Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

December 7, 2012

Another View

Grave Decisions

Charlotte Shivvers

Knoxville —  

We don’t often think of them as “grave decisions.”  But they really are.  Brave decisions, too.

I was reminded of  this by reading the Knoxville Journal-Express a few weeks ago (good paper to read) and noting an article on the front page that told of a Knoxville funeral director seeking a zoning permit to build a crematorium in Knoxville.  I was amazed.  

As a retired Unitarian Universalist minister, I remember that when I served in Los Angeles, Omaha, and Kansas City, almost all the people for whom I conducted a memorial service had opted that their bodies be cremated.  But back here where open country prevails and where beautiful grave yards stretch over rolling hills, I hadn’t heard much of cremation.  In fact in Marion County where I’ve joined those long funeral processions that carry dear ones out to a chosen spot of earth, I’ve admired country cemeteries.  Oak trees protect the sloping hillsides of Indiana Chapel Cemetery where my grandparents rest near Attica.  My other grandparents are closer to the land they farmed as they rest in Lincoln Cemetery.  They made grave, time-honored decisions as they chose those burial sites, decisions that had to be made years before their own passing when their child died and needed a final resting place.

A few years ago my husband, Bob, and I spoke with one Knoxville funeral home about our own “brave  decisions”  I was surprised when the undertaker told us that as many as 20 percent of his clients chose cremation.  

And I was surprised – also pleased – that a brave mortician here wanted to have a crematorium.  I’d recently realized, “If we keep on dying and burying ourselves at the current rate, one day our graveyards will take more land than cornfields.  Will that help feed the world?”

But that’s not why I’d like my own remains to turn to ash before touching earth.  My own “brave decision” right now has my ashes scattered in many places, from the Pacific shore that Bob has chosen, to favored grave sites here.  My final word to my children is, “Take them home and put them in your gardens.”  Good fertilizer, I hope (and joining a garden is one way to go on living).

I remember reading once that treatment of the dead distinguishes we humans from our close relatives in the animal kingdom.  Going way back, our human race has treated its dead with respect – from funeral pyres, to river placement, to country graveyards.  We here in Marion County show respect by supporting our Cemetery Commission as it protects pioneer cemeteries – worn grave sites out amidst the cornfields.

May it continue.  The newspaper article reported that this request for zoning to allow for a crematorium had been denied.  Perhaps just not an appropriate setting, certainly not wanted by neighbors.  But crematoria can be places of love and honor, and they will come one day to Marion County.  The decision is hard because it touches those “grave decisions:”  First, accepting that all of us will die.  Second, realizing we need to plan ahead so our remains will get respectful care as they wait patiently to turn to dust.