Friends of Green Burial PA: End-of-life planning, sustainably05/10/2022 10:32AM ● By Richard Gaw
Courtesy photo The West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd features a “Natures Sanctuary” meadow that has been converted to a green cemetery.
By Richard L. Gaw
Carin Bonifacino’s father was a person of the earth – a farmer, gardener and wildlife enthusiast who instilled in his daughter a love of nature and the growing of things that burst through the soil.
As Bonifacino and her family prepared funeral arrangements when he died in 2001, they had learned that he had purchased a mausoleum at a cemetery in West Chester years before.
“Nothing about how we handled his body and his death ever felt right to me,” she said. “It devastated me that I had been unable to do more for my father. I did not know at the time that I had the ability to return this man of the earth back to the earth.”
In 2004, Bonifacino began to read about a burgeoning movement known as green burial, a method of determining a final resting place that a final resting place that does not require a concrete vault and encourages the alternative use of biodegradable caskets, shrouds and urns.
“I was floored that this form of burial existed, and that there are places where those who have died are laid directly into the earth, and where families are invited to participate in that process,” she said. “It was around that time that I made a vow to spend a part of my life educating others -- doing the work that I regretted not doing for my father.”
For the past several years, Bonifacino has been an end-of-life doula and death educator who has taught in-person and virtual workshops and classes on a variety of topics related to end-of-life planning. An ordained minister since 2019, she now officiates funerals and memorial services, and as an extension of her work and interest in green burials, she and her co-partners Elaine Brooks and Marguerite Stabosz of Landenberg formed Friends of Green Burial PA in 2021, a non-profit organization whose mission is to educate the public about the green burial option.
On May 14, Friends of Green Burial PA will host a kick-off mixer for the general public from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Kennett Brewing Company.
“Our mission is three-fold,” Bonifacino said. “We want to educate the public about the green burial options, through workshops and events; to create conversation and dialogue around restoring the connections between the living and the dead; and to create more access to green burial by working with cemeteries and land owners who have open space to dedicate to this option.”
Dispelling common myths
One of the most important initiatives facing Friends of Green Burial PA – and for a movement still making headway in a crowded field of other, more traditional end-of-life options – will be to dispel common myths, some of which have already been answered. In 2015, the Green Burial Council published a list of ten commonly-asked questions that help to clear up misconceptions, such as whether wild animals are prone to dig up corpses (No); whether green burials contaminate ground water. (They do not).
“There is confusion expressed by some who claim that by saying ‘Yes’ to a green burial, they are making the choice to throw the traditional funeral model out, such as working with a funeral director,” Bonifacino said. “In truth, most of those who choose a green burial as their end-of-life event go through the exact same protocol as those who choose a traditional burial.”
Currently, three types of green burial cemeteries exist. A hybrid cemetery allows both modern burial and green burial that are usually placed in separate sections of the cemetery; a natural burial ground, that only offers the green burial option; and a conservation burial ground that combines the services of a natural burial ground with the added bonus of land conservation through the participation of an established conservation organization.
While traditional forms of end-of-life options such as casket burials and cremations still hold the lion’s share of the $20 billion annual industry, green burials are slowly gaining ground among the environmentally conscious who see its sustainable benefits. Green burials have a minimal impact on forest depletion, cut down on the use of harmful embalming chemicals and reduce carbon footprint.
In addition, many green burial grounds are maintained in a natural state as wildflower meadows or woodlands or a mixture of both, either in cemeteries who provide the option or on property provided by landowners, and they often include walking oaths that connect with nature.
“Green burial is the simplest, most natural way to return a body to the earth after death,” Bonifacino said. “Friends of Green Burial PA’s mission is to share this sustainable option with all of the people of Pennsylvania in order to see it recognized and accepted as a viable option.
“We want to reach those who feel drawn to gain a better understanding of this end-of-life decision – for themselves, for their loved ones and for the planet Earth.”
The Friends of Green Burial PA will host a kick-off mixer for the general public on May 14 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Kennett Brewing Company.
To learn more about the efforts of The Friends of Green Burial PA, see a list of participating cemeteries and a list of frequently-asked questions, visit www.greenburialpa.org.
To learn more about the green burial movement, visit www.greenburialcouncil.org.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].