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


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.


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.”

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.

10/19/2015 10:51:07 AM

when my father passed of a heart attack....1982...in route to the hospital...the local funeral home came and picked up his body and stored it over night. we asked them about the legalities involved, since, we knew he wanted to be buried on his land in western north carolina. they told us that...since he was NOT going to be embalmed...he'd have to be in the ground in 24 hours. the only restrictions were that the grave be 100 feet from any water source. we asked if anyone needed to come inspect the site. they said "no...you don't want us out there messing with your place". my brother commences building the coffin (out of ply wood), and our local Friend's meeting (father was Quaker) came to the house to dig the grave (it was january..and the ground was frozen solid) in the middle of the garden, where he had chosen. my brothers and my sister took a truck with the coffin in the back to the funeral home and those lovely people put the body in the coffin, and loaned us the straps to lower the coffin into the grave. my brother nailed it shut, and they drove back to the house. we put him in the grave with only family present (memorial service a week later). when we returned the straps to the funeral home and asked what the charges were for their help, they refused any payment. "we didn't do anything", they said. the entire burial cost us $75..for ply wood. it was the single most amazing experience of my life...to this day.

katherine spence
1/30/2013 6:00:22 PM

I live in Florida and it was quite simple to have my mother 'reside' on my private 5 acres. I consulted the health department and they said all the regulations and red tape are involved with a dead body. If you have that body cremated, put in an urn, they dont care where you keep it. Put it on your mantle if you want. Simple....the cremation cost $125 and I have Mom where I can talk to her every day. Luckily my funeral director was helpful and agreeable to whatever we wanted to do. No high pressure at Browns Funeral Home in Chipley. When Mom died at 94, she was taken there, and they took care of the cremation. We had no formal service, family was scattered all over the country. I held a good bye service and buried her urn myself. It was moving, and made it final to me. Now she has her own 'garden place' with some of her favorite plants, flowers and trees. Our family was quite content that she was not stuck out in some cemetary........alone.

keith mattei
12/28/2011 3:54:55 AM

As a funeral director, I'm always intrigued to read these types of stories. The author here though here is I feel slamming the funeral industry. I agree the hospital was wrong to solicit a funeral home on behalf of the family and the funeral director was wrong to speak to the author the way they did. Each and every step of the burial process was coordinated with a funeral home and staff. I feel that this article would've been better written if the negative conversation with the funeral director were eliminated. There are good and bad in every profession that works with the public. We've all had good and bad experiences with car salesmen, mechanics, doctors, retail stores, etc. Funeral directors are no different. Currently in this country, one thing that is extremely difficult working in the funeral service industry is adapting to the ever changing needs and wants of society. Traditional services are being requested by families less and less. Funerals are constantly being asked to be done creatively, outside the box and non traditionally. Services are often prepared to be customed to a specific individual based on things they liked or enjoyed during life. The author does not really let the readers know how much that funeral home that handled the burial part really was there doing it's job to help make a custom burial happen. That's what funeral directors do everyday.

stephanie badertscher
12/20/2011 3:58:08 PM

Years ago, I was told family plots in Germany were leased for 40 years. After 40 years, the descendants could renew their lease of the grave site, leaving everything intact OR because the remains were decomposed since the body had not been embalmed, the ground could be plowed up and RE-USED. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust is difficult to accomplish when bodies are embalmed and placed in vaults and sealed coffins. Think about it. There is sage wisdom in this adage.

jimmer curtis
12/20/2011 5:14:51 AM

Being buried in a "official" cemetery does not guarantee the remains will be undisturbed or cared for in future years either. Here in Michigan's Copper Country, now that the mining boom is long past, there are a number of known cemeteries that have been left to deteriorate with little or no care. Other unknown cemeteries are being found with new construction projects. I was also astounded to learn that a few decades back a local congregation built a new church on their old church site and needed the burial ground for a parking lot. They let any known families who wished to rebury their relatives elsewhere. All the others are - guess where - yep, under the asphalt. Talk about dishonoring the dead. Why not let private property owners keep the right to bury their dead on their property as long as community health issues are addressed? There are enough limitations on property rights already. Also, while there are many kind and honest people in the death business, there are also many unethical profiteers who hit people when they are most vulnerable. Buyer beware is quite true in this subject area. Hey Mother Earth, how about more articles on green burial, green cemeteries, etc.?

roland green
12/8/2011 9:54:43 AM

Nice as it may seem to have a private burial in a place of your choosing, I think those involved have to look forward and the fact that either future generations or owners of the land may not want to have a person buried on their land and would have to go to the cost of exhumation and reburial, with all the attendant legal work involved, and in some cases, religious considerations. Nor may the neighbours want a private burial next door to their land. Also, if the private plot is close to a town it could restricts future development in that area. Another aspect is environmental considerations. It is proper that we should honour our dead and that they should be properly interred but the place for this should be in cemetaries or designated burial grounds and not scattered over the land. What might have been acceptable in pioneering days can not be the same today with burgeoning populations and in areas of restricted land space. Cremation and scattering of the ashes, as Pam Munro suggests, is a perfect substitute for private burial; it allows the remains of the loved one to be put in a place which was meaningful for them and provides a focus for those left behind to visit. Lastly, I would hate to think of the kafuffle that would occur if, say in 40 or 50 years time and records of the private burial were lost, that human remains were suddenly uneathed.

pam munro
11/23/2011 10:39:34 PM

My family chose to have our parents CREMATED. (Inexpensively - as any coffin would be burnt up!)This expedited everything to a great degree. We scattered the ashes in a group memorial service on a boat chartered out of Channel Islands Harbor N. of Los Angeles, CA. We did have to have paperwork to give to the captain of the vessel to make everything legal. (Altho, I have to admit, as we have our own boat, dispersal there would have been possible, too, but it was too small to accomodate the family.) We had the homemade service honor the memories of our parents - with our own music & everyone contributed. It was a very meaningful experience for all of us. NOTE: you DO NOT have to have the Neptune Soc. or anyone else scatter ashes - but remember to have them GROUND, so that they can be scattered more easily.....) Even if I had land, I would prefer cremation & burial of the remains to the process you describe & any risk of contamination would be avoided.

elizabeth erwin
11/23/2011 7:01:43 PM

I appreciate this article. The photo associated with it, however, pictures a cross situated next to a stream. One wouldn't want to bury a loved one close close to a water source.

tracey hoesl
11/23/2011 5:41:40 PM

Excellent article. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and giving readers information to get started researching private burial for their loved ones. I will certainly be doing research in my area.

father will smith osb
11/23/2011 2:49:04 PM

Thank you for sharing your experiences, very helpful considerations were made, and it was extremely helpful to me to read about them. Blessings.

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