Winged messengers

Every burial at Foxfield is unique – like the individual lives that they honor. Yesterday’s burial was no exception.

The bitter winter winds died down, and the clouds rolled back to reveal bright blue sky. Sun bounced off the snow, sending glittering light everywhere. After a lovely and personal committal ceremony, the family picked up shovels to begin closing the grave and began singing a few songs together that their mother had enjoyed.

As the gentle melodies drifted off over the prairie, I raised my eyes to a flutter of blue wings. Six to 8 curious little bluebirds had been drawn by the quiet song, and were hopping closer and closer to investigate. A quiet memory spoken – that mom loved bluebirds – stunned the attendees into silent reflection, as the mourners and birds quietly observed each other.

It felt to all in attendance as though Nature – or God, or the Divine – was smiling at us. It was as though these small winged messengers had chosen this moment to appear to bring them some peace and assurance in their darkest moments of grief. Knowing their mother would rest in a place filled with life, and that the molecules in her body would become a part of that life, will doubtless bring a small comfort in the coming days and years.

Laying the Groundwork

This morning on the way to school my nearly 4-year-old and I had our first conversation that flirted with the idea of death.

I have shared before on the blog that I have been thinking for a while now about how to address the idea of death with my children. His close relationship with his ailing great-grandparents will make this something he will face sooner, rather than later. And he is reaching an age where he asks questions about everything, so it is only a matter of time until he wants to know what I do at the Preserve.

While this information is not something I want to push on him, when he asks about it I would like to have a truthful, age-appropriate answer for him. But I hadn’t figured out the right way to approach it for us, until his observant eyes and inquisitive mind presented it to me this morning from the backseat during our commute:

“Mommy, why did those trees fall over?”

“Hmm, I don’t know sweetie. There are lots of different reasons that trees might fall down. They might have been blown down by a strong wind. They might have had bugs that ate them up on the inside, and made them sick and weak.”

“Like germs?” (We recently had the flu and he has become much more aware of germs.)

“Yes, sweetie. Like very bad germs for trees. A person might have also come along and cut the tree down. And sometimes, when a tree has gotten very old and lived a long life, it will die and fall down. Then it will break into little pieces and feed other things growing in the forest.”

After a pause – “I don’t like that. I like trees.”

“I know sweetie. But that is the way that things work. The trees need to die so that other things can live.”

After a brief, pensive moment our conversation turned to his favorite superheroes. But I know that the groundwork has been laid.

Next time we take our walk in the woods, I’ll be sure to point out the beauty of mosses growing on a fallen log or mushrooms growing on decaying branches. We will talk about how the hawks we see circling above are hunting smaller creatures to survive. I will help him understand the circle of life, and that we are a part of it. When the time comes for him to lose someone that he loves, I hope he will be able to understand that we are like everything else in the world. We all die, but we all live on in other ways – be it in other living things or in memories and love left behind.

It seems absurd now that I ever felt at a loss for how to introduce a concept that is visible in everything around us. The bittersweet beauty inherent in life is that our moment is fleeting.

Grieving during the holidays

If you have lost someone close to you, then a recent article in the Washington Post stated something you already know – we are forever changed by grief. You never completely “move past,” or “get over” your loss. It may be easier to live with, but the thoughts of that individual never leave us.

This reality is a difficult thing to deal with when coupled with our culture in America. We are in such denial of our own mortality that facing the loss of others, reminding us of our own eventualities, makes us uncomfortable. Putting forth a “brave front,” in essence disguising your struggles and the depth of your emotion, is viewed with admiration and appreciation. It is impossible to honestly address your grief in an environment where you are encouraged to stifle it.

sadnessholidaysThe approach of the holidays is arguably one of the most difficult times for those who are grieving. We will anticipate them with dread, knowing that we will be facing memories of special time shared with our loved one. There will be people around us expecting us to be filled with the “holiday spirit,” likely without thought to how we may be feeling. And the pressure from ourselves, not wanting to “ruin” others’ holidays.

In a previous blog, “Not-So-Happy Holidays,” I offered encouragement for grieving individuals to be honest with yourself and others about your feelings, especially at the holidays. As I also discussed in “Comforting the grieving during the holidays,” it can be challenging for friends and loved ones to know how to offer comfort during this difficult time of year. While the articles contained strategic tips to help navigate the holidays, there was a unifying theme: be honest about your feelings. Share them with those who love you. Don’t attempt to hide them, and certainly not from yourself.

I wish you all a very happy, sometimes sad, but always honest Holiday Season.

Dying in America

If you’ve read any of the previous blogs on The Green Reaper, then you know that I am always proclaiming the importance of approaching your burial plans with your own individuality intact. I have seen first-hand how meaningful and fulfilling an alternative burial can be. And I believe that taking our end-of-life decisions on our own terms should extend to all processes at the end of our days.

So I have been very encouraged to see end-of-life issues entering into our national conversation recently. About a month ago the National Institute of Medicine released a report entitled “Dying in America.” This 500-page report examines how our culture and current health care system approach death. The recommendations of that report suggests beginning end-of-life planning earlier and discussing our advance directives more regularly. It also recommends increasing training for doctors and nurses in palliative and hospice care, as well as bolstering the palliative care requirements on accreditation boards and regulatory standards.

Coinciding with the release of this report, “The Atlantic” also published a controversial piece by Zeke Emanuel entitled “Why I want to die at 75.” This piece lays out his opinion that modern medicine has extended the years of our life, but not the quality of our life. He states the case for moving funding from extension of life to focusing on addressing various diseases to improve quality of life earlier on. He also believes more training should be dedicated to palliative care providers, and shares his decision to eschew all preventative testing and measures beyond the age of 75.

With a wide swath of our population approaching retirement, the concerns of end-of-life care are something we should all be considering with even more seriousness. The next several decades will see a staggering increase in the number of people needing medical care and assistance. And while most of these boomers would agree that having a ‘good death’ means approaching the end-of-life on their own terms, they are not all adequately informed to make sure their wishes are known and followed. Medical professionals fight to save lives – a mandate which often results in viewing death as an enemy instead of an eventuality. This combines for a culture that does not always promote preparation and a healthy level of acceptance.

Focusing our conversation on this universal topic and educating our friends and neighbors on their options will do a lot toward changing our culture and promoting a better end-of-life experience. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our loved ones is to push this difficult conversation forward.

Butterfly Hunt

The prairie at Foxfield Preserve is currently hitting the peak of its beauty, with many different species of wildflowers blooming and colorful butterflies floating along in search of nectar. The perfect time for our annual Butterfly Hunt!

During last year’s Butterfly Hunt we had a chance for an up-close look at several different species. (Some of us a little closer than others!)

IMG_3507_smallThere was a great turn-out, with lots of families enjoying the fun. We hope to have another great turn-out this year!

Several of our Foxfield families were in attendance and shared with me how meaningful it was to see families and children enjoying the space. The knowledge that their purchase here, or their loved one’s loss, had made this beautiful space and special experience possible was incredibly touching. To see children running through the Preserve with their butterfly nets aloft presented a stark comparison to the traditional cemetery and demonstrated that Foxfield is a place full of life.

IMG_3512_small

 

Come join in the fun this Saturday, August 30, at 10:00!

Preparing children for loss

Returning to my hometown to raise our children has provided a lot of wonderful opportunities for our family. One of the most wonderful in my mind, though, has been the chance for our young son to get to know and spend a good deal of time with my own grandparents. I feel like it is such a gift!

My grandparents delight in seeing my son growing and discovering the world, and my son seems to truly enjoy the time we spend with them. Over his short lifetime their health has been deteriorating, and he has watched as our family has assisted them more and more. As a result, he has adjusted accordingly. His hugs and kisses have become more gentle. He is watchful and careful (as a 3-year-old can be) when playing near them. He also asks if they are okay, aware that they are not always comfortable. While their failing health is incredibly difficult for everyone, it seems to be affording him valuable life lessons in compassion at a young age.

Recently an extended hospital stay provided a stark reminder for my husband and I that sooner than later we would need to prepare our son for the most challenging of life’s lessons – there will be an end. Before we are faced with the grief of a loss, we are hoping to provide him with a bit of preparation. But in spite of my role here, I was at a bit of a loss on how best to approach explaining death and grief to my child. After a bit of research, I thought it would be helpful to share the tips I’ve gathered:

  1. Be honest with your children about what is happening to their loved one. Children are more aware than we realize when something is wrong, but they need our guidance and explanations to know how to process the experience.
  2. Be welcoming of their questions and do your best to answer them all as simply as possible. Try to keep your answers appropriate for their level of development and try not to overload them. If you don’t know the answers to their questions, say so.
  3. Avoid euphemisms that may cause confusion and frighten your child, such as “sleeping forever.”
  4. Allow your child to be involved in care-taking duties and to visit their loved one. Again, answer any questions or concerns that may arise from these visits.
  5. Don’t hide your own emotions from your child. Sharing and explaining how you feel can help your child learn to process and share their own emotions.

Your child’s first experience with loss will do much to shape their lifelong views of death and grief. And more than anything that you can tell your child, the behavior you model during this difficult time will also shape the way they process grief. It is important that we don’t allow our own fears and taboos to limit us in our ability to help our children.

For further information, I highly recommend the articles linked below:

When a Grandparent Dies

8 Ways to Prepare Your Young Child for a Grandparent’s Death 

Talking to Children About Death

Helping Children Cope with Bereavement

 

Ohio Cemetery Law Task Force

We’ve been honored to be involved this year with the work of the Ohio Department of Commerce, Division of Real Estate as their newly formed Cemetery Law Task Force endeavors to review and revise the cemetery laws for the state. To their credit, the Cemetery Law Task Force has done a wonderful job of inviting testimony from and considering the concerns of many interested parties – tribal councils, archaeologists, genealogists, historians, cemeterians, local municipalities and veterans affairs, among many others.

While we don’t know what the results of their efforts and hearings will be, we are very encouraged at the interest the Task Force has shown in natural burial. We have been happy to provide testimony of our concerns and to share information on our operations.

Though the Task Force will not release their recommendations until October, it is possible for anyone interested to follow along with their progress through their meeting minutes posted on their website. We will pass along any pertinent changes here as they are announced.

Snacks on the Preserve

As a wildlife habitat, our nature preserve cemetery provides a home to many different creatures. Birds, butterflies, insects, rabbits, squirrels, foxes, deer and many others make their home here. These animals all find many things to enjoy on the Preserve. However, at this time of year they have a little competition – from me.

100_2705That is because the berries on the Preserve are beginning to ripen! We have lots of wild blackberries, and birds are eagerly ‘spreading’ seeds of black raspberries from our Amish neighbor’s cultivated plants. While the thorns of these plants are quite literally a pain for the rest of the year, for several weeks in July their sun-sweetened fruits do make-up for it. Nothing is better than eating sun-warmed berries right off the bush – it even makes up for the blood-loss and scratched limbs!

Serving generations

Last Saturday we threw a birthday party for The Wilderness Center. Founder’s Day was a chance for us to celebrate 50 years serving our community!

_DSC3183_DSC3177

In addition to the festivities (what party is complete without ice cream?!), we shared historical photos and stories from our 50 years, and our hopes and dreams for where the next 50 years will take us together.

It also proved to be a chance to celebrate our shared histories with our members and friends. We were delighted that so many of our members were eager to share their memories and experiences from the past 5 decades. RegulaFoundersDay14_smallIt was amazing to hear from our original founders and those that grew up exploring these trails – including our current board president, Andy Haag, whose parents were founding members!

AndyFoundersDay2014

Knowing that we have been a part of people’s lives for generations makes us incredibly proud.

During the celebration, a couple approached me for information about Foxfield Preserve. They have been married for 50 years and went on a walk in Sigrist Woods for their very first date. Over the years they brought children and grandchildren here for hikes and programs. They told me that now, though they can’t hike the trails like they used to, they enjoy watching the birds in the Wildlife Observation Room. Now they are interested in burial at Foxfield, knowing that they will spend eternity where they first began to fall in love.

What an honor to be a touchstone in the lives of others – to serve them from their earliest steps until the end of their days. It was a lovely celebration, and a wonderful reminder of what we have meant to the community and what we should continue to strive for in the future.

Exploring and making memories

In my last blog post “Exploring with Dad,” I talked about how much I learned from the little adventures I used to take in the woods with my father. Last weekend at Foxfield, we had a chance to share the adventure of the journey with people attending our Father’s Day Exploration Hike.

Our attendees enjoyed a lovely, sunny morning stroll through the Preserve with TWC volunteer naturalist, Sam Weaver. The group, which included 3 fathers and their sons, identified the wildflowers blooming on the prairie and enjoyed watching the tree swallows swooping overhead after various insects. We spied on fledgling bluebirds in the boxes along the edges of the prairie (aren’t they adorable little naked things?!), and learned about the incredible dramas unfolding within a goldenrod gall.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was an excellent day for learning and exploring – and for making memories.