For me death is a graduation … I've told my children that when I die, to release balloons in the sky to celebrate that I graduated.
The invitation to 'pay now, die later' caused considerable amusement within the Findhorn Ecovillage community achieving the twin goals of creating awareness for the concept of Earth-friendly green burials and encouraging people to consciously consider how they wish to depart this life.Traditionally many in the Western world fearfully avoid the topic of death, perhaps resonating with the quip by comedian Woody Allen: "I am not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens."
But with the refreshingly light-hearted 'Die Later' leaflet circulated by funeral coordinator and interfaith minister Will Russell, several long-serving Findhorn community members have now chosen the local Wilkies Wood Green Burial site as the final resting place for their mortal remains, saving their family from having to make difficult or painful choices after their passing.
Wilkies Wood is managed by the Findhorn Hinterland Group, a local community group involved in conservation and educational work on the Findhorn peninsula that includes transforming a section of a 30-acre plantation adjoining the Ecovillage into a tranquil and welcoming woodlands space for people and wildlife. In contrast with the scene of devastation a decade ago when many trees toppled during a severe storm, it has become a peaceful place that is progressively being replanted with indigenous pine and broadleaf trees.Already more than a dozen much-loved locals have been consigned to the Earth in simple and moving ceremonies, their remains transported by a horse-drawn cart or guided by a procession of pallbearers. Only cloth shrouds or biodegradable coffins fashioned from recycled wood have been used, and there are no headstones or plaques to identify each lair, although their positions are faithfully recorded on a site map.
And, with the planting of an indigenous tree over or alongside every second or third grave in time there'll be a healthy forest as a haven for wildlife and a fitting memorial for the departed.
"Green burials are a way of returning to nature without any visible signs, leaving a lighter footprint after we're gone," Will explains, emphasising that it can be a simple and beautiful ceremony in which many in the community can play a role from making and adorning the coffin to singing songs, playing music or simply joining in the honouring of a loved one's farewell.He paid tribute to the role of Jonathan Caddy, son of community co-founders Peter and Eileen Caddy, as the driving force behind the creation of what is one of only two green burial sites in the Moray region of Scotland.
The death of his mother Eileen in 2006 spotlighted the need for a more caring and Earth-friendly way for local community members to exit the material world, he said.
Jonathan recalls: "Mum had wanted a green burial and a celebration in the Universal Hall that was joyous and colourful, but was later convinced that a cremation was better. So instead of being wheeled from her Cornerstone home in The Park to where everybody in the community could be involved, we had to go to Inverness and it was a bit disjointed."
His dream of a nearby green burial ground was finally manifested and consecrated the following year and is evolving into a nature reserve that will be enjoyed by future generations."It is part of the community coming of age and caring for the full cycle from birth to death, and everything in between. It is also a local resource and not just for the Findhorn Foundation," he says, adding that costs were pegged at a level identical to that offered by the local authorities. "This makes it an income generator to allow good custodianship of the land on the peninsula with the space making people more aware of the fellow creatures that live on the land with us."
Although Eileen Caddy would have preferred a green burial her wish not to have a traditional grave memorialising her was honoured — instead a tree was planted, and her ashes sprinkled, not far from where Peter Caddy has an older and more established tree as a discreet tribute — he died some years earlier in Germany in 1994.
Jonathan and his partner Alison Hunter have chosen lairs in the green site, and he says
For me it is about being consciously part of things and helping create a space for people to enjoy in the future.
His friend John Willoner has attended a number of green burials and he and his partner Sylvia Black have booked a double lair. "I like the beauty and simplicity of the whole process. We come from the Earth and in a green burial we are returned to it."Recently I attended my first local service for popular community member Frances Ripley, who was renowned for her superb illustrations of nature spirits.
The theme of Earth-friendly recycling extended to the simple wooden coffin built from packing boxes used for transporting solar panels, and was then carried on a trolley guided by close friends and family.
Standing at the graveside I was touched by the music and stories of appreciation, recognising that this is a dignified, practical and meaningful way to complete the cycle of life on a planet populated by 7.2-billion people, many of whom are buried in unsustainable and often ugly land-hungry cemeteries that become neglected and fall into disrepair. Better by far to create spaces that nurture the living within the loving embrace of nature.