Thursday, August 16, 2012

A home burial

 I don’t remember exactly how my parents and I first became interested in the idea of a “home” burial.  It was probably the combination of becoming aware of how environmentally destructive and expensive a “conventional” burial is, as well as my dad being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. We began researching this unfamiliar and intriguing topic both online and through local officials. We found that every state, county, and town has its own laws regarding home burial and in some places it is prohibited.

According to Texas law:  “A family can bury its dead without using a licensed funeral director. A statement of death and a death certificate are legally required. Generally, local ordinances or deed restrictions prohibit private burial within city limits. Check with the State Health Department and local zoning authorities for applicable laws.”

It was quite tricky finding out the information we needed, but we were not in a hurry and at first it was just an exercise in possibilities. Roughly speaking we needed a piece of land outside of town, the top of the container buried had to be two feet from the surface of the ground, and we had to do the burying within twenty four hours of death. To obtain a death certificate in advance we had to go to the local funeral home which was very reluctant to give us one. The determination of death must be made by a coroner, Justice of the Peace, or attending physician. Having the blank death certificate in advance would allow us to be prepared.

Years later my dad contracted pneumonia, the Parkinson’s having severely weakened him, and he passed away in a hospital. At that moment we decided to go through with a home burial.

After the doctor signed the death certificate we were free to take the body which we placed in our van. The head nurse told us that throughout her 30 years working at the hospital, we were only the second to remove a body independently, the other was returned to Mexico. It was late in the day when we drove to our property. We spent the night then woke up early and started digging. My brother and brother in law joined in and it took us most of the day using a digging bar and shovels, praying for the ground to be free of large rocks, and grateful it was quite cold. Not long before the twenty four hour mark we placed the blanket wrapped body in the deep hole with several special items picked out by family members - a  harmonica, stones, and notes. We then replaced the dirt and topped the grave with rocks. Later that day we had a short service before it started to snow, the first and only time that winter.

In hindsight we were very lucky everything worked out the way it did. We didn't have to hunt down the Justice of the Peace on a weekend, we were not pulled over on our way (we had the necessary papers), and no big rocks were in our way.  What ultimately made it all possible was making the arrangements in advance, and having a supportive and unconventional family.

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