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Grandpa’s Out Back Under the Lilac: Backyard Burials

photo of a lilac for a story about backyard burials, called "Grandpa's Buried Out Back Under the Lilac."
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By HOLLY ENDERSBY

Like most people, I thought my dad had to be buried in the town cemetery. He wanted a military funeral, as he was proud of his WWII service, and that was easy to arrange. But frankly, the cemetery was an unknown chunk of land that held no meaning to my dad. Despite that, Dad was duly interred in Row 32, plot C. Mom was buried next to him several years later. 

But it didn’t have to be that way. Montana has no laws requiring bodies to be interred in public cemeteries. Home burials on private land are allowed, unless the county has specific regulations or zoning ordinances against it, and my county doesn’t. 

Sometimes, hospitals will erroneously tell people that, in order to release a body, it must be to a funeral home, and nothing could be further from the truth. Once an attending physician or coroner has designated the cause of death, a body can be released to designated persons. (It’s wise to talk to hospital or care center administrators before this is necessary if you can.) 

Montanans may apply for a death certificate from the local registrar (usually a county official). They must do it within 10 days of death, but anyone who completes and submits the application, establishes the identity, and lists the reason for obtaining the death certificate can receive one. 

Even if you decide to bury a loved one on private property, you might choose to hire a funeral home to take care of the details, such as obtaining death certificates, preparing the body for burial, or transporting the body to the place of burial. By federal law, funeral homes must inform you that expensive caskets are not required. 

Containers may be as simple as unfinished wood, pressed wood, fiber board, or cardboard. You can also build and provide your own container. 

My Aunt Carrie, well known for her frugality, was cremated in the cardboard container she specified. I kept her ashes, and, when my Aunt Frances passed, we placed Aunt Carrie’s remains with her in the same inexpensive casket. Their gravestone reads, “Sisters in life, sisters in eternity.”

Private land burials have a few requirements, but they are easy to accomplish. You must have a physician’s or coroner’s authorization before removing a body from a hospital or care center if you, yourself, are going to transport the body rather than someone from a funeral home, or if you are going to transport the body out of state. In Montana, embalming is not required unless you plan to use public transportation to the final resting place. 

Every county and state has particular requirements to follow, so it’s wise to search your state’s burial requirements at the time you need them because laws change. You can find out what your county requires by going to the county website or by checking with the town clerk or someone in the zoning office.

A person can be directly interred into the ground on private property. A coffin or vault is not required. A friend in Utah lives in a tiny burg that allows for direct interment into the ground, and she and her husband, who have hiked and camped in the backcountry their whole lives, will be placed in their favorite sleeping bags and into the grave that way. 

For myself, I’ve chosen a spot overlooking my beloved wild canyon with the hopes my body will bring forth a beautiful array of wildflowers each spring. Of course, you want to be sure a loved one’s body is buried at least 150 feet from any water supply and away from all power lines. And make the grave deep enough to protect the body from animals. 

In addition, be sure and draw a map of the family “cemetery,” and have it recorded with the deed to the property. It’s critical if the property should be sold in the future. 

We once bought an abandoned farm, and, while cleaning out heavy brush, we ran into several grave stones, none of which were shown on the deed. We honored the graves, but it would have been nicer to know they existed before we accidentally uncovered them. 

In my dad’s case, he would have loved to be buried out back under his favorite lilac bush. And now I know he could have been. MSN

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