REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS CONCERNING

BURIAL AT MT. TOBY FRIENDS MEETING

also available as a Word file

 

 

 

 

Presented by the Ad Hoc Committee on Burial

 

Carol Coan, clerk

John Foster

Frank Gatti

Susan Reyes, recording clerk

 

 

 

 

July 11, 2010

 

 

 


 

 


REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS CONCERNING

BURIAL AT MT. TOBY FRIENDS MEETING

 

 

 

 

Contents                                                                                                                        Page

 

1.  Establishment, Charge and Work of the Committee                                                      1

 

2.  History and Background—Burial/Burial Ground at Mt. Toby                                        2

 

            Establishment of burial ground                                                                               3

 

            Committees for establishment of the burial ground and its oversight                        3

 

            Visual and spatial demarcation of the burial ground                                                5

 

3.  Current Practice in the Meeting                                                                                    5

 

4.  Concerns that Need To Be Addressed                                                                         6

 

5. Findings and Recommendations                                                                                   7

 

            a.  Establish both two long-term caretakers of the burial ground and

a committee on burial                                                                                                        7

 

            b.  Develop a plan to accommodate green burials in the existing

burial ground                                                                                                                  10

 

c.  Undertake a design process for the existing burial ground                                10

 

            d.  Review existing policies for use of the burial ground, establish

protocols for different types of burial, and develop a plan for ongoing care and maintenance of the burial ground 11

 

            e.  Develop a plan for ongoing education within the meeting on death,

end of life care, and other related matters, including both materials and activities               12

 

            f.  Select one or more end of life wishes forms for use by the meeting, and encourage members and attenders each to complete one                                                                                                                  13

 

            g.  Review the 2010 Handbook                                                                          13

 

            h.  In collaboration with other meeting committees and individuals,

develop a plan for memorializing deceased members/attenders                                         14

 

            i.  Investigate the possibility, including level of interest, of

establishing a separate woodland cemetery for natural burial in Mt. Toby’s

forested land to the west                                                                                                 14

 

            j.  Develop, in consultation with the meeting, a contingency plan for

care and maintenance of the burial ground in the event of dissolution of

Mt. Toby Monthly Meeting                                                                                             15

 

            k.  Attend to unfinished business                                                                          15

 

6. Conclusion                                                                                                                16

 

List of Appendices                                                                                                          16

 

 

 


REPORT AND RECOMMENDATIONS CONCERNING

BURIAL AT MT. TOBY FRIENDS MEETING

Presented by the Ad Hoc Committee on Burial

July 11, 2010

 

 

1.  Establishment, Charge and Work of the Committee

 

            The Ad Hoc Committee on Burial was created in February 2009.  The original intent of the committee members was to address concerns about our burial ground.  The charge of the committee was broadened by Care and Counsel during the proposal process to include “the review of all aspects of burial at Mt. Toby.”  Purposes of the committee, as approved by the meeting on February 8, 2009, include:

 

1.  To determine whether burial vaults are presently required by the Meeting and, if so, discern whether to lay down this requirement;

2.  To determine whether “green burial” should be an option;

3.  To consider the physical layout of the current burial ground and, where advisable, recommend changes;

4.  To consider the current system of record keeping and, where advisable, recommend changes;

5.  To review written materials concerning burial at Mt. Toby Meeting and, where advisable, recommend changes;.

6.  To consider other concerns as may arise in the course of the Committee’s investigation.

 

            As noted above, the scope of the committee was enlarged to include “all aspects of burial at Mt. Toby.”  In other words, our inquiry was to include not only concerns about the physical space and uses of Mt. Toby’s burial ground, but also dying, death and disposal more generally of Mt. Toby members and attenders. 

 

            We began our work by organizing an 11:40 Hour for the Mt. Toby community in March 2009 to provide information on the committee and its work and to learn about Friends’ concerns, particularly in relation to the idea of “green” or natural burial at Mt. Toby.

 

            We presented an interim report to the meeting in July 2009, addressing points 1 and 2 of our charge and the question of whether or not “green” burial may occur in our burial ground.  We reported on our findings that state and federal regulations for cemeteries do not require use of a burial vault or grave liner; that Mt. Toby Meeting guidelines (Mt. Toby Meeting of Friends Handbook, Appendix II:  Guidelines for the Use of the Burial Ground; see Appendix A of this document) do not require use of a burial vault; and that our meeting community would like “green” burial to be an option in our burial ground (although we are not prepared to require it).  Since the basic elements of “green” burial (no embalming, no metal casket, no burial vault) are already permitted here, the meeting needed only to recognize and affirm the practice.  This was


accomplished:  “Friends affirm that ‘green’ or natural burial is acceptable in the Mt. Toby burial ground” (minute 11, 7/12/09).

 

            As noted in our report on the March 2009 11:40 Hour, “green” burial accords with Quaker testimonies on simplicity and stewardship.  However, some logistical practicalities will still need to be sorted out for Mt. Toby’s burial ground.  We will have more to say on this point in our recommendations. 

 

            We recommended several relatively minor changes to the Handbook for its 2010 edition, principally clarifying wording or information relating to burial at Mt. Toby.  We offer additional recommendations for the Handbook in this document. 

 

            Finally, so that we might present as thoroughly researched and grounded a report and recommendations as we are able, we conducted a search of the minutes of the Monthly Meeting since Friends began meeting in the Valley in 1938.  Relevant minutes from the Monthly Meeting are included with this report in Appendix B.  We have also consulted documents on the burial ground contained in the office files, the Mt. Toby Handbook, and individuals’ personal knowledge and memory.  It is clear from our research that there has been an ebb and flow of interest and activities relating to burial at Mt. Toby—between focusing on the burial ground specifically and on death/burial more generally; and between thinking we don’t need to do anything more (and laying down the committee) and then finding there is more to do (and appointing a new committee).  We find that there yet remain unresolved issues.

 

            The balance of this report describes and documents our findings and offers our recommendations with respect to points 3-6 of our charge.  Note that minute numbers given in the text follow the format used in the archive of Monthly Meeting minutes, with the date of the meeting followed by the number of the minute, and with elements separated by periods (yyyy.mm.dd.nn). 

 

 

2.  History and Background—Burial/Burial Ground at Mt. Toby

 

            In the course of settling into the new meetinghouse, meeting members began to discuss the possibility of establishing a burial ground on meetinghouse land.  Among concerns the burial ground was intended to address were a responsibility the meeting was perceived to have to provide a burial ground for its members, “social pressures exerted by funeral directors for extravagant burials, . . . concern for the tradition of simple Quaker funerals” (1966.02.09.18) and a desire “to be prepared for any future need that might arise” (1967.12.13.12).  A temporary committee was established in 1966 “to investigate technical and legal details involved and . . . possible funeral arrangements” (1966.02.09.18).  This initial committee was later referred to as the Funeral Investigating Committee and subsequently the Burial Ground Investigating Committee.  In December 1967 (minute 12) the Monthly Meeting approved the committee’s taking legal steps to establish a burial ground.

 

Establishment of burial ground.

 

Based on Monthly Meeting minutes as well as on documents contained in the Burial Ground files, Mt. Toby applied to the Town of Leverett sometime between 1966 and 1969 to establish a burial ground beside the meetinghouse.  The town held a public hearing on October 27, 1969.  Tom Hancock was informed, and it was reported to the meeting (1970.06.10.11), that the Selectmen of the Town of Leverett approved on October 14, 1969 [sic] a burial ground on the east side of the meetinghouse.  It is not clear what this reported approval meant; the file contains no notice of approval from the Selectmen or other formal permit.  In addition, minutes #21 and #22 in August 1977 reported that the Town of Leverett required a ground water test and a legal survey to approve the cemetery, and that the meeting approved the burial ground “as a continuing concern.”

 

A second round of activity is reflected by documents in the file dated 1976-1977.  During this time, the town advised Mt. Toby that a special exception from its protective zoning by-laws was required to establish a cemetery.  A hearing was held by the Board of Appeals in June 1977, at which time the Board issued its notice approving the exception and authorizing Selectmen to issue a permit for the cemetery.  There is no evidence in the file that the Selectmen did so.

 

It is apparent in March 1982 (1982.03.12.05) that the burial ground had not yet been established.  In October 1983 a committee was appointed to prepare documents for the town’s approval, and in May 1985 it was again reported (1985.05.12.11) that “the Burial Ground has been approved by Leverett” as of April 1985.  The reason for the delay in approval “was that the evidence that we’d passed the ground water test [apparently done in 1978; see 1984.11.11.03] had been lost.”  [It is unclear from these minutes whether that evidence was located, whether the test was repeated, or whether the Town of Leverett took Mt. Toby’s word for it that Mt. Toby had tested its water and passed.]  In May 1986 (1986.05.11.14), “Bob Agard gave a report from the Burial Ground Committee.  They have received official approval from the Town of Leverett and Bob has laid out some plots [presumably on paper].” 

 

Helping to clarify these two reported approvals, the Burial Ground file contains letters from the Town of Leverett Selectmen (dated April 5, 1985) and Board of Health (dated March 3, 1986) approving the burial ground.  If an official date of establishment is required, probably March 3, 1986 is most accurate. 

 

 

Committees for establishment of the burial ground and its oversight.

 

            In December 1971 the first permanent Burial Ground Committee was appointed.  In October 1974 the committee’s name was changed from Burial Ground Committee to Burial Committee “to reflect the larger responsibilities we see facing us” (“Burial Committee Recommendations,” 8/24/74). 

 

            In March 1982 the Burial Committee’s report (“Mount Toby Burial Ground & Burial Committee Duties”) was approved with revisions.  Among the recommendations approved (included in the report but not the minute):  that this committee be laid down once the burial ground was established, and that “[a]nother committee should then be formed, whose duties it would be to concern itself with future matters of burial as well as concerns of dying and coping with grief.”

 

            In September 1982, however (minute 4), Nominating Committee reported that it had been “unable to nominate people for the Burial Committee as it was currently defined” and proposed that (1) Burial Committee proceed with establishing the burial ground and then be laid down; (2) Grounds Committee “be responsible for the maintenance of the burial ground”; and (3) Overseers “take on the responsibilities associated with a burial when the time comes (counseling, memorial services, etc.).”  Meeting approved Nominating Committee’s suggestion—so there would be no new burial committee.  In May 1985 (minute 11) it was reported that “the Burial Ground has been approved by Leverett” and the Burial Committee was laid down, with Overseers to take over the running of the Burial Ground.  In December 1985, it was minuted (#15) that two individuals, at least one of whom was on Overseers, had “agreed to be caretakers of our burial ground.”  (The December 1985 minute appears to be the basis for the current understanding that Care and Counsel, formerly Overseers, appoints two of its members to serve as caretakers of the burial ground.)

 

            Somewhat mysteriously (given that the Burial Committee was laid down in May 1985), the May 1986 report of Leverett’s “official approval” was given by the Burial Ground Committee (1986.05.11.14). 

 

In May 1994 (minute 13c) it was announced that Overseers “are creating a Committee to supervise our Burial Ground. . . .  The first step is to understand the past and current situation regarding the Burial Ground.”  It is not clear whether that committee came to fruition, as in July 1999 (minute 9d) “[a] concern is raised that the responsibilities associated with our burial ground have increased substantially in the last few years.  It is suggested that these responsibilities should be more broadly shared and that information about the burial ground and its future use should be carefully recorded.  We ask Overseers to consider this concern and consider whether a separate burial grounds committee might be an appropriate response.”

 

            An informal “Burial Group,” formed under the aegis of Overseers/Care & Counsel, met from about 2004 to 2006 in an attempt to address unresolved questions and concerns about use of Mt. Toby’s burial ground.  The most significant accomplishment of the Burial Group was to conduct a survey of beliefs and opinions on “Our Evolving Burial Ground” and to discuss survey findings with the meeting community (see Appendix C).  The present Ad Hoc Committee on Burial, approved by the meeting in February 2009, is a more formal continuation of the Burial Group.

 

 

 

Visual and spatial demarcation of the burial ground.

 

            Among the August 1974 Burial Committee Recommendations was the concern “that there be visible evidence of the presence of the burying ground, as a reminder to us of our links to the past and of the normality of death as a part of life” (minute 7).

 

            In July 1997 (minute 9), it was reported that “[t]he task of locating the corners of our burial ground is in hand.  Cement markers will permanently mark each corner.”  According to John Foster, who helped with this task, the cement markers were placed over the metal surveyor’s pins located at each corner of the burial ground. 

 

Grounds Committee (1998.03.08.03, 2003.03.09.09), Land Use Committee (2002.12.08.10b) and the meeting in general (2000.06.11.07) have expressed a desire that the burial ground be landscaped, demarcated and/or protected. 

 

 

3.  Current Practice in the Meeting

 

            At present, care and oversight of burials, death- and burial-related concerns, and the burial ground itself are to be handled by Care and Counsel, Ministry and Worship, and the Grounds Committee.  According to Mt. Toby’s March 2008 Handbook, in the section on Committees, in Appendix II on use of the burial ground, and elsewhere:

 

Care and Counsel also has the following duties:  . . .  Assist family members in arranging a memorial service, oversee burial arrangements and the burial ground, [and] write memorial minutes or see that they are written.  Two members serve as Caretakers of the burial ground (12/81 [sic]) [pg. 6]. 

 

            Care and Counsel

                        (1) provides counseling and ministry at the time of death or burial;

                        (2) determines eligibility for and assignment of plots;

                        (3) maintains records of burials;

                        (4) fulfills any legal responsibilities for oversight. . . [pg. II-1].

 

            More specifically, “The Caretakers (members of Care and Counsel) assign plots and keep a record of burials and a plan of the grave plots.  They return the burial permit to the town official who issued it.  Caretakers are legally responsible for being sure that the legal documents for cremation and burial have been obtained, although the funeral director usually obtains them” [pg. II-2].

 

            With respect to costs of burial, “Care and Counsel will suggest a suitable donation to the burial ground fund, which will pay for the maintenance of the burial ground and associated expenses” [pg. II-2].

 

            In addition, Care and Counsel invites members and attenders “to register their wishes about funeral arrangements and memorial services . . . and fill out the new ‘Information Sheet of Friends’ End of Life Wishes’” [pg. 21].  (The ad hoc committee was unable to locate a copy of that form.)  Members (but not attenders) have individual “personal files,” maintained by the Recorder, and presumably the End of Life Wishes forms would be placed there.  The Handbook invites inclusion of “such papers as a living will, a health care proxy, plans for memorial service, a list of persons to notify in case of death, favorite newspaper clippings, or information for a memorial minute (such as a resume)” [pg. 29]. 

 

            Ministry and Worship, meanwhile, “ [h]as under its care . . . memorial meetings (1/86)” [pg. 10] as well as memorial services [pg. 21].  “Ministry and Worship has oversight of memorial services and provides assistance in their planning” [pg. II-1].

 

Finally, “The Grounds Committee maintains the grounds around the meetinghouse and burial ground” [pg. 9] as well as the burial ground itself, for which it “may use funds given to the Meeting for burial and the burial ground” [pg. II-1].

 

 

4.  Concerns that Need To Be Addressed

 

            As can be seen from the above excerpts, several difficulties are built into this arrangement.  There are contradictions as to which committee is expected to do what, with both Care and Counsel and Ministry and Worship being assigned to help plan and carry out memorial services/meetings.  Care and Counsel is given a rather lengthy list of death- and burial-related duties on top of its already lengthy list of other duties.  From among members of Care and Counsel, two burial ground caretakers are appointed who may have little to do with burials or the burial ground until a moment of crisis arises, at which point they may have insufficient information or experience.  Expecting members of Care and Counsel to educate meeting members about death and assist with decision making, to address a family’s needs before, during and after a death—whether expected or sudden and traumatic—and to have knowledge and experience about logistics and legalities concerning burial, along with fulfilling other duties of the committee, may be unreasonable.  It should not surprise us, then, that there are also inconsistencies as to details such as plot size, plot numbers assigned to burials, tracking of who is in which plot, and so on.

 

Grounds Committee, meanwhile, has nominal responsibility for maintaining the burial ground but no long-range guidance or plan from the meeting.  Grounds is authorized to use funds provided for burial and the burial ground, but it does not seem that Care and Counsel has in fact suggested donations to a burial ground fund; neither has the meeting established such a fund, instead depositing such donations into its general fund. 

 

            In sum, having established a burial ground and offered it for burials, the meeting now needs to develop a coherent and manageable larger/long term vision concerning burials and burial ground, including the scope and organization of death- and burial-related tasks called for within the meeting.  As the Monthly Meeting observed over a decade ago (1999.07.13.09d), “the responsibilities associated with our burial ground have increased substantially in the last few years.  It is suggested that these responsibilities should be more broadly shared and that information about the burial ground and its future use should be carefully recorded.  We ask Overseers to consider this concern and consider whether a separate burial grounds committee might be an appropriate response.” 

 

 

5.  Findings and Recommendations

 

            This committee’s review of Mt. Toby Monthly Meeting’s affairs concerning death, burial and the burial ground has persuaded us that a separate standing committee whose particular task is to oversee matters relating to death, burial and the burial ground is indeed appropriate and necessary.  Our first recommendation (below) is that such a committee be established; all recommendations that follow assume the establishment of such a committee to carry them out.  The recommendations are given in descending order of priority; the first four are of utmost importance and should be undertaken promptly.

 

            a.  Establish both two long-term caretakers of the burial ground and a committee on burial, of which the caretakers will be members.  The charge of the new Burial Committee would be to oversee matters relating to death, burial and the burial ground at Mt. Toby.  We envision a committee of five:

 

·        one member from Care and Counsel Committee;

·        one member of Ministry and Worship Committee;

·        one member from Grounds Committee;

·        two members to be identified by Nominating Committee

 

            Thus the proposed committee would combine liaisons from existing committees that have responsibilities relating to death and burial and at-large members.  This structure would provide breadth, flexibility, and continuity—all vital attributes for a committee whose work spans education, pastoral care, discernment, and immediate practical/logistical support; whose area of concern is little thought of much of the time, yet is acutely needed at specific moments, and thus needs to be carried on even when there is no acute need; and whose successful execution calls for acquisition of specific knowledge relating to managing a burial ground. 

 

In the committee we envision, the members from Care and Counsel, Ministry and Worship, and Grounds Committees would be appointed by their respective committees, to serve for terms determined by those committees.  Each of them would be a full member of the Burial Committee, not just a reporter or go-between.  By virtue of their dual committee memberships, these three members would provide essential perspectives to each of the two committees on which they served.  As appropriate, they would serve as the connection through which work appropriate to their two committees would be brought forward to the committees.

 

In order to encourage membership in the committee by individuals who are interested in learning more about death and burial and willing to contribute time and energy, the remaining two members of the Burial Committee would be identified by Nominating Committee.  These members would serve as the Burial Ground Caretakers, and they would share the duties indicated below.  In parallel with trusteeship for the meeting, we propose staggered 6-year terms for these two members (one of them starting with a 3-year term).

 

            The proposed Burial Committee would replace the current practice of designating two members of Care and Counsel as caretakers of the burial ground, and would both clarify and augment the death- and burial-related roles of other meeting committees.  The committee would consult as needed with other committees and individuals of the meeting, including, for example, Land Use, History and Records, and the Plantings Keeper.

 

Recommended duties for the Burial Ground Caretakers include:

·        take primary responsibility for maintaining records and providing guidance and oversight of the burial ground;

·        be (or become) familiar with Massachusetts law relating to burial and cemeteries;

·        develop and maintain liaison relationships with relevant persons in the Town of Leverett, local funeral homes, providers of other funeral services and goods, the regional Funeral Consumers Alliance, and others, as appropriate;

·        keep guidelines for use of burial ground (the meeting’s equivalent of cemetery by-laws) up to date and available for consultation;

·        receive and respond to informational inquiries and at-need calls (committee to provide back-up);

·        assign plots as deemed appropriate, following established guidelines and protocols and personal judgment, in consultation with the Burial Committee as appropriate (committee to provide back-up);

·        coordinate digging and backfilling of grave (“opening” and “closing”) and setting of gravestone (committee to provide back-up);

·        be available at time of burial (committee to provide back-up);

·        develop and maintain a permanent record-keeping system, including founding documents, copies of relevant federal/state/local laws and other guidelines, relevant minutes of the Monthly Meeting, and a record of burials in the burial ground;

·        inasmuch as our current Guidelines for the Use of the Burial Ground (Handbook, Appendix II) permit reserving a single plot for a spouse, develop a system (perhaps a log) for recording such;

·        develop and maintain a clear description of the flow of documents relating to burial and the burial ground, e.g., which are to be retained and where they are kept;

·        in collaboration with the committee, develop protocols for use of the burial ground (see Recommendations b and d below) and ensure that they are followed;

·        develop and maintain a list of local backhoe operators and/or information on other options for digging of graves;

·        delegate above tasks to Burial Committee members as needed.

Recommended duties for the Burial Committee include:

·        work with Burial Ground Caretakers and other committees and/or individuals of the meeting to develop and carry out other larger or more general tasks relating to the burial ground and concerns about burial and death at Mt. Toby, including but not limited to the recommendations that follow;

·        serve as back-up to the Caretakers on all at-need matters;

·        in collaboration with Burial Ground Caretakers, prepare a handbook for the committee members, to supplement the permanent records we are developing and help to ensure continuity in carrying out tasks of the committee;

·        in coordination with Grounds Committee, ensure that the burial ground is appropriately maintained—for example, mowing, removing saplings, clearing/cleaning grave markers, keeping an eye on subsidence of graves if/as it occurs (see also Recommendation c).

 

We envision that members of the Burial Committee with dual memberships might take on particular roles within the committee.  We suggest, for example, that

·        the member from Grounds would take the lead on matters concerning maintenance of the Burial Ground;

·        the member from Care and Counsel would take the lead on matters concerning setting up and carrying out educational programs for the meeting, encouraging completion of end-of-life wishes forms, and providing pastoral care for the dying and their families;

·        the member from Ministry and Worship would take the lead on matters concerning memorial meetings and bereavement.

 

We do not envision that the Burial Committee would take on responsibilities that appropriately belong to other committees or individuals of the meeting.  For example,

·        Care and Counsel Committee in general would continue to hold responsibility for writing memorial minutes (or seeing that they are written) and distributing them appropriately; and for providing emotional and practical support to dying persons and their families.  (For further detail see Appendix D.) 

·        Ministry and Worship Committee in general would continue to take responsibility for assisting with and overseeing the memorial meeting for worship, in consultation with family or friends of the deceased.  (For further detail see Appendix E.)

·        Grounds Committee in general would continue to maintain the grounds around the meetinghouse and burial ground.

·        History and Records Committee would continue to maintain the memorial (scrap)book (see also Recommendation h).

·        The Recorder would continue to maintain personal files of members (see also Recommendation f).

·        The Plantings Keeper would continue to oversee selection, assignment, planting and care of memorial trees (see also Recommendation h). 

 

We recommend that the new Burial Committee be put in place promptly—ideally by September 2010.  It is likely that members of the ad hoc committee would be willing to serve on the new permanent Burial Committee, if called upon.

 

 

            b.  Develop a plan to accommodate green burials in the existing burial ground.  The meeting has affirmed (2/09) that “green” burial is an acceptable option in our burial ground.  (The meeting is not prepared at this time (3/09) to require it.)  The ad hoc committee’s suggestion for accommodating green burials in the short term is to continue with the present first row in the same manner as at present:  whichever type of burial we are presented with next goes in next, with additional space being allowed for vaultless burials.

 

For the longer term, however, development of clear protocols will be essential, and should take into consideration such questions as how much space to allow for a natural burial; whether to integrate conventional and natural burials or to set aside separate space for the latter; whether to recommend or require use of a backhoe or to permit hand-digging of graves; how to carry out winter burials.  There are at present no firm guidelines on the amount of space that should be allotted for green burials, but they do in general take up more space than standard plots so as to permit adjacent burials without risk of disinterment of the previous burial, and to permit sufficient space and time for decomposition to proceed. 

 

            Some of these protocols will need to be worked out experientially, over time.  The ad hoc committee recommends that we do some test digging, toward the southern end of the burial ground, in order to begin this experiential learning in advance of a death.  (Among the things we could learn from test digging:  hands-on information about the burial ground’s soil characteristics, feasibility of hand digging a grave, what is involved with bringing in a backhoe, desirable size and spacing of graves, post-burial appearance, time frame of subsidence.) 

 

We recommend that long-term guidelines be drafted within the next few months, and that they be revisited periodically—at least after each burial—until we are happy with them.

 

 

c.  Undertake a design process for the existing burial ground, to address both esthetic and functional questions.  As noted above, there has long been a concern that the meeting’s burial ground be visible, landscaped, demarcated and/or protected.  Although some in the meeting would probably like it to stay just the way it is, results of the 2005 burial ground survey (Appendix C) indicate a wide range of awareness and opinions about the burial ground.  Many respondents to that survey did not know Mt. Toby had a burial ground or where it was, while others offered a multitude of perspectives and suggestions on improving the appearance, accessibility, and spiritual presence of the burial ground. 

            In addition, there are functional questions that would benefit from the focused attention of a design process.  For example,

·        although plot dimensions have been proposed and approved at various times, the dimensions given in the Handbook are not the same as those most recently approved by the MM; neither of those agrees with what we actually observe in the burial ground; and none of these takes into account the different space needs of conventional burial, cremation burial, and vaultless burial;

·        the system presently used for numbering of plots is confusing and inconsistent (to wit, the first burial took place in plot #11; the most recent burial was in plot #3; and according to our plot plan, the next after #1 is to be F);

·        if cremated remains are scattered in the burial grounds, should a cenotaph or memorial marker be placed, and if so where?  or do we wish to establish a separate memorial/scattering garden?  (See also Recommendation h.)

 

The goal of the design process would be to identify esthetic and functional issues, both existing and potential, and address them.  Such a process would need to take into consideration many factors, including prior policies and guidelines, results of the 2005 survey, current memorial plantings guidelines and trees already placed adjacent to the burial ground, as well as the sensibilities of members and attenders.  It being essential that the Burial Committee be able to move ahead with carrying out the design plan in a timely manner, final authority to decide on questions of design would rest with the Burial Committee. 

 

The Burial Committee may find it useful to enlist outside assistance from either students or professionals who specialize in cemetery design.  Three local school programs so far have been identified as possible candidates for collaboration—UMass Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning (LARP), Conway School of Landscape Design, and Smith Engineering Dept.—and there may be others. 

 

            We recommend that a time frame of no more than two years be established for carrying out Recommendations c and d.

 

 

d.  In conjunction with Recommendations b and c, review existing policies for use of the burial ground, establish protocols for different types of burial, and develop a plan for ongoing care and maintenance of the burial ground.  Many different types of burial are possible in our burial ground:  cremated remains, with or without an urn; scattering of cremated remains; whole body burial, with or without a vault and with or without a casket.  Questions have arisen as to saving of plots, later burial of cremated remains of related and unrelated persons, later addition of gravestones, alteration of existing stones, and the like.  In addition, although green or natural burials were not previously barred, the meeting’s February 2009 affirmation that they are acceptable probably increases the likelihood that they will be requested. 

 

Thus it would be prudent to review and clarify, amend, or reiterate, as appropriate, our current policies regarding use of the burial ground to ensure that, taken as a whole, they are as we would like them to be.  We further recommend that the Burial Committee develop a plan for maintenance of the burial ground, including mowing, cleaning of stones, maintenance of plantings, walkways and signs, removal of saplings, and detecting and correcting subsidence of graves.

 

            To preserve the integrity of the burial ground, the ad hoc committee recommends that no use of any kind be permitted by non-meeting entities, and that within-meeting uses require approval of the Burial Committee. 

 

            As noted under Recommendation c, we recommend that a time frame of no more than two years be established for carrying out Recommendations c and d.

 

 

            e.  Develop a plan for ongoing education within the meeting on death, end of life care, and other related matters, including both materials and activities.  Being well informed about death and funerals, making funeral arrangements in advance of death, and “simple burial” have been recurring interests within the meeting.  In addition, Care and Counsel is charged with providing emotional and practical support to dying persons and their families—whether or not they culminate in burial in the Mt. Toby burial ground—and to the bereaved.  It would be helpful to the meeting as a whole if both members/attenders in general and members of Care and Counsel in particular had regular opportunities for discussing and learning about death and other end of life concerns.  The Burial Committee would be a logical entity to organize this sort of information.

 

            Examples of educational materials that might be developed (or brought in from elsewhere) and kept on hand include

·        materials to assist with making end-of-life decisions in advance, such as living will and health care proxy forms (see also Recommendation f);

·        a brochure describing steps for loved ones to take during the dying process and after death, clarifying families’ and Mt. Toby’s responsibilities;

·        lists of hospice resources, funeral homes, funeral directors willing to assist with green burial, home funeral guides, bereavement groups, and other like resources;

·        funeral home price lists;

·        a brochure or resources guide for those planning or assisting with a burial;

·        a brochure on the burial ground and/or burial at Mt. Toby;

·        a brochure on memorializing loved ones at Mt. Toby (see also Recommendation h). 

 

Since many of these kinds of information are maintained by the regional affiliate of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, the meeting might wish to encourage participation in and support of this group rather than attempt to duplicate its services.  We further recommend that the Burial Committee, in collaboration with the Library Committee, develop the section of our library that contains materials on dying, death and disposal. 

 

            Examples of educational activities that might be organized and offered by the Burial Committee include

·        11:40 Hour programs on death- and burial-related topics;

·        periodic workshops or workshop series;

·        a quarterly end-of-life document-signing party.

 

Keeping the meeting informed about death-related issues might also include communicating through media including the newsletter and the website; making sure that Handbook entries relating to death, burial and the burial ground are accurate and up-to-date; conducting surveys; and reporting on the committee’s work at Monthly Meeting. 

 

 

            f.  Select one or more end of life wishes forms for use by the meeting, and encourage members and attenders each to complete one.  The ad hoc committee has located several such forms that have been used by various monthly or yearly meetings (see Appendix F; none of these forms appears to be the “Information Sheet for Friends’ End of Life Wishes” referred to in minute 2002.04.14.08). 

 

Generally speaking, completing an end of life wishes form is the responsibility of an individual, and carrying out those wishes is the responsibility of the individual’s family.  However, there are a number of reasons the meeting might wish to pursue this: 

·        to encourage Mt. Toby members/attenders to think about death;

·        to help Mt. Toby members/attenders plan for their own death and body disposal;

·        to help families discuss and make decisions on end of life matters;

·        to facilitate the meeting’s work if called upon to assist with dying, death, and/or disposition of the body, particularly if there are no family members available to do so;

·        to provide information for the death certificate, obituary and memorial minute.

 

We recommend that the Burial Committee clarify which of these goals it wishes to meet by having end of life wishes forms completed and kept on file.  That clarity will help to determine which form(s) we wish to provide for members and attenders.  The Burial Committee should then develop a procedure for getting forms filled out, returned and placed in appropriate files, for updating them, for permitting appropriate access to them, and for disposing of them once they are no longer needed.

 

Such a form would not replace, but should be used as a supplement to, a living will and health care proxy.  Ideally the end of life wishes form would specifically include and guide choices about body disposal, which are typically not addressed by living will or health care proxy forms, and which often confound and distress survivors when not made in advance.

 

 

            g.  Review the 2010 Handbook as it relates to death, burial and the burial ground and revise (or suggest revision, in the case of entries that fall under the aegis of other committees) as appropriate.  Changes relating to the establishment of this committee would be an obvious starting place, as would other inconsistencies identified by the ad hoc committee during this review process.  (These include clarifying the distinction between memorial meetings and memorial services; clarifying the death-related duties of Care and Counsel and Ministry and Worship; clarifying the contents and maintenance procedures for the memorial (scrap)book (see also Recommendation h).)

 

            Once this initial review process is complete, ongoing review is provided for under Recommendation e. 

 

 

            h.  In collaboration with other meeting committees and individuals, develop a plan for memorializing deceased members/attenders.  This is another area of recurring concern for the meeting.  The meeting presently employs several forms of memorialization, each of which is already under the care of a meeting committee or individual, but about which questions have been raised during this review process: 

·        gravestones (see Recommendations c and d);

·         memorial minutes:  is there, or should there be, a file of collected memorial minutes?

·        memorial (scrap)book:  clarify the meeting’s criteria for an individual’s inclusion in the book and what materials are to be included for each person; if the principal criterion is the writing of a memorial minute, what of individuals for whom a memorial minute is not written?  Is there a way of collecting and maintaining their biographical information and/or clippings about them?

·        memorial plantings:  how are decisions made concerning who is memorialized, where trees are placed, and who pays for them? 

 

            Other forms of memorialization have been discussed from time to time in the meeting, and we recommend that these be addressed during the design process (Recommendation c):

·        does the meeting wish to allow for physical memorials to persons not buried at Mt. Toby?  There was previously interest in mounting plaques, and a question about brass vs. bronze plaques that does not appear to have been resolved (except insofar as no plaques at all have been mounted).  It is unclear whether this is still of interest; 

·        do we wish to establish a scattering garden? or simply to continue the practice of scattering cremated remains in the burial ground or elsewhere on meeting property? should plaques or stones be placed for these individuals, and if so where?

·        might we wish to come up with an alternate means of memorializing that could also provide a way of contributing to a burial ground fund, such as offering memorial bricks for a walkway?

 

 

            i.  Investigate the possibility, including level of interest, of establishing a separate woodland cemetery for natural burial in Mt. Toby’s forested land to the west.  The ad hoc committee suggests that meeting members who are interested in this possibility could form a task force or ad hoc committee to pursue this question, with support and guidance from the Burial Committee.  Questions for discernment include: 

 

·        does the meeting want a woodland cemetery for natural burial? 

·        where, specifically, would such a cemetery be located?

·        who would manage it and how/by whom would records be kept?

·        what steps would need to be taken to have the cemetery approved by the Town of Leverett?

·        need we be concerned that people would nominally join the meeting in order to benefit from free woodland green burial?

 

 

            j.  Develop, in consultation with the meeting, a contingency plan for care and maintenance of the burial ground in the event of dissolution of Mt. Toby Monthly Meeting.  If the meeting desires to set up a fund for this eventuality, a procedure should be established for collecting funds and outlined in the “Financial Support” section of the Handbook.  (At present we specifically do not charge a fee for burial plots, although Care and Counsel is authorized to suggest that a donation be made and/or a donation amount.  Responses to the question of charging a fee, asked in the March 2005 Burial Ground Survey, were mixed.  It may be helpful to investigate the practice of other meetings with burial grounds.)  If the meeting specifically desires not to set up such a fund, that decision should also be noted in the Handbook. 

 

 

            k.  Attend to unfinished business, to the extent possible and practical.  The ad hoc committee’s search of the MM minutes revealed a few items that appear to be unresolved (although it may simply be that resolutions went unminuted).  There are also a few unaddressed concerns that do not seem to belong elsewhere.

·        Concerning a stone for the parents of Dudley Woodbridge (minutes 1983.10.28.10, 1984.11.11.03)—did anyone speak to him after the burial ground was approved? 

·        Are members of Mt. Toby meeting who transfer their membership to Northampton Monthly Meeting eligible for burial in Mt. Toby’s burial ground?  (Minute 1993.12.16.06.)  “Overseers will designate two people to look into this and bring a recommendation to Monthly Meeting.”  (Minute 1994.04.21.05.)  Did anyone follow up with Northampton Friends?  What is the eligibility of Mt. Toby members who transfer to Monthly Meetings other than Northampton?  What of members of Northampton MM (or other MMs) who were not previously active in Mt. Toby MM?

·        Eligibility for burial at Mt. Toby of non-marital partners and of meeting attenders also continues to be a concern, and whether or not the wording given in the “Guidelines for the Use of the Burial Ground” (Handbook, Appendix II) is appropriate.

·        Is there, or should there be, a procedure for systematically updating meeting records after a member/attender’s death?

·        Where should permanent records of the burial ground be stored, once they are developed?  According to the Handbook, permanent records are kept in the safe, and the Recorder has the combination.  In practice, it seems that the safe is little used, the combination is difficult to work and therefore only a few people are able to open the safe, and there is not consensus on whether it is useful to have a safe.  Probably theft of valuables is not a major concern; nevertheless, there are documents that would be irreplaceable if lost to theft or fire.  Ought the meeting to acquire a fire-rated safe?  Alternatively, ought a second copy of the burial ground’s permanent records to be stored off-premises?

·        Is the name “Mt. Toby Quaker Burial Ground,” given as the burial ground’s official name in minute 1997.10.09.04, satisfactory?  It is not mentioned anywhere else, there is no record reflecting how it was arrived at, and it doesn’t reflect common usage at the meeting.

 

 

6.  Conclusion

 

            As we have attempted to sort out and clarify the history of the burial ground, the coming and going (and coming again) of burial committees, and the many issues raised in the course of this review, it has become clear that running a burial ground and keeping track of the related threads is complex and multi-faceted.  We believe the meeting would be best served by establishing a standing committee whose charge is specifically to focus on these threads and to keep track of them.  We have recommended a committee structure that we think would offer the breadth, the flexibility and the continuity required to keep this charge in hand.  Whether or not the meeting follows our recommendation as to the structure of the committee, we urge that a standing committee, together with caretakers who are not members of Care and Counsel, be put in place promptly.  Once that committee is in place, it can begin to figure out how to approach the numerous other tasks we have recommended.

 

We appreciate having had the opportunity to conduct this review on behalf of the meeting.  It has been an enlightening project, and it is most satisfying to bring it to a conclusion. 

 

Ad Hoc Committee on Burial:

Carol Coan (clerk), John Foster, Frank Gatti, Susan Reyes (recording clerk)

 

 

 

 

Appendices:

 

A.  Excerpts from Mt. Toby Meeting of Friends Handbook (2008 edition) (Word) (html)

B.  Mt. Toby Friends Meeting Minutes of Monthly Meeting Relating to Burial and the Mt. Toby Quaker Burial Ground -1938 to March 2010 (Word) (html)

C.  Results of 2005 Burial Ground Survey (Word) (html)

D.  Tasks of Care and Counsel (Word) (html)

E.  Plan of Ministry and Worship for Memorial Meetings (Word) (html)

F.  End of Life Wishes Forms