My parents died when I was very young.
My father of a stroke when I was 10 and my mother of cancer, Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, when I was 11. My mother had been fighting terminal cancer for five years when my father died unexpectedly. They had not discussed their end-of-life plans, which meant that choosing a grave for my father was a hurried, last-minute decision, and the impetus for my mother’s own end-of-life planning.
My mother wanted to be buried with her family forever. She admired the old family mausoleums in the cemetery near our house, but we couldn’t afford one. She picked the last family plot available in an old church cemetery, despite it being beside a busy street where the noise of traffic and sirens from the nearby fire station filled the air.
St. James Cemetery, in Toronto, Ontario, where my parents were buried in 1993 and 1995.
My favorite memories of my parents took place in nature, but when I visit my parents now I hear a busy street and see the cars driving by in the reflection of their polished granite tombstone.
After working as an entrepreneur in the software industry for ten years, I knew I needed to build something more meaningful to be happy.
When my mother was faced with a terminal diagnosis, she found a purpose for her cancer by founding Wellspring, a non-profit that grew to become a national network of cancer support centers that has helped over 75,000 families through the trauma of cancer treatment. I loved my parents enormously and deeply needed to find meaning in their early deaths.
This photograph of my mother, Anne Armstrong Gibson, welcomes visitors to the Wellspring center in Oakville, Ontario. I was just about to leave for a 7 day, 3300 KM / 2000 Mile bicycle relay from Toronto to New Orleans to raise money for Wellspring.
I visited my parents’ grave for my mother’s 67th birthday on March 1st, 2015. I heard the buses rumbling behind me on the loud street and thought about how this didn’t feel like the right place for them. I thought about all the times I’d remember my mother and how instead of her face, the first thing that came to me was the image of her tombstone. I said to myself, there has to be a better place than this.
I started Better Place Forests with two of my lifelong friends out of a desire to create a better final resting place for our families. Over time, we learned that a final resting place isn’t just a physical place in the world; it’s how and where we remember the people we love.
Each person’s life is a story. Their story lives on in the hearts of the people who love them. We want to remember the people we love surrounded by nature and life, knowing that they helped create and protect a beautiful part of our Earth. We want to help give each of them a better ending to their story.