Life’s a Beech

This post, with a few tweaks and updates, first appeared on my blog in 2014.

Like many people our age have done, my husband and I drafted our living trust, wills, durable powers of attorney, and advance health care directives. Over the last few years, we have witnessed the rapid deterioration in the health of some family members and friends, so we wanted to get this done while we are both in good physical and mental health. We do what we can to stay healthy but we don’t fool ourselves into thinking it can’t happen to us. Even if we live to 90 or beyond, these documents will be necessary to assure that our wishes are carried out.

Creating these documents was serious and time-consuming. There were a lot of details to think about and financial decisions to be made. I found the most enjoyable part of the process was determining where our assets will go once we were both gone. Since we have no children, we happily specified a few charities that are near and dear to our hearts. One decision that I had difficulty with was deciding what I want done with my remains. Although cremation is a given, where do I want my ashes to go?

When my mother passed away in 2000, I was relieved to discover that she and my father had made funeral arrangements many years previously. Because of this, my brothers and I weren’t faced with the burden of trying to guess what she would have wanted. It was a generous and loving act that we appreciated again when my father died several years later. Their ashes now lay side-by-side in a columbarium overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

After doing some research, I found the answer to my dilemma: tree urns. Planting commemorative trees is a practice that has been around for a while, but I discovered that there is a way I can actually become part of a tree once I am gone.

There are several companies that sell these urns, which contain all the items necessary for the process (“just add ashes!”): Bios Urns, EterniTrees, Spirit Trees, Peotrees, are a few that I found. The prices vary, but the concept is pretty much the same: one’s ashes are mixed with planting soil, nutrients, and a tree seed. Since ashes contain phosphorous, they contribute to the healthy growth of the tree. How great is that?! I have always considered myself a tree-hugger, but now I can actually nourish the tree. Rather than becoming post-consumer (as in me, the consumer) waste, I can contribute healthy Co2 to the atmosphere for many years to come.

Most of the companies that sell tree urns offer a choice of seeds. Beech, maple, and oak are a few of the options listed on one website. Living – and most likely dying – in Southern California, I’d probably choose a tree that’s drought resistant. Or, maybe a citrus. A lime tree, perhaps, so my tree’s fruit could be blended into pitchers of margaritas or muddled to make a mojito.

Since we are pretty sure we can’t take it with us, my husband and I intend to spend most of our assets having fun in our retirement (sorry, designated charities), leaving just enough for a heck of a Celebration of Life party for our friends. Although I’d like to think we will leave the world a better place, most likely our names won’t be remembered by generations far into the future, nor will they be engraved on a plaque or noted in a text.

Maybe my ashes could be used to propagate a tree planted in our back yard. Becoming a tree – a symbol of eternal life in many cultures – will allow me to live on, providing some beauty, a little shade, and perhaps adding a refreshing zest to the drinks of future homeowners. I hope they will raise a toast to my memory.

54 thoughts on “Life’s a Beech”

  1. My dad died a few years ago and in memory of him, I purchased a mature blue spruce (his favourite tree) and had it planted on my property. We had a little ceremony and scattered his ashes underneath the tree, covering them with soil and planting my mom’s favourite flowers, lily of the valley. I go by “Dad’s tree” all of the time and love that he’s there, helping his tree along.

    However, like you, I have no children, and I don’t know who would be coming to visit my ashes. Being part of a tree would change all that. I’ll have to see who does this in Ontario, Canada.

    1. What a lovely way to celebrate your father’s life! All the companies I found that offer these urns have an online presence. I’m sure even Amazon would send one to you… they pretty much offer everything from birth to death 😀

  2. This is a beautiful post, Janis, about a difficult subject. I love the tree idea! I saw it advertised a few years ago and the concept speaks to me as well. While it creeps me out a bit to think about being cremated or being eaten by worms in the ground, I think cremation is the best solution for many reasons. I keep thinking about my ashes being spread out on the ocean, but, for the reasons you mention (love the mojito reference), being part of nature in the form of a tree just sounds right!

    1. I like the idea of continuing on in another form (although I don’t believe in reincarnation) and I’m a big tree lover do it seems like a reliable way “to go.” There are way too many of us to be able to bury us all the traditional way.

  3. Becoming one with a tree in the afterlife holds a lot of appeal. I am seriously going to look into this, as my husband and I are way overdue for documenting these end-of-life decisions. Thanks for the information! Hmm, what kind of tree…?

    1. Documenting those decisions can be difficult and I know a lot of people put it off because of that. But, there are a lot of interesting choices that need to be considered and some of them are actuality fun to consider (I’m not sure “fun” is the exact word), including the type of tree. 😀

  4. I don’t have children either although my husband does. We married late in life after his kids had dispersed to other states so although we like each other and get along fine, I don’t have a real connection with them. I have been trying to figure out how to do this whole will thing because I want my assets to go to a local charity here rather than his kids but it get difficult to do that particularly if I die first. As for the remains, not sure what I want. The worst part is this indecision runs in the family. My brother and his wife are in their upper 80s. Their son lives across the country and I have this strange feeling that when one goes, I will be very involved in what happens. *ostrich sticks head back in sand* Love your idea though. I’d love to have a tree planted.

    1. Your situation can’t be that unique so there must be a way to ensure that your assets go where you want them to. I tend to live in denial too, so I’m sure we’ve left a few decisions unmade. Our biggest challenge is/was finding someone significantly younger than us to designate the management of our estate to after we are gone (although we hope to spend it all having fun before that happens).

      1. Yes, I’m struggling with that too. My brother is much older (he designated me for his stuff) and my niece is 3 years younger than me. Maybe a grand nephew who is an accountant.

  5. What an amazing idea ! I have never heard of this and I think it’s brilliant. I will definitely look into this to find out more. When my father passed, we scattered his ashes at sea, with the Neptune Society. My mother made it clear, before she passed, that she wanted her brain to be used for research and understanding her epilepsy; so we donated her brain for that purpose. The organization we donated to (UCSD) also cremated the balance of her remains, and then….scattered them at sea, which I thought was a lovely way to join them back together.

    I am thinking about one of your previous posts about how interesting graveyards and cemeteries are. But on the other hand, trees are just as wonderful!

    1. Your comment helps to illustrate how personal and individual these decisions can be. For so long our western society has institutionalized dying and death. It seems that we are just starting to break away from that and embrace other ways of dealing with our – and our loved ones’ – end of life transitions.

  6. I give you so much credit for writing about this scary, difficult subject and coming out the other end with a beautiful concept. This might sound silly and is definitely irrational, but I’m claustrophic and thought of being buried in a box is terrifying. Your tree idea points me in a new direction. Also, a post I recently wrote about trees and aging in my blog might be fun for you to read. (Or not. LOL). In any case, here’s the direct link: https://overthehillontheyellowbrickroad.com/2017/06/13/conversation-with-a-tree-feeling-fragile/
    Cathi

  7. I agree that this is a beautiful post about an important, and difficult subject. Thanks for sharing this, Janis. Very thought-provoking!

  8. Love the idea and have heard of it before but do not think it is available around here. Husband and I have taken care of the will part but had not make the arrangements for cremation which we both want. That is on our to do list. Will probably be scattered on old family ranch.

  9. It’s odd to read this post after this past week dealing with family and friends over a death, a near-death-but-for-medical-intervention, and a death-imminent-in-final-days. To stay I’m feeling rather numb right now would be an understatement.

    I love your tree idea. It’s personal, environmentally friendly, and a lovely way to *give-back*. Perhaps you might also want to have a plaque on your tree. I see many of these in my travels through parks and on trails. I read one recently that included something like ‘thank you for honouring my dad’s memory by taking the time to read this plaque’.

    Although I have children and many nieces and nephews dear to me, your post was a reminder that we’ve left many details incomplete – including a will that hasn’t been revisited in a number of years.
    I appreciate the nudge.

    1. I’m so sorry that you are going through so much all at once. It’s easy to leave details incomplete or not updated (we have a few too) but, when you are faced with the loss of others dear to you, it can be a prompt to make the plans necessary to ease the burden of those left behind.

  10. I really love this idea, Janis and I’m glad you posted it again with updates. Author Orson Scott Card, who wrote the Enders Game series, writes about a species of humanoid who become trees when they die as part of their life process. Not a far out notion at all.

  11. Hear hear on the cremation. Having now lived for quite a while in Asia where cremation is the predominant form of burial, I simply can’t wrap my head around the concept of burying horizontally on the ground and taking up land space. So thumbs up on the cremation idea. As we travel the world, it occasionally strikes us that “here” would be a good place to have ashes scattered. But in the end we always come back to a belief that our energies are fluid and scattered here or there, is perhaps more of a concept around orienting an activity for those left behind. We have heard about the tree idea and that is definitely a good one. If I were to pick a tree I would want to be contributing to a fig tree. How wonderful to contribute to the seasonal appearance of such delicious fruit.

    Ben

  12. What a wonderful idea! My husband and I also plan to be cremated, and we had just wanted our ashes scattered on Sanibel Island, our favorite vacation destination. But I like the idea of nurturing a tree.
    As for the living wills and health decisions, we did that as well, after his parents died and we saw how important it is to have everything written down so as not to be a burden on our kids.
    And finally, I’m glad you and your husband are spending your money enjoying your retirement years! You’ve earned that….”life is for living” is a saying I like a lot!

  13. Assuming I don’t spend it all, my sons will get the estate with the exception of my endowed scholarship at the local state university. If I am living in this house when I go, I want my ashes scattered in the garden, but I do like your tree idea. I’ll have to check into that.

  14. Hi Janis! I’m just catching up with your blog again and saw this post. Thank you for these important reminders. My parents did just what your’s did by prearranging their cremation. They didn’t go quite as far as figuring out what to do with the ashes…but they did take that huge burden off us family members and that is exactly what Thom and I will do too. And I love the idea of the tree urn. I think that will work for Thom and I too. Thanks for that suggestion. ~Kathy

    1. I was very surprised to discover how well my parents had planned things (although I guess I shouldn’t have been since they were good planners) and it really help us kids out when we weren’t functioning on all cylinders. I really love the tree urn idea too.

  15. I loved this post and the idea of a tree urn! Since we’re expats living in Portugal, we actually have two sets of wills: documents in the US that we updated the last time we were back in the States and we just had our attorney in Portugal write up a will for what little we have here since we rent. We’ve also decided on cremation and then were kind of stumped as to what we should do with the ashes. Realistically, no one’s going to visit, right? But, thanks to your idea, I’ll have to do some checking and see what kind of clever solutions I might find here! Anita

    1. The tree urn appealed to me for its simplicity, future use, and (hopefully) longevity. There are a few other clever alternatives – including having jewelry made from ashes – so you might find something that you like. I’m not sure you intended the pun, but I’ll just add: Why be “stumped” when you can be a tree! 🙂

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