this Tess. Fernwood is so beautiful. I loved driving around and seeing Bri's new home. It's really lovely up there.

I've never heard of a "green" cemetery or many of the things you mentioned (like not being embalmed or making sure everything is decomposable).. it's been an education for me. I just loved how involved you all were in her burial and how personal it all feels. It's made me think a lot.

mfranti said...

Oh dear...

I'm sobbing like a little baby.
This is so beautiful and heart-wrenching.

Thank you so much for having the courage to write about this.

mfranti said...

I finished before I was done.

Can I repost this with a link at Our Mother's Keeper?

Tree Peeps said...

@ mfranti: Sure, you can repost this. I'm a little late in responding to your comment, but if you come back and read this, go ahead.
Glad you liked it :)

elise lauren photography said...

Wow I'm sure this has helped you heal so much, to be the ones to bury her from start to finish. Just wow. Love you guys.