Better Place Forests is full of incredible people and stories. Terri Heath, Senior General Manager in Point Arena, has been an instrumental part of the team since we only had one memorial forest — Point Arena. We recently sat down with Terri to learn more about her deep connection with the forest and the people she meets along the way.
Let’s start at the beginning. What brought you to the Point Arena area?
Well, I’m a California native and I came to the area to explore organic farming and to participate in an internship on an organic farm. Around that time, my dad was sick with cancer and passed away. Pretty quickly after that, my mother became sick. So I suffered two big losses right away when I moved to this area. We decided to stay because of the wonderful community here.
After they passed away, I sought the peace that nature provided, so I decided to purchase my own forest, about forty acres. I’ve lived off the grid for many years — growing and selling flowers and food, connecting with nature, managing my own redwoods. So, when Better Place Forests came into my life, our mission and the idea of helping people through loss by connecting with nature really resonated with me. The more I talked with people and learned their stories, the more I felt at home with the idea and purpose behind Better Place Forests.
I’ve been managing the forest and connecting with families ever since.
Do you find it rewarding to help families plan for, and think about, what they want to leave for their loved ones once they’re gone?
Absolutely! My parents gave me so much, but they didn’t have a plan for what would happen after they passed. Ironically, my mother was a therapist who specialized in death and dying — and even she didn’t have a plan. That’s why I’m really inspired by the part of my role where I can help children encourage their parents to make a plan and also help parents see how important it is. Because in that moment when you’ve lost such a significant person, you just want to feel, and not have to think about all of the details and all the operations that are involved. If an end-of-life plan is in place, it really gives the gift of being able to grieve. And that’s what I believe is most important at that time. Planning for the end of life really is a gift you can give to those you love.
What are some of the other aspects of your job? Tell us about how you work with families to plan their ideal memorial ceremony.
When we connect with people the first thing we do is offer support and do our best to really learn their story and the story of their loved one. Having that conversation and building that relationship is what’s most important. Then we explore what their ideal ceremony is — and if they don’t know we help them shape it. We work to customize the memorial in any way that will be meaningful to the family. We have done military services where we held the flag folding ceremony and Taps was played; we’ve seen people bring in drums and dance; we’ve had officiants of different religious affiliations come in. Our ceremonies are very personalized for our families and their loved ones and we welcome full participation in the process
It sounds like you’ve become very connected with your customers.
Yes! We’ve talked a lot about planning ceremonies, but I haven’t yet talked about how inspiring it is to see families and their loved ones connect with their tree and the forest — long before they pass or any ceremony is needed. It brings a sense of peace to bond with your memorial tree and build memories in the forest. From the moment that someone chooses their tree, to the visits that follow, and the memorial ceremony itself –– we prioritize ensuring the quality of that experience.
I work with an incredible team and I feel like the forest is where all of our efforts come together. We’re all working to make that moment with the forest beautiful. The forest is really where it all happens.
There’s just something about these forests, isn’t there?
I really enjoy watching the impact the forest has on people. I find that they’re immediately relaxed by how beautiful and peaceful it is. No photograph can fully convey how gorgeous the forest is. It’s so stunning in person. The Mendocino Coast is an incredible place to create memories.
What makes Point Arena so unique?
Point Arena is such a sweet and unique community. There are lots of young families and people are really close to the earth. Lots of nature lovers who engage with their surroundings. We live in a very rural place where the ocean is a draw; the rivers are a draw; the hiking trails are a draw; people who live here really appreciate the grandeur of nature’s gifts.
Tell us about your memorial tree.
I found my tree when we were building more intimate trails through the forest. I hadn’t noticed it before, and all of a sudden, there it was. It’s a gorgeous Hemlock that stands near a creek. I was drawn to it because it has branches that are lacy and graceful — it reminded me of a dancer, and since I’ve danced all my life, I was really struck by it.
Something I found out recently about Hemlocks is that historically they were used for the masts of ships because the wood is very strong, yet flexible. Coincidentally, I live on a road named for the schooners that were built using the many Hemlocks that once grew in the area.
But mostly, I chose my tree for its graceful branches.