Anne Bolton can't wait for her next vacation, when she and her
husband will drive 1,066 miles to see the place she'd like to be
Even in death, life is full of choices.
“I like options,” she said. “And Americans love options.”
Bolton, 57, will trek from her home near Wichita to South
Carolina to see a 33-acre nature preserve of woods and meadows,
streams and rocks and burial plots spaced 30 per acre. The industry
calls them green graves —no harmful embalming fluids, no vaults. The
caskets, if they're used at all, are made of soft pine or even
cardboard, always biodegradable. Grave markers blend in — an
engraved rock or a native plant.
Bolton's ideal way to be buried is part of a growing trend of
unique and personal funerals, many of which benefit the
Another company offers a twist on the burial at sea, mixing
cremated remains into a concrete ball that becomes part of a living
“People in general are looking for ways to personalize funerals
and celebrate lives in different ways,” said Robert Vandenbergh,
past president of the National Funeral Directors Association and a
funeral director in Michigan. “It's the final statement about
someone's life and how they want to be remembered, and I think we're
going to see more and more of that.”
Vandenbergh said traditional funeral homes also embrace the
trend. At the funeral of one man who was a butcher, the service
included a reconstructed butcher shop complete with tools, a
butcher's block, signs and pictures. At another service 40 pumpkins
were set up for a woman who had grown pumpkins for the neighborhood
Funerals should reflect the person they honor, says Billy
Campbell, founder of Memorial Ecosystems and creator of the South
Carolina nature preserve.
“I've been to an awful lot of funerals where you leave and it
just was not anything like what that person was like,” he said.
His company's preserve appeals to a variety of people of
different faiths who want “a very traditional dust-to-dust
approach,” he says.
“It's this idea of having a positive exchange between natural and
human communities and knowing that something good can happen when
you die, and you can leave a legacy.”
Such burials mean the money you spend on your burial goes to
protecting native lands and species. Supporters say the graves are a
more spiritual, serene place to visit.
The average cost of a burial with Memorial Ecosystems is $1,950
for burial plot, $250 for opening and closing of the grave and $25
for a stone to mark the plot. Conventional burials vary in price
above and below that amount. The cost also does not include funeral
A second 33-acre preserve is planned for San Francisco this fall,
and Memorial Ecosystems hopes to eventually open nature preserves in
every state, said Kimberley Campbell, the company's vice president.
If Memorial Ecosystems comes to Kansas, Bolton is hoping to be
buried in a prairie.
While natural burial is expanding on land, another company is
making forays into the ocean.
Some scuba diving college friends were concerned about
deteriorating coral reefs and started building special concrete
reefs to help replace them. One of their fathers asked that his
cremated remains be put in one of the reefs so he could be part of
the ocean life. That was the beginning of Eternal Reefs.
Remains are mixed into a hollow concrete ball and placed in the
ocean at a specific latitude and longitude. Families often
participate as the ball is built and placed. After about three
months the reefs begin to grow sponges or coral until they become
fully functioning reefs that benefit marine life. The company has
placed more than 200 such reef balls in the ocean.
“The response has been overwhelming,” said George Frankel,
co-founder of the company. “As word gets out more and more, interest
is just growing dynamically.”
The cost ranges between $995 and $4,995, depending on the size.
The price tag includes the cost of casting, transportation and
placing the reef at the bottom of the ocean. It does not cover the
cost of a funeral service or for a family to participate in the
“People like the concept of giving back and being involved in
something that continues to move forward,” Frankel said. “It's this
sense you're a part of something that is making a significant
contribution to the future and your life has some ongoing
Amos Family Funeral Home in Kansas City provides information
about Eternal Reefs to clients. “The way we look at it, if it's out
there somewhere, we want to have that available for people who might
be interested,” Gregg Amos, president, says. People like Bolton are
happy about the growing range of options.
“My body's going to decay anyway, and I told my husband ‘just put
me in my favorite T-shirt and jeans and some of my favorite things
that will rot away — like definitely chocolate — and I'll be set,'”
Bolton said. “Who could argue against this? It's giving back to the
land, and we've got to start taking care of our grandchildren.”
To reach Sarah McCann, send e-mail to KCStar_McCann@yahoo.com.