Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Family Cemetery: How Not to Get Buried Under the Rules and Regs

View of our proposed family cemetery site
at the south west end of our property

View from within the cemetery area
looking back towards our Grain Bin House
located behind the trees .

All we want to do is dig a hole, and lay down for eternity. That's not so much to ask, is it? Apparently, it is. Last October we started exploring the possibility of permanently hosting our interested family members who'd like to chill out here when their tickers give out, and now ten months later, it's still a work in progress.

I started the effort by calling our county coroner who said he could find nothing to preclude a family cemetery in our county, but still, he referred me to the county zoning board. I did extensive internet research which stated that requirements such as  embalming, concrete vaults or metal caskets were not state or federally mandated but rather requirements of specific cemeteries only.

This was good since we want our bodies to naturally decompose on our property in nothing more than a wood box.

We also spoke with a local funeral home director to get his input, and ask about the less savory details like, "if we die in another state, how can we get our bodies back to The Poor Farm?" The answer: you have to hire a licensed funeral home to do that, hauling us back in the bed of the Ford F-150 is not allowed.

I wanted to ask if it'd be allowed as long as someone tied red warning flags to our toes, but I restrained myself.

It took awhile to get a response from our county zoning administrator, I'm assuming he had other bigger building projects to worry about, but in April we received an "Application for Special Use", which we completed.

In July we were notified that we would need to attend two meetings. The first was the County Regional Planning Commission, held on July 31, and the second was the County Zoning Board of Appeals held last week, August 3rd. All of our neighbors were notified of these meetings in the event they wanted to come for more information or to register their concerns.

Since our property is 1.5 miles from the nearest town, over a half mile from the nearest neighbor, and  surrounded  on all sides by planted fields, I did not expect any neighbor resistance. I was wrong.

Enter the relative of a land owner who lives a mile from us. She arrived at the first meeting and after everyone on the committee was brought up to speed on our wishes, she proceeded to read off a long litany of concerns. Such as:

     Who was initially responsible for the property since we are not married?
     Who would care for the property after we died?
      Did I know it was a Class 3 Felony to disturb headstones if say we sold the property.?
     What type of roadway would we build to access the area?
     Did our mortgage lender approve?

     Did I know how it would affect property values?

Her last comment, I believe, was the crux of the matter. She was concerned about resale value of land around us.

When she had her say, the Regional Planning Commission voted unanimously in our favor. However, three days later at the County Zoning Board of Appeals, it went a bit differently. Some of the members of the second committee also sat on the first committee, but some were new. Since it was an official public hearing I was sworn in and allowed to give an overview of our plans again, but this time I focused on the fact that in Illinois, Family Cemeteries are exempt from the rules and regulations that govern the public licensed cemeteries. Specifically the Cemetery Care Act 760 ILCS 100/ and The Cemetery Care Oversight Act of 2009.

Thus, the majority of the concerns voiced by our neighbors relative, were moot points. She did attend this second meeting and she did speak again, but after hearing about our exempt status, she backed off the regulatory issues and focused on property values, tax assessments etc. When it came time for the committee to vote, the ones who were not at the first meeting had all new concerns such as:

     Will there be an easement to allow your descendants access to the property if it is ever sold?

     How will you keep track of where the bodies are buried and how deep?

     How can we get proof that you are exempt?

     Can you move the boundaries farther into your property?

In the end they wanted me to answer the concerns above in writing and present to them again in November. These four conditions are easily addressed and I have faith it will all be approved at that time. My overall impression of the mild resistance so far is this: as a whole we are a death denying society and we prefer to deal with death at a distance. This "distance" is provided by a licensed professional, i.e. a funeral home director and the entire process is greatly sanitized at a very great financial price.

The average person does not want to see the backhoe dig the grave, nor do they want to build their own coffin. (I'm lining the lid of mine with Supertramp Posters and Hemingway quotes and OH YES, the amazing art work of Matt Kish in his book Moby-Dick in Pictures) Nor do they want to think about what happens, natural decomposition wise, to our bodies made of mere flesh and bone. To take control, as much as any human can control anything, of ones own burial on ones own property is foreign thinking in the 21st Century even though family cemeteries existed here, and in other countries, for centuries upon centuries.

I believe about half of the committee felt we were barbarians, while the other half wished they had their own family cemetery. The county admitted that they had never dealt with the issue before and in fact did not even know it was possible to do so. Sad isn't it? One hundred years ago family cemeteries were the norm, and now they are looked upon suspiciously.

So, we move forward with our plans for the O'Shaughnessy-Parrish Family Cemetery. I've warned our interested family members that until November they should drive the speed limit, avoid high crime areas, and limit their intake of McDonalds Happy Meals.


  1. It seems like it will work out for you regardless of the bureaucracy. You are so right about society distancing themselves from death, My husband died 3 years 4 months ago, he had just turned 59, he has 10 siblings that are living, they will hardly acknowledge that he was even here on this earth. I Enjoy reading your blog, Take care from Iowa

    1. Oh Melody, he was far too young. So sorry about the sibling issue. You've made me count my blessings again regarding mine. If I die first poor Keith will be overrun I am afraid, with several caring sisters of mine.

  2. My only concern would be that I REALLY WAS DEAD, and that the family weren't stuffing me into a hole just to be rid of me.

    I wonder if there isn't some jealousy concerning your request. People might see it as 'exclusive'.

    1. Thus the reason folks had real wakes in the day. Or three days I should say where they waited to see if someone sat up or began to put off a foul aroma. Decision made.

      The 'exclusive' thing is an interesting thought. they don't want it but don't want us to have it either. Americans! Sheesh!

  3. Donna, I "nearly" died laughing at some of the objection comments in these planning commission meetings, but so glad that I didn't because I surely want to be around in late November to learn the outcome of family cemetery. I'm sure there are a lot more puns that many others will think about reading the plight of this plot. And, you are certainly being buried not as much in rules and regs but dread of death it seems.

    1. Yes, dread of death, sums it up. It's not so much that I'm ready right now to go, I still have things on my bucket list like sky-diving and acting in a movie with Aiden Quinn, I just hate the idea of ignoring the need to plan (somewhat) for it. Even more, I hate wasting money for goofy things like silk pillows in a casket when my kids could buy a new vacuum cleaner with the money.

  4. yes...this has given me a reason to hang around until at least november to find out what the outcome is. it's so weird how quickly our civilization has changed. things that were normal 50 years ago are completely forgotten. i remember going to funerals where people were laid out on the dining room table. good luck! i hope it goes your way!

    1. Love that! My only complaint with the display on the dining room table is...where do we set up the "Grief Buffet" ? as we used to call it in hospice.

  5. And I thought it was only Ireland that could drag things out so long, only difference here is it costs an arm and a leg to go through the planning process.

    1. Ironically, it was my visit to Kilmacduagh Castle near Gort and the adjoining O'Shaughnessy Chapel that solidified my plans for a family cemetery. All those family members buried in such small cemeteries, I loved the coziness of it. As my sister Mary said just yesterday, "Why not? We step all over each other anyway."

  6. Hi Donna :) Your post is so fun to read. You should have asked your neighbour if she needed a plot reserved lol...then see her eyes bug out in terror! I love how you'll decorate your coffin! Or is it casket? I'm not too pc these days. Hope the family can avoid the hefty Big Macs until November :)

    1. We like Coffin. It's more historical to us, aka Munster Family of the 1960's. Casket always sounded pretentious to me. Silliness really. Just put me somewhere where the dog won't be dragging me around. Our German shepherd always has some kind of bone in his mouth.

  7. Ridiculous objections! (Property values are actually higher near cemeteries, but that's not the point!) Thanks for writing this. Very helpful, since my father is making plans to be buried near his favorite tree, and then having everyone assembled walk from tree to tree on the property, reading from his essays, "Trees I Have Known."

    1. Hello Terra!! If you have any resources that I can follow up on regarding property values being higher near cemeteries please post them here. Thanks so much.

      And your father sounds like my father. Again if his essays are available let me know. I'd love to read them.

  8. oh wow.. People are such busy bodies at times. I personally favor a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Who is to know if one of the holes out in the orchard is filled with a human instead of a hog? (yes, we plant our old, pet sows out in the upper orchard.. sshhh. I am sure it is against some law or other.. but still).

    My first husband always asked that he be wrapped in a blanket and buried out under one of the oak trees. Seems like such a reasonable thing to me!

    Good luck and keep us posted!

  9. I wonder if there isn't some jealousy concerning your request. People might see it as 'exclusive'.


  10. Our local member of parliament Robert Goodwill has a green cemetery on his farm at Terrington, North Yorkshire it's a wonderful place, he even waits in his overalls to fill the grave in after you've gone. A whicker coffin woven with flowers will be my mode of transport!


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