measures only. Peonies scented the bedroom. I memorized his presence and rarely
left. Neighbors sustained us, sent meals, mopped, installed handrails on the stairway,
mowed, phoned news, prayed.
Though frail, Richard’s life force was astonishing; his language, poetic: “Never
should you be anywhere near far from me.” His advance directive, written years before,
called for cremation. He was a “no-soul man.” What difference did a body make? I
refused. Too many incinerated Jews. Consider the splendid cemeteries on our travels.
We will found our own: plant you here and you’ll never leave. We chose the spot near
the maypole. I loved how he’d cut the field and come back happy, smelling of diesel
fuel. Unable to fend off death, our people would summon a gallant response.
June 7, 2015, Sunday at dawn, 47 days from his diagnosis, Richard stopped breathing. Gloria, our oncology nurse, and his sister, Christopher, had eased him through
the last crisis while I slept: my first span of rest since his diagnosis. I rose at 3 a.m.,
perched on the windowsill, watched, and wished him bon voyage, lying with all my
might. Then bouquets from the garden replaced medical chaos. A photograph of a
last kiss. Stillness.
Most states in the Northeast allow home burial, though specific requirements must be
met. “Family cemeteries are an American tradition, and many Vermonters are proud
to own such land,” according to the Vermont Department of Health website, which
includes a brochure entitled Digging Deep, Unearthing the Mysteries of Burial and
Cemetery Law. This cheerful guide, compiled by the Secretary of State’s office, lists all
the necessary steps, which include drawing a map of the burial site and recording it in
the town records, submitting a death certificate to the town clerk and receiving a burial
transit permit, and meeting appropriate setbacks.
“Peach Orchard Hill Cemetery” Eric recorded in our deed, though the peaches had
died in an ice storm decades ago. Carolyn, a doctor, entered the death certificate data
online. Harry dug the grave with his backhoe: his first for a human. He encountered
no stones. He brought 2x4s and ropes for lowering.
Gilbert, who’d baked our wedding cake, fashioned a trundling board instead of a
coffin: $75 for shiplap boards; soft boat ropes to spare the pallbearers’ hands.
Nodding to Jewish tradition, Linda bought fine linen for the shroud, and down-loaded instructions for folding. My sister Evelyn sewed the pieces. When we wrapped
him, Emily added his Red Sox cap and a baby blanket. When all was ready, Jeremy
drove his truck up the hill, carrying the pallbearers and his late best friend. Climbing
after him, we noticed Jeremy had mown hearts in the grass all the way the grave.
Backed by wind, my sister sang Rachmaninoff’s Vocalese. Richard was eased down
and festooned with grave goods: his antique Roleiflex, his lefty baseball glove, his hairbrush, a handgun, a Lonely Planet guide to Barcelona. Sadie read “Ten Good Things
about Grandpa:” bacon, swearing, me. The Mourner’s Kaddish. I picked up a shovel.
The concertina squeezed out spritely tunes as 10 of us shoveled half-an-hour, leveling
the ground, lightening our grief.
I FELL FOR YOU THE WAY APPLES TOPPLE TO A TARP:
SOFT LANDING, SYNCOPATED LAUGHTER.
LOVE IS THE WAVE FROM SPRING TO CIDER:
FLESH TO BLESSING, RIPE TO KEEP.
Poet Verandah Porche’s books include Sudden Eden and The Body’s Symmetry.
A note to readers
Reviewing Bernd Heinrich’s Life Everlasting: The
Animal Way of Death for this magazine, I learned how
all living beings nourish each other in death, except
“civilized” people. Our “green burial” made sense,
and the continuity of care nurtured our community.
While grieving, we savor our days more deeply.
A Google search for “Home Burial” leads to Robert
Frost’s bleak, brilliant poem about the unraveling
of a marriage following an infant’s death. Further
cyber-digging turns up practical information and
passionate testimonials from those who have taken
death into their own hands. The Funeral Consumers
Alliance, a national advocacy organization for
choosing “a meaningful, dignified, affordable funeral,”
provides information on home burials through their
local affiliates. The National Funeral Alliance is a
nonprofit with a mission to “educate the public to
their choices and provide clear information about
all things relating to home funerals.” Contact your
state’s health department for more information
on local home burial ordinances where you live. A
complete list of links will be included with the web
version of this story. — Verandah Porche