Since the beginning of our green burial project we have wanted to create a safe space, a green building, in which people could have a memorial, Ceremony of life, or Three Day Vigil. We knew it would have to be “green”, that is, an environmentally-friendly building that would be consistent with the values of the land, with nature, and with John Muir himself. Perhaps John Muir would not even “approve” of such a building, preferring to be simple and rustic without any building on the land. But these days, with a culture that tends to be in “denial” of death, people need a safe and warm place in which to grieve, to honor and to celebrate their loved ones beyond the restrictions of a funeral home.
We got the idea of a “Starhouse” from the mountain retreat in Boulder, Colorado that we remembered from past visits there. However, the Boulder Starhouse is not a fire-proof building, though it is fairly eco-friendly. So, then I received an email from a Canadian builder of actual “greenhouses”, which I have always admired when I saw similar Victorian style structures in Edinburgh, Scotland where I lived for 3 years in the 1990s. These are beautiful, simple, fairly fire-resistent glasshouses, which could offer a panoramic view of the mountains on the land we are planning to invest in for our first cemetery location.
This is an example of what our own Starhouse could look like, minus the indoor plants. There would be room enough for 75 people to come attend a memorial, and we would add on a walled sanctuary at one end for candlelight wakes for families wishing to have an overnight vigil. The beauty of this Greenhouse is that is fire-resistent, and sturdy enough for high winds or snow. At night, the stars can be seen through the ceiling of glass as well as glass walls for the majestic mountains off in the distance. In many cultures, including the native Alaskan indigenous peoples, there is a belief that each of their dead will live on in a star. It is a comforting thought to look up in the stars at night and experience the presence of a loved one! While visiting the gravesite of a loved one it will be possible to stay warm inside the greenhouse, complete with fireplace and cozy chairs. The Sanctuary will be accessible to nearby disability plots for those family members who need closer access for visitation.
Below is an example of a smaller alcove that could be used by individuals in which to rest, view the adjacent meadows and forest, and find comfort in a safe haven in which to grieve or “stay connected” with a loved one. The beauty of nature, and the return of the four seasons, reminds us that life goes on and love is eternal. We can have the hope that our life will be returned to us after loss, even though we have transformed in new ways through healing ourselves.