Being interested in the way people materialize their continuing bonds with the dead I took a stroll at our local natural burial grounds (Venlo, The Netherlands). The whole setting of the burial ground has quite intrigued me and several visits have followed since. What has fascinated me since that first visit is the whole idea of ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ that is (materially) expressed on the graves. On their website and through on-site signs, the owner explains the concept of natural burial: ‘on our site one can be buried in the wild, with respect for man and nature…’. The oldest part of the site are wooded hills where one can freely choose a final resting place (grave rights available from 10-100 yrs). One is allowed to place a headstone as long as it is not in violation with the natural character of the site. Garden centre plants are not allowed (a list of authorized plants is available on the website). On the entrance sign is written: ‘A natural burial site is not closed off by gates or fences, and has no opening hours. The graves are marked by boulders or wooden graver markers. Not allowed are traditional headstones, religious symbols and flowerbeds.’
The website also states that people are primarily attracted to this natural burial site because they like nature or want to return to nature when they die. Another reason given for opting for natural burial is the cost aspect (it is cheaper than a traditional grave because you don’t need a stone) and the idea that nature will take care of the grave (so bereaved don’t have to).
As words and signs are patient it is always interesting to take a look at what people actually do.