How to Plan a Natural Burial

Over twenty years ago in Great Britain, a new trend was underway that favored natural burials in the ground, no use of formaldehyde-based embalming fluid, and biodegradable remains ending up being compost for trees or other plants at the location.

Natural burials are becoming more popular as an alternative to the traditional types of burials that include materials that are not biodegradable. The choices and options now for natural burials are greater and 
there are funeral homes and cemeteries arrangements for natural burials. 

Whether you are pre-planning ahead of time for yourself or a loved one, or have an immediate need, here are some ideas on how to plan a natural burial. 
With pre-planning you will have time in a less formal way to make decisions. At the time of need, some families have felt there is a need to make decisions quickly, but there is always plenty of time for the family to make all of the decisions. The choices and options are the same however, and a funeral director can be helpful in answering questions about options in either case. 

Location - a cemetery that accommodates natural burials is important to have your needs met.

Two cemeteries in Oregon that offer natural burial alternatives are Riverview Cemetery in Portland and Oakhill Cemetery in Eugene. 

Both offer natural burial options, and the details of some considerations may be asked of the cemetery or funeral director helping you.

What form of memorial is allowed at the gravesite? What is permitted inside the grave of a natural burial? How much soil is on top, and around the body? How is the land managed after the burial?

Will the gravesite be reused in the future?

Natural handling of the body - If a funeral home offers natural burials, they will not use embalming fluid that usually contains formaldehyde.  They will usually use mortuary refrigeration for the care till burial is able to take place. 

Notification and Date - Once your location and date is set you can submit an obituary to a newspaper, or other site. Virgil T. Golden Funeral Services has offered free online obituaries for years, and was the first to offer this in Salem. View the online obituaries for ideas and samples on the Virgil T. Golden Funeral Services website - Obituaries. A celebration of life service can also be planned after the burial and may include a natural theme, as well as favorite things of the deceased loved one, music, slide shows, shared poems or condolences.

Woven Asian Seagrass coffin
Materials - The materials for a natural burial fall into two main categories. A natural coffin or a wood board with a shroud wrapped around the body. Both are biodegradable and made with natural items. Some examples are shown to the left and below.

The English Willow coffin - to the right

This woven "English" line is handcrafted by the Somerset Willow Company, LTD's team of journeyman weavers. Four generations of the Hill family have been under the roof of this firm. Most of the willow used is grown within a 10 mile radius of their Bridgewater workshop in Somerset, England 

Natural Organic Cotton Shroud
Our 100% organic unbleached cotton shrouds are the simplest natural burial option. Handmade in Oregon, each regular-sized shroud has approximately 5+ yards of 60" wide fabric and provides ample material for a full body wrap. All shrouds are double-hemmed for a clean, finished look.  Three handsewn cotton straps tie the shroud into place.

Shrouding Board
The idea of shrouded bodies in burial is an ancient one, and the natural funeral movement has folks requesting it again. But shrouds create more than a few challenges when it comes to respectful body-management. The Natural Burial Company created the SHROUDING BOARD  to provide secure and dignified

transport for those who use shrouds, whether in the home or chapel, and during conveyance to the cemetery or crematory. Designed with the needs of both the family and funeral service providers in mind, our artisan-made SHROUDING BOARD™ is compatible with standard casket-lowering devices, slides on crematory or hearse rollers, as well as being easily hand-lowered.

Natural burials need to have some planning with questions answered that meet your preferences and needs. A funeral director that is familiar with these materials and information can be very helpful.

blog courtesy of Virgil T. Golden Funeral Services
view our natural burials web page > 

Green Burials – Learn The Basics

Green Burials are a natural alternative to traditional burials. The main focus is to avoid non-biodegradable materials and only use non-toxic materials that will be recycled in the ground. Natural burials are becoming a popular choice for families or for those doing end-of-life planning and choosing how they want their final arrangements to be managed by their families.

The basic main materials used in burials that can be changed are embalming fluid, concrete vaults, burial containers or caskets. Location is also a consideration.

Avoiding Embalming Fluid
If a funeral home offers green burials, they will forego the use of embalming fluid that usually contains formaldehyde.  They will usually use mortuary refrigeration for the care till burial is able to take place.

Natural Caskets
For natural burials funeral homes will recommend not using a concrete vault, or traditional casket. They will offer alternatives such as shrouds, biodegradable caskets or containers, chemical free, and natural.

Location and Habitat

There are green cemeteries exclusively, or hybrid cemeteries that offer both types of traditional and green burials. The location of the burial can be discussed with your funeral home director, for the best solution that meets your families needs.

Cremation Ashes to the Edge of the Earth

by David Brown, guest blogger

The scattering of cremation ashes or cremains, is an age old tradition, and there have been many ways to do it, from backyards, to oceans, rivers, and with a planted tree to name a few. Urns are used to store ashes and keepsakes include pendants. How the ashes of a loved one are stored or scattered is a personal decision of the family, and one that seeks to create a final memory. Now there is one more option that can be considered for scattering, that goes far beyond the traditional methods and ideas.

What if You Could Scatter Cremation Ashes to the Edge of the Earth?

A new and unique way of scattering has been created by a company called Mesoloft. They take cremated remains fifteen miles above the earth, almost into outer space and release them into the atmosphere. Over time, the cremated remains return to earth reaching all area of areas of the planet, some even reaching the earth as snowflakes and raindrops.

The hot air balloon is radio controlled and so the ashes are released at the level of fifteen miles above the Earth. A video is available to the family with a 360 degree view of the scattering at this elevation.

The video below shows just that. It is a unique and distinctive way to scatter cremains, that some may want to add into their last wishes.

Where Do the Scatterings Launch From?

According to Alex of Mesoloft, "The very first launch by Mesoloft was the area around Bend, OR as it sits right on the edge of the high desert region of Eastern Oregon. Bend also happens to be surrounded by beautiful landscape that we hope makes the videos we provide our customers even more stunning. - The number one determining factor is making sure we have a location where we will be able to easily recover our hardware and cameras. This means we prefer open landscapes with as few trees and bodies of water as possible. We also prefer being able to land on public lands where we don’t have to worry about finding the landowner and requesting permission to recover our equipment. You take both of these requirements and most of our launch sites will be located in the Western United States."

Elder Care Robots

Baby Boomers Can Expect Robots
in Years to Come

by David Brown, guest blogger

By the time that many baby boomers reach the age range of 80-85, about twenty years from now, they may have a smaller or larger portion of elder care being done by robots. This would be either an assisted living nurse droid who stops in and is close by, or for in-home care, a live-in droid, customized to their needs. The droid – let’s call them by a name : Sarah, would do chores, prescription reminders, TV channel surfing, make phone calls, and retrieve information. Some of this is already happening today with our smart devices. 

What is driving this industry now is both the immediate and projected future needs of aging populations in the world. Japan is an example of using government research to help develop this industry with the monumental shifts happening in the demographics of aging populations. In 2013 and 2014, they invested millions in this industry, and more is anticipated as the needs continues to grow.
(see full story  -

With the increasing costs of care and demand for assisted living facilities, commercial caregivers will be one step ahead if they began to explore how AI - artificial intelligence - could be integrated into their daily care-giving services now. There could be droids trained in bridge and other card games,  masters of chess, gardening experts, gourmet cooking, and social conversation, or all of these and more - and having the elder resident's preferences and interests already programmed into its circuits. It may also have built in monitoring systems to see how well received the communications were with the elder residents and adapting to the residents preferences and favorite topics as the need arises.

Imagine if the droid also had an amazing sense of humor built in. The residents favorite music. Stories and entire audio books that would enchant, entertain, and bring smiles on residents that can appreciate the advances in technology.

We are living in the future of yesterday, and preparing for the reality of tomorrow. What surprises it will bring in the area of elder care could be pleasant, even humorous, and since laughter is good for the health, maybe that would be a good thing.

Orlando Grieving and Children’s Grief Support

by David Brown
guest blogger

A Grief Support Program by Sesame Street
As the entire country grieves the tragedies in Orlando, from the nightclub massacre to the child taken by an alligator, to a pop singer’s death, we all grieve in different ways for the atrocious acts of violence that seem to be increasing in our country at this time.

One area of grieving that is a specialized niche is the support for a child’s grieving. Children need grief support just as much or more than adults. Yet, where can we get this type of support? There are not that many groups that are available for children’s grief support.

Here are some local and national resources for this type of support and help.

The Sharing Place
In 1993 a determined young nurse and widow, Chris Chytraus, sought help for her two young children after the death of their father. She discovered a lack of resources in the Salt Lake City area and with the help and expertise of her children's therapist, Nancy Reiser they founded The Sharing Place. Chris not only helped her own children deal with their grief, but she has made a difference in the lives of many thousands who have walked through the door, called on the phone, or made use of grief support information from our website.
Although physically located in Utah, The Sharing Place was recently featured on television because of their focus and unique support for grieving children. They have a link on their site to the Doughy Center, a national grief support organization that supports local groups. -

The Doughy Center
The Dougy Center was founded in 1982 by Beverly Chappell in tribute to Dougy Turno, a young boy who died of an inoperable brain tumor at age 13. Before meeting Dougy, Bev was a registered nurse who had worked in the area of death and dying since 1974. Through her work, she found most people were uncomfortable when faced with death and grief and that doctors, clergy, hospital staff, and school personnel often did not have the training to support children in their grief. This reality inspired Bev to attend the first of many seminars and lectures by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, pioneer and author in the field of death and dying.
Willamette Valley Hospice
For Salem, the Willamette Valley Hospice is the one listed.
They have a Mother Oak’s Child Center for Grieving Children
Each summer their annual Camp Mighty Oaks provides an experience that supports children (5 years and older) and families who are grieving the death of a loved one.

published by Virgil T Golden Funeral Services
Salem, Oregon

Bagpipes - This Celebration of Life Idea Will Provide Good Memories

by David Brown, guest blogger

Why Bagpipes?

Elise MacGregor Ferrell, Bagpiper
Bagpipes have been used for funerals and cremation scatterings for generations. Although the Scottish Highland Bagpipes have had the most attention by many, bagpipes have been a traditional ceremonial enhancement  played for centuries throughout large parts of Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, around the Persian Gulf, Northern Africa, and North America.

At a cremains scattering in the San Francisco Bay, 15 family members gathered for a memorial on the bay that included a Bagpiper that was hired as an idea after the reservations were made. The bagpiper was a woman in full traditional dress with the kilt and played when we were boarding the boat. Two "sad songs" were played after some discussion. During the scattering following a prayer where we all held hands in a circle, Amazing Grace was played and sounded so perfect for the occasion. 

After the scattering other songs were played as we circled the area where the ashes were dropped near the Golden Gate bridge, and the flowers that were also dropped there seemed to form a circle. 

The experience of saying goodbye to a loved one with family members was enhanced dramatically with the bagpipes. It was a sendoff that had some relevance since there is Scottish on my grandmother's side, and my mother, whose ashes were scattered, would have been smiling if she was watching the event. She had seen a bagpiper playing on a golf course in Pebble Beach some years before and loved the sound. The bagpiper that we hired lived in Santa Cruz and knows the bagpiper that plays at Pebble Beach. There was a lot of serendipity that happened surrounding the event.

Live music can greatly enhance the memorial experience of friends and family. Whether it is a formal service, or a scattering on a body of water. Bagpipes in particular seem to have a unique and magical sound that fits the occasion. You don't have to have a Scottish heritage to enjoy it. 

Locally here in the Salem area, Virgil T Golden Funeral Services has contacts with any type of  musician the family would like. They have had bagpipers and know of several in the area to  contact if needed.  As far as scattering, there is Tradewinds out of Depoe Bay who will do it and they do have a tribute on Memorial Day as well.  Around Salem, families have scattered in the Cascades, local streams and of course at the beach.  

Pictured is Elise
MacGregor Ferrell, the bagpiper hired in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Visit the Celebration of Life page on the VT Golden website for more information.

Hospice: Compassionate End of Life Care

The Silent Beauty of Crater Lake Reminds Me of the Peace of the Soul 
by David Brown, guest blogger

Many know about hospice to some degree or another. Many have used hospice services with their loved ones. In March 2016, I experienced how amazing hospice can be for the first time in my life.
Hearing about them and seeing what they can do with your own loved one and family during an end of life period of time are two completely different things. They have mastered all the things needed during end of life care.

"Hospice care is a type of care and philosophy of care that focuses on the palliation of a chronically ill, terminally ill or seriously ill patients pain and symptoms, and attending to their emotional and spiritual needs. In Western society, the concept of hospice has been evolving in Europe since the 11th century. Then, and for centuries thereafter in Roman Catholic tradition, hospices were places of hospitality for the sick, wounded, or dying, as well as those for travelers and pilgrims. The modern concept of hospice includes palliative care for the incurably ill given in such institutions as hospitals or nursing homes, but also care provided to those who would rather spend their last months and days of life in their own homes." - Wikipedia

In my case my mother, age 91, had lost some weight and was turning a bit yellow, so the administrator at her senior living residence advised her that she should see a doctor. It turned out that she had evidence of pancreatic cancer from an MRI screening.

This was only three weeks before she passed away.

During the days leading up to these final moments hospice was prescribed by a doctor when she was scheduled to have a biopsy that was cancelled at the last minute due to a do-not-resuscitate legal document. My mother was overjoyed that she could now finally move on, and was praying privately that it would happen fast.

We also had hoped that if something ever happened, that it would be fast and she would not have to suffer.

Hospice immediately put her on morphine for pain, provided protocols for the senior living residential care with medications, and also was very comforting to our family that was experiencing the beginning of the end-of-life moments. They told us what to expect, approximate days, and kept us informed about every step of the end-of-life journey.

During the final moments Karen, who had worked for hospice care for seven years, said she had never seen anything quite like what happened with my mother. Coming out of a deep sleep and right before she passed, my mother regained some awareness to be able to respond (non-verbally) to what my sister and I were saying, about family members who had passed over, our gratitude for her, and other words of encouragement and love.

Hospice proved to be an invaluable service for my mother and our family, and they are non-profit, funded by donations, Medicare, and government grants.