The art of living well and dying well are one
The Crestone Cremation Project is a non-denominational community-based group promoting informed end-of-life choices and supporting their fulfilment. Our main work is bringing awareness to the end-of-life process to members of our community, empowering them toward their end-of-life choices and then fulfilling those wishes.
Begun around the ancient process of cremation, CEOLP is without bias towards any end-of-life wish and will gladly assist in all spiritual traditions.
As the great certainty for all humanity is death, how we prepare for this event can determine the dignity of our passing and its legacy for others. By making informed, clearly defined end-of-life choices, we are endowing those who love and wish to care for us to do so with confidence.
CEOLP feels that the threshold of death offers greatest of openings for experiencing and sustaining the entrance of Grace. An intentional death is an opportunity to benefit all everyone in the community. One who has taken responsibility for physical death supports the dying process freer of fear, which translates into readiness for the great opening that the death of this body represents.
a result of the May 2001 cremation on the grounds of Sanctuary House of LaVerne
Howell, the mother of Sanctuary House, and having seen up close the rippling
results of harmony, awe and beauty, Sanctuary House’s Board of Directors are
honored to be sponsoring the Crestone Cremation Project.
Given the growing history of private cremation taking place at various locations in the Baca/Crestone area—by January 2007 there had been at least a dozen cremations in our community—and because of issues of legality and environmental safety, it has seemed appropriate to establish a simple but permanent ecumenical cremation site.
Founder Stephanie Gaines felt the growing interest in cremation needed to be matched by a mindfulness in the details of carrying out such a potentially transformational process, as well as to assist those interested in the approval process, which can be extensive and expensive for individuals attempting the process themselves.
Now that our official open-air cremation site, donated by Dragon Mountain Zen Center, has been approved by the State EPA, the Board of County Commissioners and our local P.O.A council, a permanent location is available to fulfill the need for cremation in the Baca/Crestone area. A healthy and energetic relationship has developed with Rogers Mortuary in Alamosa and also with Hospice del Valle.
In October 2007 CEOLP received permission for four open-air cremations for our first year, though we had requested eight. This year, our second, CEOLP has been re-approved for eight such sacred events.
CEOLP first directs interested parties to fill out Colorado Form 20: The Disposition of Last Remains, or the national document (1-888-594-7437—the Aging with Dignity Organization) entitled “The Five Wishes,” which is a legal document put together by many health professionals.
A trained CEOLP staffer will gladly meet with an interested party who may be in the process of considering which end-of-life route to follow. CEOLP exists to guide people not only through the decision and application/approval processes, but also the details of the cremation event, which, given individual situations—such as a dying person having filled out ‘an organ-donor card’—need special consideration.
After the passing of someone who has registered with us, CEOLP becomes the official funeral director and assists with getting the body of the deceased home from the medical care facility, working with the family so that
• the deceased can be ceremonially washed and anointed by our Care-of-the-Body Team,
• our Family Team can assume any possible burden from the Family,
• our Ceremony Team can work with the family to create a memorable ceremony of open-air cremation, and
• our Site Team and Fire Team can prepare the pyre site and safely carry out the open-air cremation
In nearly every case, the participants have felt the wondrous and transformative energy—of power, of beauty, of humility, of grace—expressed in this way of fulfilling the deceased’s end-of-life wish. The person you are celebrating had difficult last days, keeping strong with a deteriorating mind and dementia, or battling other difficult and of life challenges? Honor him or her if you believe in our process.
While a few voices in the community have expressed environmental concerns, which, added to the growing population here, have made CEOLP’s work even more necessary, the general and larger community has been exceptionally supportive.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the County Land Use and the Baca P.O.A. Fire Department and Ambulance Service have all expressed their gratitude that CEOLP has stepped forward to take responsibility in mindfulness of the process, honoring the environmental regulations, negotiating all application procedures and carrying out this most meaningful final act of love.
INTO THE FUTURE:
CEOLP feels the likelihood of cremation, as an end-of-life choice, will be growing significantly in all parts of our country. Therefore, the hope is that the form, the container, being developed here by CEOLP can be shared with other communities—yet in a flexible manner so that the our model can be molded to any other community’s idiosyncrasies.
CCP is also considering the rising ‘Green Burial movement’, beautifully set forth in environmentalist Mark Harris’ 2006 book, Grave Matters (www.gravematters.com or firstname.lastname@example.org) in which the body is buried without embalmment so that the body fully returns to the ground in a natural piece of land is fully respected and restored.
Cost of funerals and pollution that is created by embalming fluids leaking into ground waters are just two of the numerous effects that need to be considered in our ways of approaching the end-of-life process.
The Home Burial movement is also addressing rising funeral costs in a simple way (www.homeburial.org). Investigating another website www.naturaldeath.com could be worthwhile.
ABOUT OPEN-AIR CREMATION
For centuries, open-air cremation has been the way of caring for a deceased loved one. This traditional ceremony returns the body to the fire and to the air, both symbols of the new spiritual reality of what had previously been known mainly in a physical form. Just as when water evaporates, it changes states, expanding as water vapor into clouds that then send welcome rains to the earth, so the person we knew—by a name, by his or her relationship to us, by a job and various interests, opinions and memories—is now merged with aspects of life that are as large, mysterious and essential as fire and sky.
This ancient, inspirational end-of-life choice involves a pyre, half a cord of wood, a wooden stretcher and a shroud. Local services are held at the Crestone End-of-Life Project’s open-air site.
Receiving a call that someone wishing its services has passed, the CEOLP Family Team assists family members in this often difficult yet rewarding time, and helps create a beautiful home environment in which the deceased can lie in state. The Care of the Body Team assists with washing and anointing the body, and attending to its preservation so that the deceased can with dignity lie in state at home for up to 72 hours, so friends and family to pay their respects. The Ceremony Team is available to help plan a meaningful service.
On the morning of the cremation, the deceased is placed on a wooden palanquin, wrapped in a shroud, and transported to the open-air cremation site, where a ceremony of 90-120 minutes offers a respectful appreciation of the one being celebrated.
1) Is open-air cremation legal?
It is the right of terminally ill individuals to be removed from medical facilities in order to die at home; to be transported home after death rather than to a mortuary; to not be embalmed; and to have an open-air cremation, if elected.
2) Isn’t open-air cremation rather a pagan activity?
While burial in the ground has for generations been considered the norm, a member of any faith tradition can elect open-air cremation. The family is free to invite their chosen representative of the spiritual tradition of the deceased to officiate at the ceremony.
While there, of course, may be traditional, there is nothing scriptural preventing cremation in any of our major faith traditions. Just as we feel drawn by the warmth and beauty of a campfire, so the element of fire is also beautifully employed in the disposition of the body of a loved one.
3) What about unpleasant odors and toxins?
The experience is that there is no odor whatsoever, and, no measurable quantity of toxins given has been found. The feeling of the pristine nature of such an event is quite striking. No open-air cremation can take place for individuals who at their passing are infectious
4) Isn’t the heat rather unbearable?
The site is 64 feet in diameter, so no discomfort is experienced. The fire, contained in a carefully constructed pyre, is managed by the CEOLP Fire Team. The ceremony does not require those present to be close to the pyre.
5) It must be difficult to see the body go up in flames?
Hundreds of our community members have attended an open-air cremation. By their reports, they have not just witnessed a funeral but have participated in a rite of passage that has profoundly spoken to them of the beauty and dignity, the authenticity and sweetness, the intimacy and closeness to the earth, the freedom and mystery of an event that has been undeniably powerful in their lives. The body, wrapped in a shroud, is not visible once laid in the pyre.
6) Is there any danger of fire?
Open-air cremation won’t happen during a significant wind or fire ban. The Fire Marshal determines if open-air cremation can occur, and, if so, a fire truck and two personnel stand at the ready. Open-air cremations are held at the safest time of day (5-7 AM).
7) What is an open-air cremation ceremony like?
The individual family creates whatever ceremony will take place and selects who officiates.
8) Do I have to participate?
Both attendance and participation in the ceremony is up to individual conscience. Nothing is required, and everyone is welcome.
9) What is the cost?
CEOLP is non-profit, asks no fee, and promotes affordable funerals for all. CEOLP makes a donation after each cremation to the Kundalini Fire Department, Dragon Mountain Center, and pays for a cord of wood, such that a $350 donation is asked to cover such expenses, yet no one will be excluded who has elected CEOLP care.