Schankman’s St. Louis: Green Burial

    By Paul Schankman

    Gregory “Rory” Meyer was a soft-spoken man with a big heart, who loved music and art, and admired the beauty of nature. He spent his professional life working as a geologist.

    But for all his wonderful qualities, the one thing his family says he never cared to do, was plan.

    So, when he died from skin cancer in 2015 at the age of 62, his family had no idea what he wanted done with his remains.

    “When my husband was in hospice, I said to my daughter Anne, [Rory and I] did not have that conversation and I have no idea what he wants,” said Cheryll Meyer, Rory’s widow. “I just felt that it needed to be something different than the traditional funeral burial.”

    While reviewing their options, Anne Meyer, remembered hearing about something called Green Burial being offered at Bellefontaine Cemetery, and she thought it would give the family a chance to handle Rory’s death in a way that reflected what he loved in life.

    “Actually, Green Burial has been around forever if you really think about it,” said Gracie Griffin, Vice President of Customer Relations at Bellefontaine Cemetery in North St. Louis. “People have been burying green for as long as people have been here on earth.”

    Green burial simply means caring for the dead with minimal impact on the environment.

    The body is buried in a biodegradable container like a wicker casket or a simple shroud. There is no concrete vault.

    There is also no embalming, which releases toxic chemicals into the ground.

    Historic Bellefontaine Cemetery is the only St. Louis cemetery certified by the Green Burial Council.

    Green burials are also less expensive than a conventional funeral, and even greener than cremation, which uses a lot of energy and also releases toxins through the ashes.

    “This to me feels far more organic and less like a sealing of a coffin or a grave,” said Anne. “He’s just in the ground and I don’t feel so far away from him,” she said.

    At Bellefontaine, a person can be buried “green” in the main part of the cemetery with a headstone, or without a marker in a part of the cemetery recently converted into a grassy prairie called Evergreen Meadow.

    “We give them GPS coordinates so that they are able to find the location of their loved one but, really the idea is that their loved one is planted in this meadow, and then the meadow will grow up on and around them so they are just a part of this ecosystem,” said Griffin. “It’s not so much about visiting the individual as it is visiting that area and allowing them to be a part of something.”

    Along with being more environmentally friendly, green burials are also more family friendly. In most cases, the deceased’s loved ones blanket the body with greens and flowers picked for them at the cemetery, before lowering, and sometimes burying, the body themselves.

    “It is sort of a nice way to tuck that person in and gently place that first layer on top of them. It helps families with the closure on the physical aspect of death,” Griffin said.

    For the Meyer family, coming to Evergreen Meadows is less like visiting a cemetery and more like going on a nature hike, where every flower and tree makes them feel connected to Rory.

    “He was the first in Evergreen Meadow. Now, he was some neighbors,” said Cheryll. “It was fun to have him start something that hopefully a lot of people will follow.”

    Cheryll will follow Rory when the time comes in Evergreen Meadow as well.

    “I told [them] to sign me up and put me right next to him, so yeah there is a spot for me,” said Cheryll.

    Some believe the “old” method of burial is a bit archaic.

    “We know that we have more people on the planet than we ever have had, and the manner in which we bury them feels a bit toxic to me,” Anne said. “We truly we can give back even after we are gone.”

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