Beautiful Green Backyard Burial
The end of
a life journey
my father's health failing we were finally able to convince him that
living closer to my brother and I, we would be able to help care for
him better. Moving him here from Bullhead, Arizona, became quite the
family project. My two sisters (Deborah and Donna) came in from out
of town to help pack him up, along with help from my husband (Mike),
brother-in-law (Alex) and brother (Charlie). They emptied the house,
paired his belongings down to a trailer full of his treasures, and
left behind an overflowing commercial size dumpster. That was after
gifting all the neighbors and giving big donations to the Salvation
dad wanted to still have his independence, which we respected, so we
found him a sweet little apartment in our small town, Del Norte,
Colorado. The landlord overlooked their “One Dog Only” rule and
allowed him to have both of his furry children (which I am convinced
is why he still had the will to live). Elaine, the owner of the
building, bent over backwards to help my father in every way she
could: from paperwork, to advice, and she even made offers to drive
him to appointments if we weren't available.
my father was very timely. It's amazing how many treasures one can
accumulate in a life time. The transition went fairly smooth. My
father seemed to enjoy his new surroundings. It was a special time
setting up his new cozy apartment with all the basics one really
needs, including leaving his vehicle behind. Alex and Mike found him
a wonderful second-hand electric wheel chair.
Electric Wheelchair 101
I was helping my father unpack and I got this notion, “Hey Dad, why
don't you ride your new wheel chair down with me to walk the dogs and
empty some trash?” “Okay,” Dad said as he climbed in the chair.
I put one small dog, Baby, on his lap and grabbed a bag of trash and
the leash of his second dog, Scooby. We got in the hallway and,
unbeknownst to us, the chair was set on high. Dad pushed the lever
forward and shot down the hall like a rocket! He was swerving from
side to side, yelling obscenities all the way down the hall with what
could only be described as a severe case of Tourettes. I'm running
behind him with a big trash bag bouncing in the air and poor Scooby
sliding, not walking, behind me. “Dad, let go of the lever!!!” My
father reaches the elevator in record time, swings into the glass
walled waiting area and almost catapults himself through the window.
I run up behind him with my heart racing. Before I could say a word,
the elevator door slides open and my Dad shoots in, hand still full
throttle on the lever. He slams into the wall with the wheels still
spinning. The carpet began to get sucked up into the wheels! “Hand
off the lever, Dad!” Unfortunately, that was my father's
introduction to the electric wheel chair and to his new neighbors. We
had fun practicing with that a few days later, once we could both
breathe again! Although it scared the heck out of me that night, I
can't tell this story with out laughing out loud now. I know that if
I had a camera that evening I would be a rich woman today!
got my dad all kinds of special assistance through Medicaid, which
took a little work. He made about one hundred dollars over the limit
to qualify. This glitch would have prevented him from being able to
receive thousands of dollars worth of much needed assistance. I still
have a problem understanding the logic behind “the harder one works
in life the more one gets penalized in the end” when it comes to
government regulations. Elaine was a huge help.
poor father was in the hospital or a doctor's office just about every
day from the time he first arrived here in Colorado. Each visit
exposed one more illness or disease until, in the end, he had a list
of about 12 major challenges ranging from diabetes, heart problems,
and prostate cancer to Parkinson's Disease and kidney failure.
God for my husband who was so helpful. Together, he and my father
somehow turned into a Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy team. I saw
my father come alive whenever Mike walked in the room. It was so
heart warming. My brother's wife, Merlinda, was a real Godsend. She
took my dad under her wing. She was at his beck and call. Being an
E.M.T., Merlinda knew what she was doing and would show up without
complaint. She not only chauffeured him to doctor appointments, but
was also there for those 2:00 a.m. trips into the emergency room.
Dreaded Nursing Home Or Not
five months of this, my father took a big fall which sent him back to
the hospital. While there he said that he had a realization; he
acknowledged that he could no longer live alone. This was big for my
father! We all, including him, knew that it meant his next home
would be the dreaded nursing home. He had already spent one
complaint-filled month there after one of his previous falls. The
home was actually quite nice. They had very caring attendants, nurses
and therapists. It was clean, had activities, and it even had a nice
little cafeteria. Best of all, it was only two houses away from
Charlie and Merlinda. There was a back door right next to his room
that, via a code, we could drop in at any time unannounced.
father got weaker each day. His complications and prescriptions
mounted to astronomical proportions. It was recommended that the time
had come for us to start thinking about hospice.
hospice, most doctor and hospital visits cease for the most part, as
well as most medications. The hospice employees are not into
prolonging life at this point, but care more about making what time
you have left as comfortable as possible. This may include, but is
not limited to, pain medication, massage and/or counseling. Once a
person begins hospice an autopsy is not required at the time of
brother and I decided now was the time to give up my father's
apartment. This was a difficult decision to make, but a necessary
one. We agreed that it was much easier doing this with our father
still alive. We gave away most of his belongings to his friends and
neighbors while saving just a few treasures and some mementos.
Merlinda again came to the rescue. She and my brother did all the
final clean up. They brought a plant to his room at the nursing home
along with a few of the paintings that my mother painted of my father
years ago. I brought in a boombox along with Dean Martin's “Love
Songs” CDs. Cousin Kerry brought in a few of his favorites CDs too.
It was a nice break from the sports channel that was usually on.
some serious consideration, we decided to bury my father up on our
property, “Angel Rock Ranch”. He liked the idea, too. Mike and I
had already decided that we would love to be buried there as well.
Mike and I walked our 35 acre property to find the perfect place for
my father and, what would more than likely become, our family grave
yard. We live in an old Caldera so there is a lot of lava rock and it
took Mike several tries before he found the perfect spot. He then dug
the grave in such a way that my father's head will be facing a huge
rock bluff that resembles an angel with outstretched wings, hence the
name of our ranch”Angel Rock Ranch.”
Natural Home Burials.
did our homework and researched natural burials in Colorado. Though
this is not done very much any more, it is still legal. When we
first talked to the authorities and the nursing home, their eyebrows
raised! However, everyone, including the doctor, was very supportive
in the end. They even seemed excited about this concept of a natural
home burial. The nursing home put special instructions in my father's
folder. Everyone understood that,when the time came, they would first
try to reach the doctor. If she wasn't available, then the coroner
could finish filling out the death certificate. It was also
understood that we, the family, would move my father ourselves
without involving the mortuary.
researched on the computer. He began by simply typing in “Natural
Green Burial” in Rio Grande County (where my father lived) and
also Saguache County (where our property is located). We thought we
needed to research both because he was going to die in Rio Grande
County (where we would register his death certificate) and then be
buried in Saguache County (where we would register the Private Burial
researching, Mike found information about a well organized group
that does sacred open cremations called “The End of Life Project.”
They are located in Crestone, a small neighboring town. They were
very helpful over the phone and also emailed us information about
their project and gave us instructions on how to properly care for a
body at death. Although we had decided to bury my father, rather than
have him cremated, it was nice to think about that as an option. They
gave us a lot of the information that we needed.
doing more research, Mike proudly proclaimed, “Don't worry, Honey I
will be the funeral director,” In the end, it was his signature
that went in the box with the heading; “Signature of the Funeral
Director or Person Acting As Such” on the death certificate. One
does not need a special license for this title.
Mike do this research at a time when my thinking was a bit cloudy and
my emotions and stresses were running high was a real comfort . Mike
also called the two local mortuaries and one actually gave us some
valuable information, such as, “if a body is not embalmed then it
must be buried within 24 hours or kept refrigerated or iced”. Also
that “the grave needs to be at least 4 feet deep” (I always
thought that it was 6 feet) .The other mortician did his best to
discourage us. He even said that it was very difficult if not
impossible these days.
the Death Certificate
we talked to the county clerk. She was a bit reluctant at first to
hand over a death certificate before the person had actually died. We
explained, and she also understood, that this would be a time
sensitive matter. We did not want to have my father embalmed or even
go to a mortuary. A death certificate is a very important document
and must be treated as such. The clerk even gave me two copies along
with the original and stated, “You may want to fill one out as a
sample and bring it in so I can correct it. You can't make mistakes
on the original.” I did this immediately. As luck would have it, my
father's sister, Joyce, came to stay with us for a week at that time.
I was able to ask her any questions of which I was unsure. I brought
the certificate into the clerk, she looked it over carefully, and
made only one correction. We asked her what we should do if he passed
at night or on the weekend. She was kind enough to give us her home
phone number and said to call her and she would come in and sign the
death certificate and do the proper paperwork when needed.
clerk also said that we would need my father to sign a paper in front
of witnesses stating that he desired to be buried up on our
property. I told her that he did say that was what he wanted and now
he's in and out of consciousness. What if he passes before I'm able
to have him sign the paper? She said, “You better hurry then!” We
may have burned a little rubber leaving her office (not really), but
we didn't waste any time typing up a statement which included
signature room for two witnesses and myself. It took us about another
week before my dad was coherent enough to sign. We then had the nurse
put this paper in his file at the nursing home along with the death
certificate that was now filled out except for the Physician and the
Registrar's (Clerks) section. Just for the record, we found out that
the family can also make that decision if the patient isn't able.
were also informed by the clerk that we would need to have the grave
site GPSed within the first month after the burial by a sheriff or
coroner. Later, we learned it could also be done by two witnesses
along with the owner. A few weeks after the burial, I did call the
Sheriff's Office in Saguache County and inquired about getting the
grave GPSed. The sheriff was here within 45 minutes, which is about
the time it takes to get from the station to our ranch. I commented,
“I bet you don't have to do this too often.” and he said it was a
first. He called the county clerk in Rio Grande and she sent him the
necessary form (Private Burial Affidavit C.R.S. 25-2-111). The
sheriff was a super nice guy and said he always liked to come out and
do the first of something like this because he could go back and
educate the rest of the department. There was no fee for this
service. The next day, Mike and I took the affidavit to the county
clerk and recorder's office in Saguache so it could be documented and
filed as a legal burial. When we walked in and stated the nature of
our visit the clerk said, “We just learned about this yesterday.”
The sheriff had been in and explained it to them. We were charged
$11.00 and she said we would receive the affidavit back in the mail
after it was recorded in a day or two. I guess it really was a first
because, when we received it back, the stamp noted the placement in
the record book: Page 1/Line 1.
might be a good time to tell you that I love living in our small
town! Although we are ready to retire and want to sell our sweet
little business, I have no desire to leave this incredible area.
There is something special about small towns. People will go out of
their way to help you.
is the end of part 1. Please come back next week for part 2, which
will finish this story.
for reading; I’d love to hear from you!
Organic Peddler & Peace of Art Café
Del Norte, Colorado