I'm Oliver Webber, here with my research assistant, Kaydence Ribetnauer. You may not be able to see us because we're tucked in between these blades of grass, waiting for our next meal to fly in and land on one of them. To nourish our bodies and souls, we ponder leaves. We encourage contemplation... especially in regard to issues that will have to be handled when we become worm grub. We hope to motivate others to thoughtfully cultivate preferences and decisions while still vigorously leaping around. We recommend croaking... using voices to broadcast wishes before it's too late to have a voice in this matter. Other than a sumptuous supply of insects, this is assuredly the most "toad-ally" considerate gift we could leave for our life companions! Don't you agree? We invite you to get your feet wet by joining our pond of pondering pre-planners. Let's make croaking meaningful!

Sunday, June 28, 2015




In spite of high humidity and a whisper of rain showers, spirits at the Mount Auburn Cemetery were not at all dampened.  On the contrary, folks who attended the June 14th, 2014 “Graves In the Garden” green burial fair engaged themselves enthusiastically in opportunities to learn about the natural burial concept.  

The afternoon schedule of activities enabled people to experience the verdant environment of these venerated burial grounds.  It was all about “green” in a setting that exudes it.  It was about a matter of death in a leafy arboretum rife with life.  Blanketed by an abundance of trees, shrubs, and flowers, the terrain served as an ideal theater for an affair addressing earthly sustenance.   

The concept of green burials that has been growing like wildflowers around the country had been embraced by Mount Auburn Cemetery, where that type of elemental burial is now available.  Plots for this purpose are scattered throughout the grounds and integrated among traditional sites rather than in a designated, homogeneous section.  

In one instance, an area in front of a field of headstones has been framed according to a husband and wife’s wishes, in readiness for their future deaths and natural burials.  As a reflection of their joint ownership of a Boston area retreat that features many art pieces, stones native to western Massachusetts represent their legacy of a lifetime appreciation of outdoor art.   

This special event at the cemetery was geared not only toward pre-planners like that couple whose gravesite preemptively graces the grounds, but also for anyone who was interested in becoming enlightened about the natural burial concept in general.  

At the onset, individuals strolled along a hilly road to reach the Bigelow Chapel, named for Dr. Jacob Bigelow, who had been instrumental in acquiring seventy acres as a foundation for establishment of the cemetery in 1831.  

Dr. Bigelow also was responsible for the erection of a stone statue as a memorial to victims of the Civil War.  

The lion with a human head and a pharoah's headdress sits vigilantly across from the chapel's entrance.

Spokespeople from relevant organizations and vendors manned tables with literature and posters explaining the essence of their services and missions.  Representatives included the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Western Massachusetts, providers who are part of the National Home Funeral Alliance, the Eternal Blessings Cremation Service, and the My Exit Strategy Internet storage depot for end-of-life wishes. 

Depictions of family directed home funerals were displayed on a photo board.

Biodegradable caskets appropriate for natural burials were exhibited as well.  These are available through Mourning Dove Studio, a treasure trove for varied types of ecologically friendly burial containment, often embellished with meaningful appointments and artistry.  

Meanwhile, as guests milled around the premises, a “pseudo-someone”  lay motionless, undisturbed by the enlivening chatter while awaiting its “pseudo-burial” scheduled for later in the afternoon.  

Next stop on the agenda was the Story Chapel, named for the cemetery’s first president, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story.  Constructed of sandstone in the style of a fifteenth-century English church, its Gothic interior style features a ceiling of carved wooden pieces.  

People gathered here for the showing of a popular film, A Will for the Woods, which has won acclaim for its poignant documentation of an individual’s end-of-life journey.  It follows the progression of circumstances confronted by Clark Wang, a musician and psychiatrist, as he dealt with lymphoma and prepared for his green burial.  Thoughtfully placed tissue boxes had been scattered throughout the rows of pews.  Following the film, its producers were on hand to answer questions, of which there were many.  

Next on the agenda was a demonstration, compelling transport of the “pseudo-corpse” –previously reposing in the chapel – to its grave.

For digging a little deeper into the green burial concept, a grave site had been authentically prepared to conduct a mock burial au naturel.  

After meeting at the Bigelow Chapel, staff led folks to the site for further elaboration of details, enabling insights about the differences between this type of burial and conventional approaches along with up-close visualization of the process as it is managed on the Mount Auburn property.  

The final element of this occasion was a presentation by Mark Harris, author of Grave Matters, a book extolled for its authenticity captured through his personal observations.  Having written articles about natural burials for prominent newspapers and magazines, and as a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, he is widely regarded as an expert resource.  Against a backdrop of standard practices and through elaborations of witnessed details, readers are apprised of less familiar, yet burgeoning methods.  Benefits of natural endings readily come into focus.  

This burial alternative has taken root.  During recent years it has been capturing the attention of providers and consumers around the country.  In this age of materialism and excess, it entails less, rather than more.  It mirrors the past – the old way burials were handled before manufactured goods and funerary accoutrements came on the scene.  Yet, perhaps oddly, it is perceived as uniquely new. 

Many people still are not yet aware of this ostensibly “new” option for bodily disposition after  death.  Besides excavating a grave to illustrate it, planners for the “Graves In the Garden” affair opened minds.  Through input from various sources, people in attendance were given a realistic look at this earth-friendly manner of physical disposition.  

Mount Auburn was the first cemetery in Massachusetts to be certified by the Green Burial Council as a hybrid burial ground.  For that designation to be conferred, certain principled stipulations had to be met.  Options now include an opportunity for a body to be buried in a biodegradable casket or shroud directly in the ground, without outer containment in the form of a vault or concrete liner.  Instead of protuberant memorial stones, such graves may be marked by inconspicuous markers inlayed within nature’s ground cover.  Alternatively, a small plaque affixed to a nearby shrub or tree, or the absence of any type of discernible marker, can serve as a sign that an individual’s body has been conscientiously poised to merge with the natural environment.  

Here, within this embellished retreat for souls laid to rest, the beauty of nature’s complexion prevails.  The possibility of becoming absorbed in its terrestrial vigor in spite of death can be especially alluring.  A green burial within this thriving landscape offers an opportunity to literally embed oneself in a sanctuary of ecological splendor.  

Mount Auburn Cemetery

Funeral Consumers Alliance of Western Massachusetts

National Home Funeral Alliance

Will for the Woods film
Grave Matters by Mark Harris

Mourning Dove Studio

My Exit Strategy

Eternal Blessings Family-Direct Cremation Service

Monday, June 22, 2015


Journey Journal… Winter Park, FL


Anyone who has not been to any cemeteries in recent years might be surprised by the modern imprints that now beautify them.  In many cases, landscape architects haven’t left a stone unturned, so to speak.  Cremation gardens, in particular, are contemporary features of recent origin on burial properties and, at certain ones, they are exquisite masterpieces of design.  

The concept of these attractive havens has been grasped by cemetery owners who recognize their desirability.  As the rate of cremation escalates, so does the development of this type of amenity on burial grounds throughout the country.  The economic forecast for a return on such an investment is favorable.  In contrast to substantial acreage required for whole body interments, the space allocated as quarters for many units of cremated remains can be confined to a smaller area.  The sales potential is great due to the significant number of remains that can be accommodated within a delineated area.  Maintenance costs are lower.  And opportunities for stylistic innovations are refreshing in contrast to predictable patterns of commonplace cemetery layouts.  

Sometimes a cremation garden suggests a sense of sanctuary in an area that feels segregated from the rest of the grounds, if not geographically, at least visually.  Foliage accentuates the effect. The Glen Haven Memorial Park harbors one that implies that sort of retreat.  

Its entrance pathways surround a fountain, refreshing to body and mind under the searing Florida sun.

A stroll along groomed walkways reveals an eclectic mix of stone memorials.  Some of the conventional ones are modest and generically basic.

Other memorial structures are distinctly unique and exceptional.

Cremation bench monuments summon an impression of meditative repose.  Such configurations are constructed with single or multiple inner chambers to hold cremated remains of an individual or several family members. They may be straight or curved, with or without arms and backs.  

Symbols reminiscent of the person who died may be prominent elements of style.

For decedents who had been multi-taskers, perhaps memorial signets that serve a dual purpose are especially apropos.  Granite birdbaths invite enlivening activity.

Sundials on pillars with chambers that contain cremated remains capture a natural way to avoid losing track of time… perhaps even alluding to the preciousness of it!    

Often a cremation mecca such as this one features niche walls or community columbaria on the premises.  

It is common, also, to encounter a contemporary version of a cenotaph.  The bronze plaques on this community memorial bear the names of people whose remains were buried or scattered elsewhere – sometimes in another area within the garden.    

In an arena of sectioned “family estates” there is room for multiple burials of related remains.

The expansive allotments offer opportunities for unconfined creativity.  You never know when a visitor might want to pause for a picnic or a game of chess!

Perhaps the most commanding component of this picturesque “Tranquility Oaks” cremation garden is the tranquility of its pond and waterfalls enveloped in lush foliage.  

Amid soothing bird songs, sun-drenched lily pads, and gentle ripples, it is an oasis of serenity that bespeaks the nature of death.  

Monday, June 8, 2015


JOURNEY JOURNAL... Venice, Florida



It was a life celebration fit for a king… or, in this case, a dog.

Imagine visiting a cemetery when your companion suddenly beckons you to “look at the clown going by on the road over there.”  One might immediately assume an errant driver was speeding recklessly in this designated zone of quiescence.  

But, no, this was a literal reference to an actual clown rather than the appointment of a derogatory assignation.  For heaven’s sake!  Clowns don’t belong at a cemetery!  Or do they?  

On February 16, 2013, amid hallowed burial grounds at Venice Memorial Gardens, there was no need to admonish anyone with a directive to “quit clowning around.”  In fact, in this milieu that ordinarily invokes subdued reverence, antics and activities common to the Big Top were the order of the day.  Against a backdrop of crypts and columbaria, a circus of sorts “came to town.”

It was a sunny day when the circus theme materialized here to commemorate the life and conduct the burial of a dog named Gizmoe, who had been a cherished companion of one of the funeral directors.  Her interment served as a prelude to the grand opening of the cemetery’s new pet burial section half an hour later.

Photo Source:  Farley Funeral Home - Venice Memorial Gardens Event Announcement

The honored decedent’s pink casket was actually an urn vault utilized for this alternative purpose.
Photo Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

The fete began with the arrival of a carnival entourage. The adapted casket was on a wagon pulled by a singularly notable pallbearer of the day – Lucky Star, a miniature white horse who later showcased a series of tricks.  Her owner served as the circus ringmaster. Chucko, a former Ringling Brothers clown, played a pivotal role throughout the conjoint event as a prominent figure during the service and grand opening proceedings.  Two grief therapy dogs from the Florida Humane Society – a golden doodle and a long-haired dachshund – were at the rear of the processional.  

Photos Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

A bone-shaped arrangement of white flowers with pink ribbons and sparkles accoutered the casket.
Photo Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

The event was open to the public, including canine companions.  Eighty-four humans and sixteen dogs attended the committal service, conducted by two of the cemetery’s funeral directors under a pergola.  Public officials and local media personnel were on hand to glean material for news articles and television documentation.  

Photo Source:  Dorothy Snyder Photography 

The celebrant-led service included references to Gizmoe’s typical behaviors and characteristics.  Individuals who shared her life relayed reminiscent experiences.  A popular poem, “The Rainbow Bridge,” was read, which inspires comfort by alluding to the possibility of pet owners reuniting with their pets once they, too, have died.  Family members released ten pink balloons prior to the release of fifty multi-colored, circus-themed balloons amid a backdrop of relevant musical pieces.  

Photo Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

Pink rose petals lined the dog’s grave.  After placement of the casket in it, some were also sprinkled on top of it. 

Photo Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

The distinguished dog’s personality was captured even for her burial.  Because she had been anti-social, two spaces were utilized, with her body facing backward, so no other animal’s body would be buried close to her at a later time.  The plot is located in the section of the cemetery designated for upright markers.  

An unmistakable celebration of life was the order of the day on this occasion when an esteemed pet was laid to rest.  It was accentuated by clowns, calliope background music, balloons, popcorn, snow cones, and cotton candy.

Photos Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

The theme was maintained throughout the grand opening ceremony that followed Gizmoe’s affair.  Though this type of milieu ordinarily is conspicuously uncommon in a cemetery, if ever a circus would appear on burial grounds anywhere, the Sarasota environs would be a logical place.  It oozes Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey history and is still percolating with the company’s people and artifacts.  Because of its infiltration here, in the ‘40s and ‘50s this epicenter for a popular pastime became known as a circus town.  Accommodations for “The Greatest Show on Earth” included winter headquarters in Sarasota, often motivating personnel and their descendants to establish permanent, lifelong residency here.  A museum now houses an extensive art collection from their world travels as well as circus memorabilia, such as wardrobes, props, and equipment along with newspaper clippings and other documentary accounts. 

So it’s not surprising that authentic performers would be on hand for this special event.  In fact, three circus dynasties – the Espana, Anatasini, and Herriott families – were represented.  Entertainment included a classic spinning plates routine, acrobatics, and spins a la the German wheel and the “steel wheel of destiny.”

Photo Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

Antics of trained pups were especially germane, given the nature of the occasion. 

Photo Source:  ICCFA Magazine, Dorothy Snyder Photography 

Of course, a festival with this motif called for edible embellishments.  A Venice caterer provided hors d’oeuvres – pizza bites, finger sandwiches, and pigs in a blanket.  A local supermarket made it possible for the canine and feline guests to enjoy treats as well.  

After the main events, people were given an opportunity to tour the grounds in golf carts, which included visits to the pet crematory.  

Photos Source:  Farley Funeral Homes -Venice Memorial Gardens Pet Cemetery Website

Needless to say, this was a distinctive and memorable way to introduce the community to the addition of pet services at this memorial park.  The blueprint that had been conceptualized in response to a current funerary trend had been transformed into a new facility.  
Photo Source:  Farley Funeral Homes -Venice Memorial Gardens Pet Cemetery Website

And in the process of publicizing its availability, the human tendency to feel remarkable affection toward pets had been colorfully accentuated.  

For now, Gizmoe’s headstone dominates the landscape of this heavenly animal kingdom. 

As time passes, the local canine celebrity will have more company within this acre of burial territory. Graves for other animals’ cremated or whole body remains will increasingly appear. 

If an owner wishes to stay close to a beloved pet, human graves adjacent to the pet section can accommodate that wish.  

Services will continue to be conducted under the pergola that serves as the central focal point for the pet burial grounds.

Meanwhile, under a headstone remindful of her memorable memorial gala, Gizmoe is resting in peace. 

Content Resources:

ICCFA Magazine: March-April 2013