An infant in the woods

(This blog post is written by Walking Each Other Home Member Tanya Mudrick. The experiences and thoughts described here are personal to her and may not reflect those of all WEOH members.)

Six years ago I was over the moon, the happiest I had ever been in my life. My baby was two weeks away from his due date and I had just celebrated with family and friends at a huge picnic/ baby shower.  My wife, 12 year old step-son, and I were very excited to meet this baby.

And then, without warning, the unimaginable happened. I found myself in the hospital hearing the incomprehensible words “ there is no heartbeat.” After a perfectly healthy pregnancy, my baby suddenly died in utero, probably due to an umbilical cord accident. One minute he was alive and the next he was gone. I heard myself say the words “we will have a plan a funeral”. He wasn’t even born yet.

Thankfully, in the years that I had spent working as a midwife and a hospice volunteer I had been exposed to the ideas of family-led (home) funerals and green burials. I knew that I wanted my son to be buried in such a way that his tiny body did as little as possible to harm the earth- no embalming chemicals or concrete vaults and expensive caskets being buried with him. I wanted him returned as gently as possible to the earth.

Incredibly, we had two green cemeteries in surrounding counties to ours. My friend made contact with one of the cemeteries and was told we would need a basket in which to bury our baby. I knew a local basket maker and, while I was birthing my son Oren Jasper, my friend went to ask him for a basket that would be Oren’s first and final cradle.

My community came together to create a community led funeral for me at the cemetery. 70 people were there, at least 1/3 of them children. My step-son’s entire Waldorf school class came to the funeral.

Oren was buried in the woods on an April morning while eagles flew overhead. We sang and cried. He was wrapped in a quilt and his basket was filled with flowers and pine boughs on top of his little body. Everyone helped fill in the grave and place the grave marker. The beauty of the green cemetery and the personal funeral service were immeasurably helpful in the beginning of the healing process after the death of our son.

But the importance of his burial did not end with the last shovel of dirt on the grave. For me as a bereaved parent I go to the cemetery to “parent” my son. I did not have years and years of experiences and memories of him. I never got those. I lost our future together. So my relationship with my son has mostly been created AFTER his death. What an incredible gift then to go to the cemetery in the woods to spend time with my son and to be surrounded by life… trees, flowers, birds, the sound of the wind, the warmth of the sun. This is a huge comfort to me. I am not sitting in a manicured cemetery with rows of headstones and fake flowers being reminded of death. No, I am surrounded by the cycles of the forest. I talk to my son about what is growing and changing around me and about how he is part of all of that. My step-son used to sit by his brother’s grave and make him little toys out of sticks and when the sadness overwhelmed him he could run through the field by the woods or climb a tree.

I never knew how important our decision to bury Oren Jasper in a green cemetery would be; how helpful it would be for our healing.

A place where fall leaves would catch our tears, where we would find solace in bird song and silence, and where we would feel the spirit of our sweet son laughing with the breeze.