• Veterans receive support through annual event

    Sgt. Robert Gordon, who served five years in the US Army Airborne Rangers and then joined the US Army, talks about how Operation First Response helped him and his family as the keynote speaker during the sixth annual Walk for the Wounded Saturday, Sept. 27 on the Ocean City Boardwalk.

    OCEAN CITY — Sgt. Robert Gordon had just completed Army Ranger training when terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. After five years and three tours as an airborne Ranger in Afghanistan and Iraq, he returned home only to be diagnosed with thyroid cancer, a result of exposure to radiation.

  • GALLOWAY – In recognition of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Atlantic Medical Imaging is offering free screening mammograms in October to women age 40 or older who are uninsured.

    Eligible women must have no current or previous breast health issues.

  • OCEAN CITY — A campaign aimed at preventing drug abuse and promoting a healthy lifestyle will kick off with a billboard unveiling noon Monday, Sept. 29 on the south side of the 34th Street Bridge in Marmora.

    The campaign is called “Did You Know,” and the billboard will host a different message each month. Organizers hope that the message on the billboard will spark conversation between parents and teenagers.

  • Andrew Gesler gets airborne. (Image courtesy Dark Fall Productions)Can a hipster be cured?

    Andrew Gesler of Ocean City and Margate’s Alex DePhillipo have weighed in on the question with a new film, which premiered this summer, and the prognosis isn’t good.

    It’s called “Death 2 Hipsters,” and it’s a surf movie comedy.

    Being cool, and the attended marketing of whatever coolness is, seems to be taking over surfing, said Gesler in a recent interview. Major fashion companies are reaching into surf culture.

    The folks who put together the local surf movie “Dark Fall” wanted to try something new, a surf satire.

  • OCEAN CITY — Property owners in Ocean City are now prohibited from planting bamboo in their yards as council unanimously approved a ban on the invasive plant at its Sept. 25 meeting.

    The ordinance, introduced by council Aug. 28, will prohibit property owners and tenants from planting bamboo — described as running or clumping varieties — on any property in Ocean City. It also requires the owner and occupant of a property where bamboo currently exists to confine the plant to prevent it from spreading to neighboring properties.

  • OCEAN CITY — A new three-year contract with the Ocean City Education Association was unanimously approved by the Ocean City Board of Education at its Wednesday, Sept. 24 meeting.

    During the meeting, there was no discussion by the board regarding the memorandum of understanding with the teachers union, which is effective July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2017. However, details of the contract were released to The Gazette the following day.

Act Naturally > The rise of the eco-friendly burial

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The rise of the eco-friendly burial The rise of the eco-friendly burial

This ‘back-to-the-earth movement’ does away with embalming and even coffins

Until the early 20th century, the majority of Americans died at home, in their beds, in the company of their families. After death, the family anointed the body, sat by it for a period of mourning, then carried it to a final resting place, which sometimes was literally the “family plot.” The container of choice usually was a rough-hewn wooden box, and the dear departed left this world most naturally, with little preparation beyond washing and dressing and a little sprucing up. Oftentimes families even dispensed with the coffin, and put their loved ones in the ground wrapped only in a burial cloth.

Things began to change during the Civil War, when embalming made it possible for soldiers killed in battle to be preserved in all kinds of weather until they could be transported back home. Undertakers hung out their shingles, and the process of dying and being laid to rest slipped behind closed doors. By the 20th century, the transition from life to death – once a normal part of the human experience – was shrouded in secrecy, and left to the “professionals:” doctors, nurses, morticians and funeral directors.

Now the ultimate “back-to-the-earth” movement is bringing back the natural funeral – without concrete vaults and marble mausoleums, without embalming, without expensive bronze and mahogany caskets, and sometimes with no box at all.

A Green Burial Expo will be held Saturday, May 14, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Steelmantown Cemetery, 101 Steelmantown Road, adjacent to Belleplain State Forest in Woodbine. The only cemetery in New Jersey certified by the nonprofit Green Burial Council, Steelmantown is one of only a dozen or so wholly “green” burial grounds in the country (more and more cemeteries are adding green sections; they’re then known as “hybrids”).

The 10-acre cemetery, a dedicated burial site since the 1700s, “is more about life than death,” says owner Ed Bixby, who acquired the property in 2007. “People who choose this kind of burial are making a final statement about life.”

That statement may be about simplicity, and eschewing some of the costs associated with conventional funerals; it may be about conservation and environmental responsibility; it often is about both, along with the desire to be buried in a truly natural setting, including on winding woodland paths.

The Green Burial Council describes the process as “a new means of protecting natural areas (and) caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact,” including the elimination of the carcinogenic formaldehyde used in embalming.

Bixby says Steelmantown Cemetery became “certifiable by default” – in 300 years, it was simply never modernized. In 1840, the Steelman family donated the land to Upper Township. A schoolhouse and a church were built there; along with members of the community, orphans were often buried in the churchyard. In 1957, the township sold the property to a funeral director. Over time, the congregation disbanded, and the historic cemetery fell into disrepair.

Bixby, a descendant of the Steelmans, visited several years ago, and “I was not pleased,” he says. “Trash had been dumped there. I took ownership to clean it up and preserve it and give people there dignity. I rebuilt a chapel that had been burned in the 1960s, and built a resource center.” He also marked a series of meandering eco-trails that link the cemetery to the state forest. There are now about 350 gravesites dating back to the 1700s. Plots purchased today are deed-restricted, so they will wait indefinitely for the occupant (according to Bixby, traditional cemetery gravesites can be resold if they’re not used within 30 years).

The green burial itself differs markedly from the conventional practice, in which, as Bixby says, mourners have become “spectators.” Active participation in this rite – the act of physically escorting of a loved one through this final passage – can be uniquely comforting to the mourners, he says. Family members and friends can carry the body or box to a hand-dug grave, lower it themselves into the ground, and shovel in the dirt. Stones and markers are welcome, as long as they’re indigenous to the mid-Atlantic region (granite and natural fieldstone are the usual choices); ditto for plants, which also must be native to the area. Most of those interred are buried in shrouds, not coffins.

Bob Fertig, owner of Fertig Funeral Home in Mullica Hill, is doing more and more green burials, and has chosen it for himself when the time comes.

“Many people don’t even realize this is an option,” says Fertig. “You’d be surprised to know how many people think that, even with cremation, you have to be embalmed.”

Fertig’s wife and partner Denise has described the green burial as “intrinsically simple, not commercialized, not product-driven. It’s the way it used to be – and it’s nostalgic.”

Fertig agrees. “There is a healing quality to this kind of burial,” he says. “It can be a beautiful experience.”

It can also be a money-saver. The cheapest plot at Steelmantown is $1,200, and funerals usually run from $3,000 to $3,500. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average funeral cost in 2006 was around $6,500, a figure that doesn’t include the burial fees, including plot and headstone. Though estimates vary, when all is said and done, according to the experts, the typical funeral can cost around $9,000.

A friend of mine lost her husband some years ago, and paid top dollar for what she called “a nice send-off.” It gave her a measure of comfort and made her feel she had paid her respects in the best way possible, and that’s an honorable thing.

As for me, I plan to tell my child to plant me in the old-fashioned way, maybe even without a box, so I can help continue the cycle of life underground. It’s the ultimate in recycling.

The rise of the eco-friendly burial

The rise of the eco-friendly burial


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