Alternative to traditional burial gains popularity

Published 3:39 pm Monday, December 29, 2008

Dressed in jeans, Croc flip-flops, his favorite T-shirt and a hooded sweatshirt, Justin Borek was buried just like he lived.

“Justin was not about the pomp and circumstance of life and that is why he wanted a green burial,” said his stepmother, Jennifer Borek of Hernando. “It was simple and peaceful just like Justin.”

Green burial can mean either cremation or a burial with no embalming, placing the deceased in a biodegradable wooden box or a shroud. No casket or vault are used.

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It is an alternative to traditional funerals that is gaining in popularity. Worldwide, many are choosing green burials as more personal and environmentally friendly goodbyes.

“Green burial is not new. What is new is the environmental part of it. Green burial is simply an old practice that people are seeing new value in,” said Joshua Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance in South Burlington, Vt.

Slocum said a decade ago, green burials were unheard of. Now, funeral providers are getting many more calls from people who want information about them.

“This is something our great-grandparents did,” Slocum said. “In fact, our great-grandparents would gasp at the expense and showiness of traditional funerals today instead of a simple, old-fashioned one like green burials.”

Brett Borek said he honored his son’s wishes for a green burial after the 20-year-old died Oct. 29 from injuries in a car accident on U.S. 51 in Hernando.

“He saw green burials on the Discovery Channel and did the research and told us that is how he wanted to be buried when the time came,” said his father. “We just didn’t know it would come this soon, but we did what he asked.”

The family contacted Hernando Funeral Home owner Brent Taylor to handle the arrangements.

Taylor said this was his first request for a green burial in 20 years as a funeral director.

Working closely with Justin’s family, Taylor had to find a cemetery that would accept a green burial.

The city cemetery in Hernando told him green burials weren’t allowed, so he turned to a rural cemetery, Goodrum in Eudora, about 10 miles from Hernando, and the owners readily agreed.

Finding a cemetery that allows green burials is the hardest part of natural burials, said Kimberley Campbell, who along with her husband, Billy, founded the green-burial firm Memorial Ecosystems Inc. in South Carolina in 1996.

The Campbells also started a green cemetery, the 33-acre Ramsey Creek Preserve in Westminster, S.C.

“The great thing about green burials is it is simply a return to good common sense,” Campbell said.

She said the cost of a traditional funeral including cemetery can range upward to $16,000. At Ramsey Creek, the cemetery charges from $2,800 to $6,000.

Funeral home services cost the Boreks $5,600, compared to the $7,000 national average. For them, it was not about the cost. It was about making Justin’s burial an extension of his personality.

The oldest of five children, Justin took classes at Northwest Community College and was a server at River Oaks and Timbeaux’s in Hernando.

“He was well-read. He was a beatnik artist,” said his father. “He wore mismatched socks and his T-shirts inside out just because he could. He was unapologetic with no malice.”

Wrapped in a muslin cloth that his family picked out, Justin was laid to rest on Halloween.

His body was placed on a plywood platform and lowered into a grave sheltered by an old cedar tree.

Next to him, his dad placed a cigar that he planned to smoke with his oldest son on his 21st birthday, Nov. 13. His stepmother put sunflowers, his favorite flower, beside him.

“I am telling you, that was one of the sweetest and most reverent services I have seen in a long time,” Taylor said. “We are in the buckle of the Bible Belt and traditional funerals are the norm. But green burials are merely another form.

“It is not up to us to judge. It is my job to take the family’s request and celebrate a life that’s been lived.”