NEW YORK FUNERAL STORIES
All of the funerals here are described with family permission.
Artist Jackie Brookner was a pioneer in the Eco-art movement. All over the world her functioning bio-sculptures clean polluted water. When she died it was without question that she would be laid to rest with a green burial. In Sleepy Hollow Cemetery her last site-specific installation was her own body. Wrapped in an organic cotton shroud, placed on a rustic board and lowered into the ground she loved so much. Her headstone, a simple flat rock engraved with her signature.
Photos by Paulette Pettorino
While sad that a death has occurred, families are uplifted by Green-Wood Cemetery’s crematory chapels. It’s in these lovely spaces that they can place their hands on the closed casket and say their last goodbyes before the cremation takes place. Kan-Chee Sang’s loving family made color copies and enlargements of family photos, then taped them to her casket as they listened to soft, comforting music. They took their time, cried, shared stories and parted in a way that wasn’t quite possible at the apartment where she’d died in the care of hospice. Any creative action is helpful in the effort to rise above a major loss. Kan-Chee’s memory was honored and everyone present admitted that, sad as they were, this was the best way to part.
You'd sort of expect the founder of ecosocialism to have a green burial, but you might not expect a beautiful cart, abundant forsythia in blossom, animated but respectful children, a friendly dog, homemade bread, and sacred harp singers from Bread and Puppet, the famous Vermont children's theater.
Dr. Joel Kovel died at age 81 and his family quickly created a music-infused, earth-friendly tribute that won't soon be forgotten by everyone who loved him and was lucky enough to attend.
A beloved elderly grandmother died in Manhattan in the presence of a loving family so besotted with grief that they hadn't made any funeral plans. But strength can gather at the most stressful times. They called us, an old fashioned home funeral with clergy in the Manhattan apartment was arranged. The grandson drove to Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York, to select a burial plot in the green section of the cemetery. We brought the shroud and the wicker tray to the apartment, and we set out with hearse and four limousines a day later, in lovely light snow, for this most gorgeous and tender green burial. Moments like these are unforgettable for families, and of course, for us, as well.
A great newspaper editor is entitled to a family-decorated casket with newspaper front pages all over it. And the act of lovingly crafting this vessel for cremation became therapeutic for a family blindsided by sudden death. We played Mozart's Requiem in D Minor at the crematory.
A three-generation Tibetan family, living in Brooklyn, was interested in giving its ailing grandfather the funeral he was requesting--an authentic Tibetan ritual that would allow the dead man to stay in the bed in the home he died in for at least two days after death--an unusual request to us in the United States, but something that happens all the time in Nepal, Tibet, and India. Fitting Tribute Funeral Services and the greater Tibetan community facilitated the entire event from home lay-out to Green-Wood cremation. We got to the chapel so early on a Saturday morning that we were allowed to serve Tibetan tea to the grieving family on the lawn outside the crematory.
The family of Leon Zuckrow was fortunate enough to own a plot in a picturesque Jewish cemetery down the road from the old Nevele Resort in the Catskills. And a snow storm was no impediment to what became an incredibly memorable and gorgeously simple funeral service with plenty of hands-on family involvement. Leon now rests next to his beloved first wife Naomi, who died much too soon more than 50 years ago. “The main thing to have in life is love,” Leon told The New York Daily News when the paper noted how beautiful it was that he'd spent so many years writing poetry to Naomi, even after he'd remarried someone he also loved very much. “The rest of it is important, but if you have love, you have enough.”
Since the late Virginia Pearson had been born in the home where she died in Brooklyn, and since the elegant brownstone, owned by the family for four generations, had been the site of Virginia's grandmother funeral many decades earlier, an open-casket viewing and funeral service in the front parlor seemed the best solution to Virginia's surviving children--Roy, Gina, and Andrew. Friends and neighbors from all over Brooklyn descended on the family abode for a visit with Virginia, catered meal, armchair homily from an uncommonly erudite Catholic priest, while the peaceful, soothing music of 1950s vocalist Joni James was played throughout the unforgettable evening. "It doesn't get any better than this," said Father Michael, and boy, was he right. Prayers, tears of farewell, and Victorian mourning biscuits followed at Calvary Cemetery, two mornings afterward.
New York City environmentalist Adam Purple was respectfully buried in a simple, biodegradable shroud (no casket at all) by Amy and the staff of Greenwood Heights Funeral & Cremation Services, along with a devoted team of green burial advocates at Greensprings Natural Burial Preserve.
A thoughtful adult daughter wanted the right memorial service for her deeply intellectual mom, a outspoken activist and closet poet. We helped her arrange a lovely service for 40 people at the Felix Adler Study of the Manhattan Society for Ethical Culture, 64th Street and Central Park West. Cued classical music, Otis Redding, and a stirring rendition of "This Land is Your Land," as well as some vivid remembrances and butterfly cookies rounded out the service.