We’ve Never Regretted a Private Burial

Have you ever looked at a special place and thought, “I’d like to be buried there”? Such a simple wish may not be so simple to fulfill.

| December 2011/January 2012

One summer evening, my father-in-law, Frederick, suffered a fatal heart attack. EMTs rushed him to a nearby hospital in central Illinois, but in less than two hours, he was gone.

Within minutes of Frederick’s death, a hospital employee asked about funeral arrangements. I was jarred. My family was still in shock over our loss. Unsolicited, the staffer called a local funeral home and pulled me to the phone. The mortician, upon learning we had no plans, began to sell me his. I was angry that our grieving was interrupted for a sales pitch.

We had not anticipated Frederick dying. We had not expected to plan a funeral. I told the man plainly that I was galled that we couldn’t have a moment to ourselves free from advertising, and that I couldn’t bury my father-in-law without going through the funeral industry. Suddenly, I wondered aloud about burying Frederick’s remains on my property in central Colorado.

The mortician asserted that such an endeavor would be a terrible mistake. “In all my years as a mortician,” he fumed, “there was only one time I ever heard of someone trying to bury on private property. It took more than a year and turned out to be a huge, costly mistake.”

He warned me that I was going to have to wade through federal, state and local laws and regulations to obtain permission (which would almost certainly be denied, he said), and he asked what I would do with the body in the interim. Even if I could get permission, I would have to turn my entire 51-acre parcel into a cemetery and would thus never be able to sell it. The whole ordeal would cost much more than a traditional funeral and put the family through needless suffering. He kept urging me to give him permission to “take care of everything.” I told him I would think about it.

After I hung up the phone, the hospital staffer asked whether I had “made arrangements” with the funeral home. The staffer supported the mortician’s claims, telling me, “People just don’t go out and bury the dead anymore.”

Casey Willson
1/11/2018 9:13:49 AM

Thank you for the article and the attendant comments. We are a 320-acre organic farm with 16 one-acre residential lots and are considering establishing our own cemetery. Everything written here is valuable and thought provoking both for the community and the families who are intent on using the cemetery as a resting place for their loved ones. We have checked with our county authorities and find the restrictions in WV minimal, only requiring considerations that we would naturally take into account. Other considerations for establishing and maintaining the site, though, will require discussion and, again, the information here can help inform our discussion. Thanks.

Casey Willson
1/11/2018 9:13:47 AM

Thank you for the article and for the attendant comments. We are a 320-acre community owned organic farm with 16 one-acre residential lots and are interested in creating our own cemetery on the property. Everything written here is thought provoking and valuable, both for the community and for the families who are considering the cemetery as a final resting place for loved ones. Casey Willson, WV

10/19/2015 3:47:12 PM

My comment does not relate to burial, since my mother's remains were cremated, as she had requested. What I would like to add to this story is that, at least in Maine, all of the official details surrounding death can be handled directly by the family. If a person dies at home and has been under a doctor's care, as was the case with my mother, the doctor herself can issue the death certificate, without anyone examining the body. Once obtained from the doctor, the certificate is taken to the coroner, who issues permission to transport the remains. One can then transport the body directly to the crematorium; in our case we wrapped my mother's body in a blanket and carried it in the back of the car. A couple of days later we returned to the crematorium to pick up the ashes. Total cost: $300. We did not, however, do things this way to avoid expense but specifically to be directly involved with caring for what remained of my mother and handling things as she would have wanted. Caring for the dead was until very recently an honored and solemn responsibility. We took that back from the "professionals" and feel that we did the right thing. As far as burial on one's own property goes, this is still done in rural Maine; thousands of older farms contain small burial plots. The only requirement is that the fact that there are graves on the property be disclosed if it is sold. Technically, I think, the burial plot is retained by the family, since they have the right to continue to tend graves even after someone else has bought the property. No one thinks anything of it. Perhaps suburbanites would be put off, but you'll never find me there.

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