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!

Thursday, July 16, 2015



Childhood and adolescent phases ordinarily present challenges specific to one’s age.  A death in the family can potentially wreck the momentum of maturational growth.  Without intervention, the added stress of coping with the demise of a parent, sibling, or other pivotal figure in a young person’s life can threaten stability and interfere with the progression from one developmental stage to the next.  

A long time ago, when illness, death, and funeral proceedings all took place in home environments, children were on hand and part of what was going on, enabling them to interpret the end of life as a natural passage.  At some point, though, as funeral homes became the central sites for final affairs, young people were shielded from direct contact with the realities of life endings.  The general attitude was that they should be protected from the pain of loss. Their awareness of death was thwarted and their reactions intentionally minimized.  Circumvention of attention to emotional manifestations was considered justifiable based on assurance that, as resilient children, the kids would be able to bounce back from any trauma they suffered due to it.  

Modern psychology has reversed that stance.  Instead, a focus on childhood and adolescent grieving stems from a belief that they should have direct contact with matters of death and learn effective ways to cope with the loss it incurs.  This contemporary viewpoint has led to a substantial array of resources to support young people in navigating through the emotions of separation they now can face head-on, under the supervision of trained professionals cognizant of varying needs characteristic of particular age groups.   

The National Alliance for Grieving Children serves as a nationwide resource for providers and anyone seeking awareness of suggested support measures.  Professionals can use it as a forum for sharing ideas and information for implementation in their respective communities.  Online education is a core aspect, in addition to the network’s hosting of an annual symposium, maintenance of a national database of children's bereavement support programs, and promotion of endeavors to enhance public sensitivity to the issues impacting grieving children and teens.   

As a sign of the times, often funeral homes cater to the death-related imperatives of children belonging to the families they serve.  Many have playrooms.  

Photo Site:  Anderson-McQueen Funeral Home, St. Petersburg, FL

Designated staff members may be trained to fulfill roles geared toward helping youngsters understand death while enabling them to be active participants during proceedings, in age-appropriate ways.  Sometimes funeral directors offer tours of their facilities for groups of children; the objective is to demystify death through exposure to the setting while enabling absorption of factual information in the absence of emotional entanglement.  

Throughout the nation there are initiatives tailored to meet the needs of bereaved young people and to help keep them on an even keel developmentally.  Effective approaches are promulgated through books, articles, presentations, and other means of communicating insights chronicled by way of empirical data and scientific studies.  Often schools are involved as liaisons, where staff glean competence via presentations and other tools.  A focus on remedial measures to help grief-stricken young people has become a specialty.  Training programs for personnel, participating adult volunteers, and peer support groups provide an educational backbone for these helpers’ engagement.

Children and teens confronted by personal losses come together in a variety of settings where they have the benefit of integrating with others in similar situations.  In contrast to peer interaction within school environments, here in safe havens they are free to talk openly about death without feeling self-conscious or distancing themselves from classmates aversive to the topic.  The potential for a sense of isolation is offset through the camaraderie of social synergy with one another amid interactive activities.   

An impressive array of programs and facilities includes weekend or full-time grief camps as well as dedicated physical centers.  Sometimes animal assisted therapy is employed, forging therapeutic partnerships with pets or other animals to enable more spontaneous communication.  As an alternative to traditional counseling sessions, equine therapy affords hands-on contact with horses through various programs around the country.  

Possibly more so than ever, the unique needs of bereaved youth are being recognized and addressed these days.  Under the guidance of compassionate comrades, those who have encountered a life-changing loss are being handled with care.  Through insightful interventions, they journey from the darkness of death toward restitution and fundamental reabsorption in accustomed lifestyles, yet ones that will never be quite the same.  

Time will tell if such restorative regimens for today’s young folks will impact their attitudes toward death as adults.  Maybe in this “death-phobic” society they will be better equipped to confront matters of mortality more comfortably than the current population of adults – including those who may have experienced deaths of significant others during their childhoods.  If that turns out to be the case, then even in the absence of loss, perhaps death education initiatives for all children and adolescents could help generate attitudes of acceptance.  

Sunday, July 12, 2015


JOURNEY JOURNAL... Poway, California


For hundreds of years, columbaria have been located inside churches, on their properties, or on the grounds of cemeteries they own.  Nowadays, they have become all the more prolific as cremation rates have increased and people seek meaningful places for final disposition of cremated remains.  

Though contemporary styles abound, the notion of columbaria connected to religious sites is far from new.  Since ancient eras of Buddhism, for instance, cremated remains have been placed in urns sheltered within columbaria – sometimes as part of Buddhist temples.  During more recent times, the Catholic Church has joined the legion of religions where they have materialized.  Since 1963, the Vatican has permitted cremation as a practical alternative to bodily burial... as long as reverence and respect for the physical substance of a deceased individual is maintained according to mandates.  Scattering cremated remains or retaining them at home are not allowed, but columbarium niches are acceptable.  

These days, parishioners from the gamut of sects see the value of having columbaria within their immediate church environments.  Years ago, churchgoers were routinely buried in plots adjacent to church edifices, so the current trend toward columbarium construction somewhat mirrors that historical practice.  Accessibility, affordability, and relevance in accord with religious dogmas are factors that support desirability.  This type of station can be incorporated into existing dimensions or built as separate entities on small parcels of land.  

Diversity of modern architectural designs makes it possible to embed niches in walls, around statues, and against windows, or configure as separate units within established buildings.  Outdoors, exterior walls or garden settings may be utilized for such projects, with all kinds of options for design elements and supplemental appointments.      

California’s oft-undulating terrain can afford diversionary settings for this manner of final resting in peace.  Since 1993, an elevated section on the property of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church has served that purpose.  

Everyone is familiar with the metaphorical concept of a climb to heaven after death.  Reference is made to an upward trajectory, often via a stairway to heaven that accommodates the process of ascension.  

In this case, though, anyone who wants to commune with spirits of deceased life companions in close proximity to their physical residuals must, likewise, do a bit of ascending.  Actually, as one courses upward by way of a long ramp with incremental turns at acute angles, there is a tantalizing tendency to note the metaphorical significance of the layout.  It’s not often that a cement trail of this nature sends one’s mind into orbit, endowing a pathway with figurative meaning that incites denotation.  Access to this church’s columbarium is different than the norm, rendering an added ethereal element of interest to the complex at the top of the hill.  

The Susan S. Cashmore Memorial Columbarium, made possible through the donation of a former church member's family, is described as a Christian burial site for urns.  Five hundred wall niches within several structures can accommodate cremated remains of either one or two individuals.  

Garden plots for burial of urns are available as well.  

Protruding platforms at the base of the structures entreat placement of memorial flowers and potted plants.

Clergy are available to conduct committal services or commemorative proceedings here.  

The enveloping configuration of successive identical formations and the opposite wall of niches comprise a space suggestive of seclusion.  Benches inviting repose under the shade of a tree defy intrusion of sights and sounds from the life going on at street level below.  It is a place of quietude… a place of peaceful rest.  

Exploration on premises of religious organizations around the country is apt to reveal a surprising number of columbaria on their respective properties.  Though, typically, a niche is a niche is a niche, the settings in which these cookie-cutter compartments are integrated can leave lasting impressions of novel distinctions.  A stroll to the heights of a heavenly haven may be all that it takes to come to that conclusion.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015


Journey Journal... Fultonville, New York


The word “cloistered” might aptly describe the Fultonville Cemetery and Natural Burial Ground.  Though not really isolated from the mainstream world, at least it feels sequestered within a haven of established trees and wooded borders.  A stone’s throw away from the cacophony of highway sounds emanating from the New York State Thruway, access to it is less than a two-mile drive.  Yet within this shelter of seclusion, only bird songs and rustling leaves are audible amid the shaded, late afternoon splendor.  Though a housing development adjacent to the property hints of potential visual and auditory intrusion, there is a sense of insulated separateness.  

Photo Source:  Fultonville Cemetery Facebook Page

Founded in 1848 when purchased from the Protestant Dutch Church for conversion to a public cemetery, it bespeaks historical significance as well as present-day progress.  Among notable figures interred here were two United States Congressman from the 1800s era as well as veterans who served in various wars.  
In recent years this municipal asset has garnered interest because of its status as the first nonsectarian cemetery to offer natural burials in New York’s Capital district.  Conception of the idea took place in the mind of a high school student who came across an Internet article about green burials three years before the option materialized here.  Ryan Weitz, having been a student of a teacher who was also the town’s mayor and knew of his interest in matters of the past, had been appointed by the village Board as town historian – the youngest in the state.  For him, probably the cemetery was a major focal point of his attention.  He suggested that two wooded acres next to the established cemetery would be ideal as a site for natural burials.  The village Board unanimously approved his proposal.  

Over the course of a few months, public information sessions and hearings as well as open houses preceded the dedication ceremony that took place on October 5, 2013.  

Photos Source:  Fultonville Cemetery Facebook Page

As historian and originator of the project, Ryan Weitz led the proceedings, during which he referenced the words of Aldo Leopold, an ecologist and educator who was a key figure in promoting environmental ethics and wilderness conservation.  His germane encapsulation of organic processes spoke to the underlying principle of natural burials:  

                                           "A rock decays and forms soil.  
                                            In the soil forms an oak, 
                                            which bears an acorn, 
                                            which feeds a squirrel, 
                                            which feeds an Indian, 
                                            who ultimately lays down to his last sleep 
                                            in the great tomb of man to grow another oak.”

Public officials were in attendance at this event in addition to Mark Harris, author of the book, Grave Matters:  A Journey Through the Modern Funeral Industry to a Natural Way of Burial, which sheds light on the worthiness of green burials.  

Photo Source:  Fultonville Cemetery Facebook Page

The renowned proponent of the reincarnated practice declared a belief that even more than its positive effect on the environment and its affordability is the fact that a green burial “perpetuates life.”  Within such a framework, then, this type of burial ground is a place of life rather than death.  

This new offering, ostensibly of the modern era, may spark interest among travelers along New York’s well-traveled byway.  Easy accessibility adds to its allure as an alternative to the redundancy of cookie-cutter rest stops.  A turn off of a main thoroughfare and another quick turn shortly thereafter takes a visitor to this place of tranquil respite.

Coursing upward along a gradual hill, images of traditional stone monuments come into view, rendering familiarity of convention.  

But an unusual element interrupts an interpretation of sameness.  Rocking chairs alongside a few grave sites invite repose – a novelty of note.  

The journey continues along a dirt road until reaching the end of it by an open field of interment sites.  Yet after scanning the property’s layout, a primary mission to find the latest ecologically friendly addition to the cemetery may not necessarily be accomplished.  Exploration on foot, likewise, might be futile.  

Foiled by the absence of a sign marking the natural burial section, a palpable sense of defeat could threaten… that is, until spotting another rocking chair.  This one in a nakedly wooded area off to the side of the common burial grounds is bound to ignite conjecture that the pursuit has not been in vain.

At the time of inauguration, ten-foot by ten-foot burial plots here cost $500. for Montgomery County residents and $700. for non-residents.  Pre-need purchases afford interment rights only, without designation of a specific location.  According to a practice of sequential burials, interments take place in order of occurrence, within space that is available at the time. 

Imperatives reflect stipulations common to natural burials in general, namely, proscriptions that preclude infusions of chemical preservation, the use  of concrete or steel vaults and liners, cut, machined, or polished memorial stones in any form, alterations to existing vegetation, and artificial flowers or other types of decorations.  

Bodily clothing or wrappings must be made of natural fibers and containment must be in biodegradable receptacles.  Anything deposited in the ground in conjunction with a burial is necessarily biodegradable.  

Native natural stones may be used as grave markers and may be engraved or carved.  

Unfinished wooden memorial structures are acceptable also.

Native plants and grasses except for trees may be planted over a grave as a memorial.  
A list of approved plants is available.  

Live flowers on a grave are also acceptable.

During growing season, the entire cemetery is bedecked with floral adornment.  Evidence of involvement and community pride is apparent through Facebook posts, where pictures of donated potted plants and flowers abound and availability of memorial plantings is announced.  Beyond the blossoms, a pronouncement alerts followers that among the assortment of wild strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries, a certain species of them is ready for picking.  A suggestion to stop by for a stroll to enjoy the latest blooms complements a separate notation that this is a perfect place for a man and his dog to spend an afternoon.  

In this quaint, off the beaten track village of fewer than a thousand residents (named for Robert Fulton, inventor of the steamboat), here lies a cemetery of significance.  An Old World, traditional  flavor honors the past amid a contemporary, burgeoning trend toward ecological sustenance in the future.  The participation of local folks in the cemetery’s maintenance, their concerted efforts, donations of embellishments, and homespun touches render this a welcoming milieu that truly embodies a reference to death as “going home.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


Journey Journal... Arlington, MA


All caskets available through the Mourning Dove Studio are “green” because of their biodegradability and suitability for natural burials.  But the actual colors and styles can reflect a broad spectrum of possibilities.  A pivotal feature of this enterprise is its adaptability and responsiveness to personal visions.  The sky’s the limit for individually created versions destined for underground repose, as long as construction materials and decorative applications mesh with principled stipulations for ecologically-friendly burials. 

The Mourning Dove venture, though, encompasses far more than the sale of burial containment.  Its two co-founder visionaries conceptualized an inclusive palate of offerings.  Through their direct support, customers have been able to immerse themselves in details of design as well as dialogues about death.  Backgrounds in human service instinctively marry these originators with a sensitivity to emotional needs generated by ramifications of current and future loss.  

Although sales of burial receptacles represent the most tangible backbone of their activities, nothing within the realm of related services is boxed in by prescribed structure.  The dynamic nature of shared details and interactive exchanges engages customers under novel circumstances, promoting personal  touches and camaraderie typically foreign to conventional retail settings.    

Ruth Faas and Sue Cross are the prime movers who have nurtured this initiative toward its realization.  Both had been peripheral observers of matters within the death arena prior to plunging into it themselves.  

Observations of her uncle’s funeral home operations may have set the stage for Ruth, but a reaction to her mother’s casket innervated thoughts of alternatives.  Clinical ministrations as an occupational therapist led to graduate studies in sociology and a role as a teaching assistant for a Death and Dying class.  Currently, she is a member of the Funeral Consumers Alliance of Eastern Massachusetts.    

Besides a background in mental health, an appreciation of cultural diversity and a passion for art have contributed to Sue’s involvement in death-related services.  While serving as a bereavement counselor for adolescents, she is also developing a film series about death, dying, and grieving for a local church.  

These inspired women have fulfilled roles as enablers by guiding folks beyond the darkness of finality and into the light of expressive possibilities for handling it.  Until recently, customers had been able to visit a multi-functional, spacious studio where caskets were on display, but also, other activities were underway.  

Individual art projects and workshops were conducted in the larger of two rooms.  Bereavement groups could be accommodated.  For a nominal fee, basic cardboard caskets or pine boxes could be decorated according to individualized inspirations and aspirations.  Guidance was available from the co-founder who has a penchant for art, buoyed by four years of classes and membership in a cooperative art studio, and imbued with a special interest in the art and rituals her Hungarian ancestors had practiced in response to deaths. 

Photos Source:  Mourning Dove Studio Website

A smaller resource room served as a hub for access to relevant literature about matters of mortality, including alternative modes of death management.  There,  folks could sit and read to glean insights on their journeys toward end-of-life wisdom.  Some tapped material addressing grief to bolster steps toward recovery.  

Perhaps a germane slogan for this venture that pertains to death would be, “Never Say Die.”  Operations could readily have come to a demised termination were it not for motivational resilience.  As with life itself, an insurmountable obstacle was encountered that rendered a numbing blow. 

The storefront space on Massachusetts Avenue that had been headquarters for this establishment since its origination in December of 2009 had to be unexpectedly abandoned in 2014.  A quintessential “we regret to inform you” notice was the dagger that could have inflicted mortal wounds.  The announcement of a monthly rent increase of $1000. was potentially paralyzing.  

But the imposed absence of expanse did not mark the end of this life-enriching cause.  Now, sales are conducted and information is dispensed from the owner’s home.  Caskets are on display in the basement, along with some biodegradable urns and reference materials.    

Rather than unceremoniously placing an order, sometimes folks who are experiencing the turmoil of loss or terminal circumstances may want to immerse themselves in the process of development through hands-on involvement.  As an evocative tool for expression of feelings, such activities can be an antidote to their festering imprisonment. 

Given enough preemptive time, clients may even choose to construct a casket themselves, with direct assistance.  Or plain, unadorned boxes that are already made can awaken ideas, prompting applications of paint or anything the heart desires.  

Photo Source:  Mourning Dove Studio Website

Encyclopedia pages meaningfully lined the interior of a rudimentary receptacle that would be apropos for a teacher or avid learner.  The decoupage technique is often employed.  

Inserts may be covered by family photos, images that signify a decedent’s characteristics, or ornamentation of a different nature.  

Even mere post-it notes might be affixed to recognize a decedent’s persona or as a means for conveying messages as part of a send-off.  
As an alternative to a do-it-yourself casket-making project or securing one that’s locally constructed, models from other retail sources can be ordered.  Basket-type receptacles made from natural fibers have become popular commodities for green burials in Europe and, increasingly, in the United States as well. 

The stylistic Ecopod was introduced to the world as a distinctive, molded configuration that simulates a seed pod.  It is hand made using recycled newspapers and finished with paper from mulberry pulp.  Colors and imprinted designs are variable.    

Caskets with designs prepared through the application of biodegradable paints are available.  One of a cadre of local artists can be commissioned to do the work. 

Photo Source:  Mourning Dove Studio Website

If a shroud is preferred, it can be acquired from one of a few nationwide sources. 

For discussions with the Mourning Dove owner, interested individuals are invited to sit around a table in her spacious country kitchen that evokes images of neighborhood coffee klatches.  The homey environment begets a sense of homespun attention.   

Like a sumptuous meal, the scoop about options for products and services is doled out generously.  Contacts may be facilitated by referring people to a host of providers.  Among them are funeral homes and cemeteries that support ecological practices, celebrants who conduct commemorative services, grief therapists, deathbed choirs, and artists who create memorial items.  

The website for this venture also serves as a channel for input.  Besides having access to pertinent blog articles, readers are apprised of opportunities to attend a series of writing workshops or yoga classes to address the impact of loss.  Home gatherings for exploration and discussions can be arranged.  One page on the website is a repository for a listing of resources and the sharing of commemorative ideas submitted by individuals.  

Part of the mission to spread the word about natural burials is implemented through community presentations and exhibits at events, such as the 2014 Graves In the Garden green burial fair at Mount Auburn Cemetery.  In a vendor milieu, a few of the caskets were on display there.

A commitment to promote the concept of environmentally sustainable end-of-life practices is at the core of this undertaking.  It is readily apparent that individualized support and a goal of enlightenment serve as the underlying foundation for devoted engagement.  These authentic helpers want to help people.  Casket sales seem secondary to that objective.   

As noted on their website, they “want to help dying people and their loved ones openly discuss these topics, utilize art and creativity as tools for leaving a legacy of love, create meaningful, personalized end-of-life ceremonies, have more access to eco-friendly options, honor and grieve our connections and losses.”

Their recognition of a need for earthly preservation has motivated involvement in this ecologically conscientious endeavor.  Everything they do and everything they provide is down to earth, whether it be a burial receptacle or a suggestion.  Under their auspices, customized creativity reigns.  Their efforts epitomize a manner of personalization that is meaningful and devoid of commercialism.  They are mavericks in these ever-growing funerary fields of green.  

"Going green"

"Mourning goes green in Arlington"