Courtesy of NPR.org | By Amy Eskind, Evie Stone | Photo Courtesy of John Christian Phifer |Originally Published 03.11.2018 | Posted 03.20.2018
Larkspur Conservation in Sumner County, Tenn., is a beautiful, parklike setting, with hiking trails and picnic areas and, soon, occasional burial plots. The 112 acres of serene rolling hills are protected by a conservation easement through the Nature Conservancy. Larkspur’s founders hope it will offer families a greener — and cheaper — way to lay their loved ones to rest in a beautiful place.
This will be a different kind of cemetery: no rows of tombstones and monuments, and no plastic flowers. The nature preserve will be used for “natural burials” only. Caskets are optional, as are makeup and clothing on the body. Vaults around the caskets are prohibited. So are headstones, beyond a native stone from the property. No need for a hearse. Graves average 3.5 to 4 feet deep — or a bit deeper for biodegradable caskets — in the microbe-rich, living layer of soil. Ceremonies may involve clergy of any faith, or none at all.
Walking through a meadow on the property, Larkspur Executive Director John Christian Phifer says, “People [who] choose to be buried in this area are the people who want wildflowers blooming on their grave and butterflies fluttering about.”
Or, Phifer says, people can opt to be buried in the wooded section: “It’s really an expansive place, and quiet and beautiful.”
Phifer spent 15 years in the funeral industry before quitting, feeling frustrated that families were struggling to pay for pricey burials that left them feeling empty. He went on a months-long odyssey riding trains across the country, talking to people to find out how Americans would prefer to handle death.
The same themes kept coming up. “Choice. Flexibility. Simplicity. Celebration. They wanted something fun. They wanted something happy,” he says. “They are looking for meaning in these rituals. They don’t want to just spend 10 to 15 to 20 thousand dollars on something that has no value to them.”
Phifer returned to Nashville and was hired by the nonprofit that was planning the new conservation burial ground at Larkspur. The first thing to go? Embalming, which uses formaldehyde and chemicals to slow the natural process of decomposition. Phifer, who has worked as an enbalmer, calls the practice unnatural and says it harms the environment. Continue reading “Tennessee ‘Natural’ Burial Ground Will Offer A Simpler Farewell — Casket Optional”