End-of-life doula speaks to choice at Green Burial Society AGM

By Sue Tiffin

Adriane Weller’s curiosity in understanding better what the end-of-life time might be like has led to a passion to encourage others to become informed of their options and prepared to plan in advance of their own death.

On April 28, Weller – an end-of-life doula – was the guest speaker at the first annual general meeting held by the Haliburton Highlands Green Burial Society, where she presented on “How to Plan a Green Burial.”

Weller has a 45-year connection to the Algonquin Highlands – her longtime family cottage was located just down the cove from Terry and Shirley Moore, whose son Kyle Moore died in 2019. The HHGBS evolved from an Environmental Haliburton project to honour the environmental legacy of Kyle, who wished for a green burial but was unable to have one in Haliburton County. The organization has been supported with thousands of dollars of donations by interested individuals supporting the establishment of year-round green burial options in Haliburton County.

A green burial can involve a lack of preserving chemicals or embalming, a choice of shroud or biodegradable caskets with no grave liner or vault, and burial grounds with minimal landscaping, restoration of grave sites with native plants and alternative means of commemoration rather than tombstones.

Though green burial sites are increasing in popularity, with some Ontario cemeteries including in Picton, Niagara Falls and Cobourg offering green or natural burial, they are not yet considered mainstream so Weller said it’s essential for people to become informed of what their options might be, and advocate for their wishes. In a reference packet she distributed to attendees of the HHGBS AGM, she notes that around natural burial considerations, “there are other possibilities that may be meaningful or important considerations for you in fulfilling your vision, some of which may require more investigation and or advocacy,” some of these possibilities including grave opening and closing by hand, and a shallower grave depth – three to four feet rather than five to six feet – that would allow for more efficient decomposition.

“This all started for me from my own curiosity in understanding all of these things,” she told the Echo. “It was my own self-education. I didn’t find a one-stop shop where I could go and get all of this to the level of detail that I wanted, all of this education to inform me so I could go and achieve and create what I wanted to go and achieve and create. There aren’t standalone natural burial grounds in Ontario yet, so at a minimum people are looking at hybrid cemeteries, and even from cemetery to cemetery, the depth of involvement and engagement that different cemeteries have varies by cemetery – what one defines as green burial might not be the same as another.”

Weller said being able to support people to be well-educated and empowered to make end-of-life choices for themselves is something that’s very meaningful, noting that everyone’s circumstance is different – while some people just want to be pointed to the right resources, others want to be able to engage in more conversation about it, and many want to know where to begin in planning or how to ask questions of cemetery managers and funeral directors about what they might offer. What’s important is that people know they have access to resources, knowledge, and clarity to move forward in a way that works for them, she said.

“There’s so many layers of possible understanding, and some people just want to know they’re not going to be embalmed, and other people would be interested in all of this and it would actually make it really meaningful for them in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to have,” she said. “In my experience, being able to engage with our own or our loved one’s death in a way that is so much more personally meaningful really transforms the whole experience. And that’s why, this is the passion I have in this, is finding ways to help us as a society and a culture become more engaged in death and find more meaning in it, because I find that really transforms the experience for the person dying and it can for those that are still living as well.”

As an end-of-life doula, Weller is trained to provide non-medical, holistic support – whether that be emotional support, spiritual support, physical comfort, or practical support – to individuals and families through illness or dying, or death, or after death. Each individual brings to their work their own level of interest, experience and background, said Weller.

“For me personally I think advance education, preparation, planning, understanding, all of those are really, really valuable for people who are interested, and I also feel similarly that after the time of death there are still a lot of possibilities people don’t know we have in Ontario, including the legal opportunity for family-led death care,” she said.

In the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act – the main piece of legislation that covers death care in Ontario – families are legally able to provide after-death care services for their family in many cases, said Weller, which she thinks is generally not known by most people.

“What this section of the legislation asserts is that families have the right to undertake some of the same activities that funeral directors might undertake, but they can do it for their own loved ones, their own deceased,” she said. “So that would include things like spending more time with the deceased’s body. In most cases this is possible, not all depending on the circumstance of the death, but in most cases this is possible.”

A body can be kept in a home or returned to a home so family can spend more time with the deceased, as well as take part in basic caring for a deceased’s body – washing, bathing, preparation. Families are able to submit the paperwork to register the death themselves if they choose, and have the right to transport a deceased body as well as host funerals, ceremonies or services in their home or on their property.

“These are actually legal options for families in Ontario, and most of us don’t know that, and most of us don’t know how to do it well,” she said.
A chart on Page 8 of the Guide to Death Care in Ontario, published by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario, shows what services can be provided by service providers, including the family of the deceased.

“I find that chart really useful because it’s like a snapshot, and it’s also coming from the regulatory body for this legislation for our province,” said Weller. “It indicates from a high-level view what families are able to undertake should they choose. It’s very much, because it’s so unusual nowadays and foreign for most of us in our culture, education is a huge, huge component of this. It’s really something that can be a lot harder to do, if it’s not thought about or planned for in advance. Especially again, sort of like green burial, because there’s still misunderstanding about it in the wider community, in a lot of cases, that it’s not uncommon for people to be misinformed or told that it’s something they can’t do but in fact they can.”

Weller said she supports people who want to have a traditional funeral and burial, and also those who want to pursue a different option that is also legally available but most wants people to understand there is choice so people can be well-informed in making the best decision for themselves.

“Whatever choices people are making, to me there seems to be this veil of mystery that isn’t serving us as a culture in really engaging with death care, and we will be healthier regardless of whether it’s conventional or natural choices that people make, we as a society will actually be healthier when we re-engage with death for its humanity and for its place in our social fabric,” said Weller. “These are all, I think, pieces of that – for people to ask questions, to get quality, accurate answers, and then to make their most personal, meaningful choices from that place.”

She is proud of the Moore’s contribution to the community in pursuing local green burial options and helping to educate residents as to choices available.

“It’s a gift to have a green burial society in a local community, I think, for people who are interested in this,” said Weller. “I think for people who are interested to continue to voice that interest within the community, whether that’s through the municipality or local providers, that’s all very helpful to making these things more mainstream. To encourage people to not be afraid to reach out, to make themselves well-resourced … it’s a real challenge when there’s a lot of information out there but it’s not all accurate, to help discern that for people.”

The Haliburton Highlands Green Burial Society is actively looking for members as well as potential board members. For more information visit haliburtongreenburial.ca or contact the HHGBS at hhgreenburialsociety@gmail.com. For more information about services offered by Adriane Weller, contact adrianeweller@hotmail.com.