Bob and Connie Frerichs recently celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary.
The couple have shared a lifetime of memories as they enter their twilight years, and with no way to know when their time together may come to an end, they are faced with an inevitable question: How do they want to be buried after they die?
Both have separate family cemetery plots downstate, but they couldn’t agree on a location. The man of the house already had chosen cremation, while the mother of two boys wanted a more “traditional” burial.
“He didn’t want to come to my [family cemetery plot], and I didn’t want to go to his,” said Connie Frerichs, 70. “We knew we needed to come to an agreement on this because we want to be buried together.”
The Crystal Lake couple later attended a local seminar on natural burials, an alternative to traditional burials where, depending on the client’s wishes, the deceased are laid to rest without embalming fluids, concrete vaults or caskets.
They now have reserved an area at Windridge Memorial Park and Nature Sanctuary in Cary, one of three places in the state to offer natural burials, where his ashes will be sprinkled over his wife, who will be placed on a board and wrapped in a biodegradable shroud.
“The whole process just seems more peaceful and inviting than traditional cemeteries,” said Connie Frerichs, who in the past three years has buried her mother and brother. “This protects the environment and will provide a serene resting place for us when we’re gone.”
The choice provides an environmentally safe and simple resting place for the deceased. Natural and green burials are becoming a more popular option for those nearing or planning for death, according to local burial experts.
The Green Burial Council, a nonprofit that encourages environmentally sustainable burial, represents 300 approved providers throughout North America. And a 2008 study by Kates-Boylston Publications, funeral industry publishers, found that 43 percent of those surveyed would consider a green burial.
Windridge Cemetery has offered natural burials for more than 15 years.
The 200 or so designated plots for natural burials are located along two trails on the 48-acre site, which also offers traditional burials. The cemetery is more than 90 percent full, and 6 additional acres are in the process of being turned into natural and green burial areas.
The cemetery now hosts at least one natural burial a week, said Eric Moen, family service counselor at Windridge.
“So many people come to us not knowing they have choices other than a vault or mausoleum,” Moen said. “Mindsets have been changing over the years to a more green-friendly approach. This alternative choice is very appealing to many people.”
One section designated for natural burials at the cemetery is designed for people to come in and tend to their loved ones. The deceased are buried in shrouds or biodegradable boxes, and family members place natural stones instead of monuments, as well as small benches or other personal effects, to customize the plot.
If they chose cremation, a newer, more environmentally friendly process exists, and their ashes are buried in an urn, or even scattered a few feet underground, some without any markings at all.
“It’s a very healing process for our families,” Moen said. “These people come out and tend to the graves of their loved ones.”
The other designated natural burial section, called the “deep woods,” is for people who want their loved ones to rest in peace.
“It is very natural,” Moen said. “They are left there for nature to take its course.”
When the green burial section is complete, clients will be able to bury their loved ones only with green-friendly items, which do not include bronze plaques on natural stones or metal hinges on caskets, to name a few.
The growth in popularity has reached its way to local funeral homes such at Davenport Family Funeral Homes and Crematory, which recently added a green burial package.
As with most natural or green burials, the package is less expensive because customers save on embalming and the common concrete vault the casket is placed in, among funeral costs.
The funeral itself costs less because with most natural or green burials, family and friends usually say goodbye to their loved ones the same day, said Jack Davenport, owner of the funeral home, which has locations in Barrington and Crystal Lake.
The business also uses Windridge for its burials.
“It’s an old concept that has been reborn with the environmentally conscious folks,” Davenport said. “Everything lately seems to cycle back to simpler times.”
Members of the Midwest Green Burial Society advocate for natural and green burials by hosting seminars, workshops and consultations with Chicago-area residents.
“Human beings have existed for thousands of years, and natural burials are the traditional burials,” said Caroline Vuyadinov, executive director at the society. “People want things simply done and want to be kind to the earth.”
If you go
What: A natural burial seminar, by Eric Moen, family service counselor at Windridge Memorial Park and Nature Sanctuary in Cary
When: 11 a.m. July 27
Where: Evolve, 54 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake