Quadra Island Cemetary. Google Maps

Quadra Island group encouraging a different way of approaching death and dying

Natural burials and open discussions about death supported

This is the time of year when we poke our tongues at death even as we are confronted by its utterly perplexing mystery!

It’s a festive time when folks dress as ghosts and goblins, create cemeteries on their lawns, and the topic of death enters conversations in a roundabout and often entertaining fashion. Some customs have it that the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest at this time of year.

Members of a Quadra Island organization thought it appropriate to use this season to tell you more about what is happening in regard to living and relating to death and dying on Quadra Island.

Although death, dying and grief affect us all, they rarely enter everyday conversation. In talking more openly about death, dying, and grief, many of us have become more comfortable with these topics and, paradoxically, more open to life, according to a press release from Matthew Kelly and Melanie Circle for Way to Go. Way to Go is a local Quadra group who provide a place for such important matters to be openly discussed. For over five years, they have been meeting on the third Monday evening of each month.

Many people don’t know much about the expectations and protocols around death, and are often catapulted into a realm they find difficult to navigate, Kelly and Circle say. We may find ourselves going along with a status quo way of planning a burial, for example, that doesn’t line up with our values or the values of a loved one who has died. Because of this, Way to Go folks have been motivated to provide choices for the community that builds upon what currently exists. At Way to Go meetings, which everyone in the community is welcome to attend, they devote a half hour to death-related sharing, a half hour to learn more about a related topic, and a half hour to move projects forward in the community.

They have learned about topics such as care-giving, estate planning, organ donation, ways to hasten death, psychedelics to aid terminal distress, natural burial, and many more. At Way to Go meetings, which everyone in the community is welcome to attend, they devote a half hour to death-related sharing, a half hour to learn more about a related topic, and a half hour to move projects forward in the community.

They have learned about topics such as care-giving, estate planning, organ donation, ways to hasten death, psychedelics to aid terminal distress, natural burial, and many more.

You can join them at the Quadra Community Centre for their next meeting on Nov. 15 from 7:15 – 8:45 p.m.

We can say “death is a part of life” but until we bring it back into the stream of everyday living, it remains separate. In days’ past, loved ones cared for their own at death, supported by friends and neighbours. This intimate way of caring for our own at death is still possible, but many of us have not experienced this close familial and community participation aren’t aware of what is possible.

Community-Led Death Care is a group of trained Quadra Island volunteers who are ready, on short notice, to provide practical and emotional support to those approaching or navigating death. They help families, friends, or individuals prepare for and navigate death in a personal and hands-on way.

Tending to the body of our loved one, being with them, and accompanying them to the grave or cremation chamber, can be heart-wrenching. It can also be a beautiful time of open hearts and healing. These momentous tasks provide us an opportunity to open up to grief, be held by our community, and be present to life in a very real and sometimes cathartic way. For many, participating in the care of their dead loved one’s body, to the extent they are able, with support, feels right.

Through the advocacy of Way to Go, the Quadra Island Cemetery Society, now grants a section of the island’s cemetery for natural, or green, burial. In most natural burials, the un-embalmed body, clothed or wrapped in biodegradable material such as cotton, linen, or wool, and optionally placed in a locally sourced biodegradable box, is laid to rest in a four-foot grave. This depth ensures the body will not be disturbed by wildlife yet allows for rapid microbial decomposition. Native shrubs and trees are planted, or encouraged to grow, reclaiming the occupied grave, which is minimally maintained. A biodegradable marker is often placed on the grave, and each person buried in this section of the cemetery is commemorated in a nearby communal memorial structure.

This describes the practice of most natural burial cemeteries, including their neighbours in Campbell River, Cumberland, Denman and Cortes Islands. Essential aspects of natural burial are now available on Quadra Island, and the group continues to advocate toward the option to forgo a casket and allow burial at four feet of depth. In time, a robust community forest grows, “guarded” by the dead…into perpetuity.

This past summer, Quadra island community-led death care volunteers supported a family as they tended to the body of their loved one and laid her to rest, as she requested, in a personal way in the natural burial section of the Quadra Cemetery. Volunteers also very recently helped one of our community members achieve what he requested – his body was returned to the earth he worked hard to protect, as simply and naturally as is currently possible on Quadra.

May Halloween be a time for us to have fun with the dark side of life, as well as acknowledge that it scares many of us. Talking about death, learning about it, and providing more choices around how to navigate it is empowering—that’s surely the “Way to Go.”

Campbell River