Last week, we published the first part of our interview with Stephanie, whose organization CEOLP operates one of the nation’s only legal open-air cremation sites. Today we find out a bit more about the Colorado site and the experiences of Crestone residents and their loved ones.
Liz: How has the Crestone community received the CEOLP’s open-air cremation site?
Stephanie: To begin the process, I held a public meeting in the fall of 2005, and we began to circulate petitions for community support at fairs, the post office, etc. We had phenomenal support from our community. The only people who were concerned about us were the residents whose land somewhat adjoined the site, though they were more than a quarter mile away. At first they argued with us, but we responded to every item on their agenda. They are now our friends. That kind of response was really good at enabling us to have more clarity. We always say that people who resist us are our greatest teachers.
Liz: Can you describe what the experience of the cremation ceremony is like, particularly for the families?
Stephanie: Many people in Crestone have family living elsewhere, and when they hear about their loved one’s advance directive for open-air cremation, they’re usually horrified. One thing we stipulate is that people should discuss their choice with their family. We encourage family members to call us with questions. We try to keep the person’s final days calm and mindful, and we want that to continue after death.
We’ve had many people attend the ceremony with some apprehension, and leave transformed by the sacred experience. It’s a profound awakening for family members, to witness the transformation, the nature of that person emerging and radiating, especially if they had been suffering. The ceremony is very beautiful, a whole ritual. We greet guests as they come and give them juniper. The body arrives with everyone lined up on either side of the pathway. There is a procession up to the site, circumambulating the pyre. The whole thing is so beautiful, in this beautiful site looking at the mountains. Just witnessing, being present and witnessing, is so transformative for people. Witnessing in itself becomes a support.
Liz: What advice would you give our SevenPonds readers who are preparing for their own end-of-life?
Stephanie: Our educational branch stresses the importance of completing one’s advance directives. We all know we’ll die, but we don’t know when. It’s very important to have a dialogue with family and friends as well. On the other side of that, and this is what SevenPonds helps with, I think people should start forming groups that are prepared to serve one another: groups who know how to care for the body, who know how to get the materials you’ll need, who will train each other, who know how to fill out a death certificate if you plan to have a home funeral. Educate yourself and come together in a group to serve each other and prepare for the most important transition of our lives. It’s so beautiful if there’s a community of people, people who love you, who are prepared and able to serve you in a mindful and competent way.
Liz: Thank you so much, Stephanie, for this enlightening conversation!