The End of a Life Journey: Part Two

Reader Contribution by Kimanna Cellura-Shields
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Father’s Last Breath

My phone rang. It was the nurse and she informed us that my father peacefully passed away 15 minutes earlier. It was my daughter’s birthday and we were delivering a bed into her apartment. The nursing home was 15 minutes away and it was to be our next stop. We just happened to be driving the truck so we could deliver the bed and, in trade, we picked up a nice cot which would soon come in handy. We stopped off at a store and I picked up a colorful cotton quilt and a dozen red roses.

When we arrived at the nursing home we were greeted by my brother and Merlinda. Although less than only one hour had passed since my father’s last breath, it was immediately apparent that the important part of him had left the body. The vehicle was there, but the driver was gone. He looked so at peace that it was hard for me to be sad. The nurses had already cleaned up my father and had him dressed in his nice dress pants and shirt. I covered him with the beautiful quilt and laid a rose across his chest.

The doctor arrived within a half hour. She had a sweet compassionate smile and sense about her. She filled in her section of the death certificate and made us an extra copy to have for our records. We had contacted the town clerk on our way to the nursing home. We caught her just as she was leaving work. Thoughtfully, she gave us her home address which just happened to be on our way home. My Dad passed away at 4:15 p.m. It was now about 6:00 p.m. when the doctor was finished with her paperwork.

We contemplated burying my father in the morning so that some of the grandchildren could be there. The director of the nursing home, who was great and also very supportive about the home burial, felt that the other occupants might feel a bit uneasy if they allowed my father to spend the night. This was understandable. We decided to take him home and have a full moon burial that evening. Mike tidied up the back of the truck and we unfolded the cot mattress that we had just picked up from my daughter. The entire staff helped wheel his bed out the side door and we slid him into the back of the truck. He had his favorite sleeping bag under him which really helped with the moving. The staff was in tears. My father had really touched their hearts. He had a way with people.

Caravan to Angel Rock Ranch

We began our caravan home with Charlie, Merlinda, Rigo and Cousin Kerry behind after we gently secured my father onto the cot in the back bed of the truck. On the way we called a few close friends and invited them to join us. Most of them beat us up to the ranch. We did stop at the county clerks home and she signed and kept the death certificate and said we could get copies the following day. Our caravan continued all the way up to the ranch. My oldest daughter, living in CA at the time, wrote some sweet words for her grandfather and I printed them off. We all put on some warmer clothes because here in Colorado, when the sun goes down, so does the temperature.

Full Moon Natural Backyard Burial

Meanwhile our friend Beau was getting the grave site ready by lighting several tiki torches. He placed them behind the dirt mound while also putting an equal number of solar lights in front of the grave. Another friend, Steve, brought a very nice bottle of whiskey. We all did a toast to Dad. Everyone got a red rose and we began a procession on foot, following the truck from our cabin about 100 yards over to the grave site.

It was a beautiful, almost full moon, night. We had Dean Martin’s love songs sweetly playing from the boombox in the back of the truck. The temperature seemed perfect with jackets; there was no wind at all. It was a clear, star-studded sky with La Luna shining bold and bright. We gently slid my father out of the back of the truck and lightly set him down on the ground before the grave. We regrouped for a moment. Mike had put a bale of hay by the grave, so we handed everyone a flake of hay and took turns breaking and shaking it into the grave, creating a soft, fluffy bed for my father to lay. The grave had a nice slope to it, thanks to the backhoe bucket, which made it easy for us to walk the body down. I placed a red velvet pillow under my father’s feet. His large, fluffy green pillow remained under his head. The new, colorful quilt was draped over and then tucked tightly around him. He looked cozy on his bed of straw.

We uncovered my father’s face temporarily so we could say our final goodbyes. I wrapped a scarf around his neck that my daughter, Tessa, hand knit for him. We brought his two little doggies down to say goodbye, which they did with obvious curiosity and understanding. (Ever since my father arrived here in Colorado, Mike and I had taken over the care of his two furry children. We were reluctant at first, because we already had three big dogs and five cats of our own. That night, his two little dogs understood this would now be their permanent home. Our three became five and we have grown to adore them both. I guess it rounded out our family; five dogs and five cats.)

I read my daughter’s letter and laid it on his chest along with another rose. We each took our turn expressing our love, appreciation, and goodbyes, and then tossed in our rose. We then took the last half of the straw bale and gently separated it and fluffed it on top of him. My brother put in the first shovel of dirt and then all ten of us took turns, until the grave was filled up. Mike then moved the tiki torches on to the grave. It was about 11:00 p.m. when we all stood around the grave holding hands. A sweet prayer was said to release my dad from this earthly life and to send him on his way to the white light and whatever adventure is next for him. Then we all walked back up to the cabin and enjoyed the warmth of a bon fire outside in our fire pit. We shared tales of my father until the wee hours of the morning.

I thought we must have done something right when six of the ten people that were there asked if they could be buried on the property in the same way. I must say that everything about our father’s natural burial was beautiful! Mike and I marveled at how smooth it all went. We were lucky enough to have been given a little forewarning to allow for planning.

In Closing

I know it may seem a bit overwhelming with my step by step account. It truly wasn’t very difficult and just about everyone was as helpful as could be. In the end, our total funeral expense was about $85.00, which even covered the death certificate copies, the Private Burial Affidavit, the red pillow, his new quilt and the dozen roses. Losing a loved one is hard enough. We were happy to remove all the commercialism and have a real “Natural Green Burial”.

Four days later, on Easter Sunday, we gathered some nice rocks from the property and outlined the grave. As I was reflecting on my father’s life and death, I thought of the 12 illnesses and diseases that he had. I thought, “What a strong man my father was!” I envisioned my dad running towards the goal, holding a football, with 12 would-be-tacklers on his back. “Touch down! You made it, Dad! You’re free!!! May you rest in peace.”

Please note that rules and regulations vary from county to county, as well as state to state. So if this is of interest to you, a good place to start would be with your county clerk and local authorities.

Thanks for reading; I’d love to hear from you!

You can read read part one of this story here.

KimAnna Cellura-Shields
Organic Peddler & Peace of Art Café
Del Norte, Colorado