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Redwood tree in Better Place Forests Point Arena

Creating a better legacy: why one woman chose a redwood over a burial plot

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Better Place Forests creates and maintains conservation memorial forests for people who choose cremation and don’t want their ashes to end up in a traditional cemetery.

For many people, the thought of death brings somber images to mind — mourning loved ones dressed in black, grieving together inside of an impersonal funeral home, quiet except for the sounds of whispered condolences. This impression is perpetuated by movies and television shows, where tearful scenes take place in front of caskets and headstones, and at some point, the prevalence of this imagery would have it seem like this is the only way to lay a loved one to rest. However, many people want a better end-of-life experience, one where they can create a meaningful legacy for the planet and the people they love. 

Traditional burial is only one end-of-life option. In many cultures, death is looked at as a “homecoming” and the moment the soul leaves the body is considered a continuation of life’s journey. At Irish wakes, it’s common to memorialize the deceased by sharing funny memories and fond stories. In 2018, the 8-hour televised funeral of singer Aretha Franklin showed viewers that mourning can be joyful and uniquely tailored to the wishes of the deceased — anyone who watched the festivities of heart-warming tributes interlaced with stirring musical performances and people wearing stunning ensembles may have had their notions of what a funeral is “supposed to be like” shattered that day!

“The end of life should be a celebration of renewal.” – Micheal Pope

With a lively personality and a tendency to share warm smiles and sincere bursts of laughter, Micheal Pope is the very picture of vibrancy. Still, her 60th birthday was a milestone that made her start thinking about her mortality. Then the uncertainty brought about by the pandemic spurred her to take action (like it has for many others!) She thought about what would happen if she got sick, and recognizing that life is fragile, began her end-of-life planning. A self-described “intensely spiritual” person, she believes that the end of life should be a celebration of renewal and not a mournful conclusion, and she wanted to be sure her plans would reflect that philosophy.

It was important to Micheal to make her end-of-life plans while she was still healthy and could be in control of her decisions. She also wanted her eventual passing to be easy on her family by having everything in place well ahead of time. Micheal started her end-of-life planning by obtaining life insurance, writing her will, and talking to her children about her wishes and plans. Deciding where to spread her ashes was the final decision. It was essential to her that she choose somewhere inviting for her future grandchildren to visit, and knew that a headstone in a traditional cemetery was not for her.

“My end-of-life process is going to be empowering.”

Micheal first learned about Better Place Forests while researching topics for her podcast, “Life is a Sacred Journey.” As a self-described “tree person”, the idea that she could have a beautiful spot for family to visit in a permanently protected forest that wouldn’t be torn down and turned into housing or a parking garage greatly appealed to her. 

Picking out her tree gave Micheal a sense of control over her end-of-life plans and ensured she feels good about the legacy she’s leaving her family. 

“Selecting my tree confirms my decision that my end-of-life process is going to be empowering, a choice I am making when healthy,” she said. “Picking my tree also took all the ‘doom and gloom’ we associate with death completely out of the equation.”

“I bought a tree for my forever life.”

“I chose redwood because of what they stand for,” said Micheal. “But in addition to the species’ strength and longevity, I selected my particular tree for its location just off a path where it is shaded by two other trees. My kids share my love of hiking and I love the idea they could come hike by me, bring my grandchildren, and have a picnic. It’s so much more exciting than searching out my headstone among thousands of others in a traditional cemetery.”

While ensuring her family has a nice place in which to remember her was a major consideration in her planning, another motivating factor to work with Better Place Forests is that we allow the ashes of beloved pets to be spread on-site as well

“I plan to have my pets’ ashes mixed with my own, a continuation of my care for them,” she said. “They are rescue animals and I will always protect them.”

“I want it to be easy for my family.”

With convenience for her family top of mind as she made her plans, Micheal discussed her wishes with her children and friends. Her son was very supportive — in fact, the idea of having a tree in a forest instead of a tombstone in a cemetery was so appealing to him that he’s considering doing the same, as is her best friend. 

Micheal is glad she took the time to proactively get her affairs in order and says there is a sense of freedom when you accept death. She also doesn’t think of death as final but instead looks at it as living again as minerals thriving in her beautiful redwood tree, reminiscent of the idea of earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust 

“I know my spirit will be gone, but the idea that I’m going back to the place, back to the ground where man was created from, gives me peace.”

When you’re ready to take control of your end-of-life plans, our team of advisors is here to help you choose a tree in one of our protected forests. Schedule a free online forest tour to learn more about creating a legacy that’s good for the planet and the people you love.

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