A Green Burial

Source: nyt

Lyn died the day after the federal election, having dealt with cancer for five years. She and her husband of over fifty years were our neighbours. Upon retirement as a school principal Lyn registered as a theology student at Emmanuel College. I offered a few suggestions of professors that I found especially interesting during my years studying at the Toronto School of Theology.

A few months ago Lyn asked her husband Greg if he would make her a coffin, since he is a skilled carpenter. At the vigil he told us that Lyn wanted a “green funeral” which meant no embalming, burial in a “green cemetery, and using a coffin with no metal,  including nails. When we walked into their living room there was Lyn in the open coffin that Greg proudly showed us. It was a bit of a shock to see her frail body resting peacefully.

I realized later that before funeral homes, this is how most people carried out vigil, in their houses. In many parts of the world, perhaps the majority of poor countries it is still the custom. Magic markers sat on top of the coffin’s cover and Greg invited us to write something.

In red ink I wrote: “You are now with the angels.” Greg seemed to be  handling everything  well; he had been on this journey for a long time. I, on the other hand had not seen Lyn for over a year. A tear came to my eyes and I repressed breaking down.

Greg suggested we go in the kitchen and have some food brought over by friends. His daughter and niece were there and welcomed us. They explained that to have a “green burial” a certificate must be issued by the municipality. Due to Covid, it takes longer to process.

Cemetery staff told them they would not dig a grave without the certificate from the city. The phone rang, it was city hall. The bureaucrat explained that if they brought a certified check for $55.00 a certificate could be issued. “We can’t take credit cards or cash, and we don’t do e-transfers, we only accept certified checks.” It occurred to me that with all the talk about the “green revolution” and wanting to reduce pollution, government makes it consistently difficult.

Reflecting on the vigil the following day I thought God does not require that our paperwork be in order. When my turn comes I don’t expect I’ll be asked to show my baptismal certificate, or bring a letter for my Pastor, or references from a few loyal friends testifying that despite limitations, please let him in. No, God only requires an open heart that has tried to love tenderly. That describes my united church friend Lyn.

W.H.Auden wrote a famous poem “Stop all the clocks” which I’ve always thought expresses how I feel when someone close to me dies. Stop the world for a minute, death happened. You’re not here anymore. What life you brought to me and those who knew you.

This year 2021 has brought the death of four friends, two jesuits Bob and Terry, my friend Michael, and now Lyn. Their spiritual paperwork was all in order because they lived lives for others. Libera me, Domine

John Montague earned his Master of Divinity from Regis College, University of Toronto. He is an active member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. He has a Master of Social Work, and, until his retirement, provided counselling to individuals, couples, and families. For seventeen years he organized a Day of Reflection for Catholic parents of lesbian daughters, gay sons, and transgendered children.

  • Paul Desmarais
    Posted at 03:09h, 04 November Reply

    Very moving, John. I had never heard the term “green burial” before nor a green cemetery. I do remember back in the 1950’s a neighbour having his funeral at the house. We have most of our funerals at home here in Zambia.

  • Mike Hyland
    Posted at 08:17h, 04 November Reply

    Thanks John! A touching story, and the green message was timely.

  • Maria Skarzynski
    Posted at 08:36h, 04 November Reply

    Beautiful and so much to think about. I love the ‘stop the world for a minute’. Thank you John.

    Posted at 09:26h, 04 November Reply

    what a wonderful tribute, John

    Posted at 09:27h, 04 November Reply

    What a wonderful reflection, John

  • Jim Radde
    Posted at 12:37h, 04 November Reply

    Well done. Refreshing.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 15:40h, 04 November Reply

    Thank you John!

  • Margaret Powell
    Posted at 16:00h, 04 November Reply

    A beautiful story. Particularly Lyn’s part and acceptance of death.

  • Bernie Carroll
    Posted at 19:32h, 04 November Reply

    Thank you John for your very thoughtful reflection.

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