Thursday, October 14, 2010

Giving back, even in death: Thoughts on making the 'green' burial story

Steve's son, David, takes a moment after the funeral service to take in his father's grave.

I wrote this for the AP's Facebook page, but unsure if they're going to use it, so here it is: 

During a busy afternoon editing, I got the unexpected call. On the other line was Teri Sall, the wife of an Oregon man with ALS I had met three months earlier. Her husband, Steve Sall, had chosen to be buried in a forest, in a so-called "green burial."

When I answered the phone, I asked her how she was. Not good, she said, Steve had died the night before.

Reporters often deal with the aftermath of death. From a brief on a fatal car accident to more shocking events where people lose their lives. Journalist in zones of danger and war see death even closer.

I've covered vigils, funerals, and memorials _ it never gets easy to talk to people who have lost a loved one.

Teri's call was different. The fact alone she called me was different. I had met Teri and Steve in June of this year. Along with their son, David, they had allowed me to follow them with a video camera while Steve picked a burial spot in a private nature reserve in southcentral Washington.

"Green" burials are a small but growing section of funeral services in the United States. People who chose green burials are hoping to be buried in an environmentally friendly manner. That means no concrete vault, steel or extravagant wood coffins and no chemicals to preserve the body.

Steve had been a hiker all his life, a lover of the outdoors. His eyes often lit up while touring the burial grounds.

By the time I met him, ALS had fully claimed the use of his speech and most of his muscles. He communicated using a pencil and a laminated piece of paper with a grid filled with letters and conjunctions. Teri would look at where he pointed and read his thoughts.

Through the process, Steve kept a sense of humor. Asked why he wanted a green burial, he said he wanted to "branch out."

Three months later I met Teri again, this time to bury her husband. All I hoped at the moment was to not get in the way of the family and tried to be as transparent as possible.

For me, seeing a family go through painful, but necessary grieving process, and to see a wife and son lose their beloved father, was something I hadn't experienced before in my career.

They had allowed me and the public into what is a very private ritual, and for that, I am especially grateful.

Rest in peace, Steve _ may your atoms become trees.

Read the AP story here.

Back in June, I met the family as they picked the plot.
I could see Steve's humor come through as we walked around the preserve.

David and Teri stand on what will become Steve's burial spot.

The flag that marked Steve's spot.

Big sunflowers for the burial ceremony.

Friends and family of Steve hiked a mile to the burial site.

Laying him to rest.

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