Tuesday, Sept. 22, turned out to be a beautiful day for an eco-friendly funeral. But as a crowd gathered at Natural Cemeteries in the Swan Valley to say goodbye to R.C. Hooker, co-author of the Independent's recent feature on green burial, few knew what exactly it took to get Hooker's body to the bucolic site.
"We had to do it ourselves," says Christine Kalenak, Hooker's partner. "I don't think he wanted me to have to do it, but it was actually something that made it easier for me."
Green burial follows the simple belief that once someone dies, they should be naturally returned to the earth. Until recently, only cremation and traditional burials, which often include metal caskets, tombstones, cement vaults and a chemical-laden embalming process, were available in Montana. Hooker was the first customer to be placed into the ground at Natural Cemeteries.
Kalenak and Tawnya Cramer, who's known Hooker since 1986, handled the preparations for Hooker's funeral. Once Hooker died in his Somers home Monday afternoon, his hospice nurse removed his IVs, secured the necessary paperwork for the cemetery and dressed Hooker in an Egyptian gown he had asked to be buried in. Kalenak and Cramer then took over, adding socks, gloves and a hat—Hooker hated being cold—and scented his body with Frankincense essential oil before wrapping him in a blanket. The only problem came after the two women hauled Hooker's body outside to his biodegradable pine casket and loaded it into Kalenak's pick-up truck—the casket almost didn't fit and needed to be fastened with rope for the 45-minute drive to the cemetery.
"It was pretty freaky," says Kalenak of the transport. "It was probably the weirdest thing that I've ever done, but we maintained our spirits. We were laughing all the way up until we were crying."
At the actual gravesite service, friends and relatives remembered Hooker before six people volunteered to help lower his casket into the ground. Cramer says the whole experience had a profound impact on those involved.
"Everyone seemed to have a role," she says. "The DIY aspect—the whole way it was done—it's as if we all played a part in giving him what he wanted. For me, it just seemed like better closure."