I debated about sharing this post on my blog since it talks about an uncomfortable topic – the end of life and choosing your final resting place. After giving it some thought, I decided my recent experience on the topic might be helpful to others. If you’re like me, you don’t like to think about dying. We want to live forever if we can live happily.
As a kid I’d ask my mom how she felt about growing older and getting closer to her last days. Her answer always puzzled me. My mom was never afraid, and she didn’t mind aging. She assured me she enjoyed every stage of her life. Each decade of life is different and enjoyable in a new way. I decided then and there I wanted to adopt her attitude about death and aging.
Now this may seem silly to some, but I’ve always known I don’t want to be buried in a casket. When I was five years old I got stuck in a steamer trunk and feared I’d never get out and my mom would have to feed me bits of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches through the holes of the trunk. Luckily my best friend’s sister figured out how to open the trunk, but I’ve been claustrophobic ever since. And so, the thought of my body being stuck in a casket kind of freaks me out.
So, I was intrigued when I saw an ad where they put your ashes in a large vase of sorts with a tree planted in it. I loved the idea of my body becoming nutrition for the tree as it pulled nutrients out of the soil. The only problem with that end of life option is you have to get permission to plant that tree somewhere. This seemed like too much to fuss with. Then I heard about Better Place Forests and I knew this was the place for me after I pass on. (Better Place Forests didn’t compensate me for this post, in case you’re wondering.)
You choose a tree in one of their forests where your ashes, mixed with soil, are spread at the base of the tree during a ceremony you or your family plans. Wildflower seeds can be sewn on top. A small round marker is then placed there so that friends and family can find you if they wish to visit and pay respects. This seems like such an organic and eco-friendly option to me. Your burial takes up less space than a casket and the forest is pretty and peaceful, full of life and nature.
A few months ago, hubby and I chose to have our ashes placed at the base of this red oak tree (center of photo above) during an online tour of the Rock River forest location. The forest wasn’t open at the time, but we selected a tree anyway, knowing we could switch trees once we could actually visit in person. Well, we got to do that this past weekend. I was excited about the trip while hubby was a little nervous and creeped out by the thought of seeing where his remains would be placed to rest. I figured death is inevitable and wouldn’t it be better to choose our final resting place now so our kids don’t have to make those decisions when they might be emotionally distraught?
This beautiful and peaceful gravel road leads from the main entrance into the heart of the Better Place Forest located along the Rock River in Oregon, Illinois. It’s about an hour-drive from our house. I was immediately at peace when we entered and was impressed by the subtle, quiet beauty.
The Rock River forest isn’t officially open for ash-spreading yet. They still need to do some clearing of areas and create more paths, but we were able to see the grounds in person since we had already selected a tree.
This building will eventually become the welcome center. It previously served as the home of a local author who would go to the top of the house to gaze out the window facing the river for writing inspiration. The house still needs some renovation work, but it’s a cute place.
Here’s the rear of the home with its big windows and treetop balcony.
This is the side of the home/welcome center that faces the river.
We walked the trail through the various sections of the forest with our tour guide. She first took us to the red oak we had chosen during our online tour. Initially, we wanted a tree with a view of the river for our family to enjoy when/if they ever visit the forest. We saw other trees we considered but toward the end of the tour we came to a clearing of sorts and saw this beautiful shagbark hickory tree with the sun shining on its canopy. Hubby spotted it first.
Look at its beautiful bark. When I was a kid I attended Camp Hickory named after all the nearby hickory trees. I was always fascinated by the bark of this tree so when we saw tree #1655, I felt connected to it. There’s also more of a clearing around the base of the tree than the red oak. So we switched our choice of tree to this one for our final resting place.
Available trees have a small, round green metal marker on it with a number. The trees are inspected by an arborist to make sure they’re free of disease. The cost of the tree depends on its location and size. If any of our children wish to have their ashes placed here with us, they can do so. You can also have your pet’s ashes spread at the base of the tree.
The shagbark hickory produces nuts that squirrels and other small critters can eat or bury. Hubby liked the idea of squirrels being able to get nourishment from our tree.
In the fall, the leaves of the shagbark hickory turn bright yellow.
The Rock River is a beautiful area. Better Place Forests has other locations throughout the U.S. and continues to add new forests.
And so, I’m happy with our decision to have our final resting place at the base of a beautiful tree in a private forest. I’m also happy that this option is less expensive (depending on the tree) than a traditional burial. Not to mention, it’s a more environmentally-friendly option. I feel at peace about it and have to admit that the thought of my remains fertilizing a tree makes death seem a lot less scary; my exit from the world will benefit nature in a small way.
“… to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called mighty oaks, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor.” Isaiah 61:3
You can watch this video if you’re interested in learning more about it: