Elizabeth Fournier, who presently owns her own funeral home and has worked in the funeral and burial industry for more than thirty years, was well versed in death even as a child. She lost her mother and her grandparents (who all shared her family home) when she was little, and her familiarity with death became a part of her identity in school.
“Whenever any of my classmates had a dog die or a family member pass away, they would come to me with questions about how to cope and in search of comfort. And that followed me all through school – elementary school, high school, and even college. I would get calls from people who needed help burying their hamster, or someone would call me late at night because they needed to talk or ask questions about something related to death.”
Everyone has a “thing” that they’re good at or known for, and death was Elizabeth’s “thing.” When she played in the sandbox, she staged funerals for her dolls with her brother’s toy cars lined up in procession. But Elizabeth didn’t carry her death-related identity around like it was some terrible weight. She was a very happy, bubbly child with lots of personality…who just so happened to be experienced with and have an interest in death.
At 13, Elizabeth knew she wanted to continue her relationship with death and pursue it as a career. At 18, she was ready to go to school to become a mortician, but her father was not so eager for her to turn her interest in death into a career.
“He told me I was young and that I would change my mind, and that I was never going to get a date if I worked at a cemetery. So, instead, I studied journalism and writing. I loved being able to put my thoughts and feelings on paper, and I had spent a lot of time growing up writing and being creative. I would walk through cemeteries and look at the different headstones and write down made up stories about who they were and what happened to them.”
But even though her father had convinced her to not pursue a degree in mortuary studies, Elizabeth retained her passion for death, and when an opportunity presented itself in college for her to live at a cemetery, she jumped on it.
“The idea of living in a cemetery scared the crap out of me, but it also intrigued me. And that summer was the most curious one of my life. I slept in a trailer in the cemetery and had a shotgun under my bed. My job was to close the cemetery up at night and reopen it in the mornings. I answered the phones, let people in, and I kept the grounds clear which wasn’t easy considering it was summer and young people liked to party and drink amongst the graves.”
Q: Cemeteries are always depicted as these spooky places on TV and in movies. Did anything creepy happy to you while you lived there?
A: “It wasn’t the dead people that were creepy. It was the living. I would get calls in the middle of the night from people who were trapped in the cemetery because the gates were closed and they needed to be let out, but it was the way they spoke to me that made it strange. I got the impression that they called because they wanted me to come out of the trailer and roam the grounds, not because they actually needed help getting out.”
Now, more than thirty years later, after having worked in several different cemeteries and funeral homes, Elizabeth owns her own mortuary in Boring, Oregon. And what’s even more interesting is that Elizabeth isn’t the only person in her family tree to pursue a career as a mortician — and she had no clue until after she bought her own funeral home!
“I was telling my father about a funeral conference I just attended, and he casually drops into the conversation that he spent plenty of time playing Hide and Seek in the funeral home owned by his aunt and uncle. I was completely blown away! As it turns out, watching them work long and hard solemn hours was part of the reason why he was initially so against me pursuing this line of work.”
Elizabeth’s first book – All Men Are Cremated Equal
“When I was in my thirties, I was a marriage-minded mortician. I was ready for a family, but I had no interest in dating around and having boyfriends that wouldn’t last. I wanted to find the one. So, I wrote a criteria list and handed it out to all of my friends and family and told them that if they knew anyone that checked all those boxes, send them my way. That year I had 77 blind dates, and All Men Are Cremated Equal is a book about those blind dates. And, I am happy to say, that by the end of that summer and after all of those blind dates, I did in fact find the one.” Spoiler: We met at a funeral!
Elizabeth’s third book – The Green Burial Guidebook
Q: What is a green burial?
A: “The basic principle of a green burial – a natural burial – is being as natural as possible when you’re put into the ground. That means no embalming, no formaldehyde. You want to place the body inside something that is going to be recyclable – a natural wood casket, a shroud, a casket made out of wicker, just something that’s going to break down. And when whatever the body is placed in does break down, the body – which is untouched by chemicals – will break down, too, and do wonderful things to the soil. The Green Burial Guidebook has everything you could possibly need to know about green burials – how to plan one, the different ways to perform one, everything you would need, and other educational or helpful resources.”
Q: What are the most important things to consider when deciding between a modern burial and a green burial?
A: “The most important thing to remember when planning a burial is that it’s not for the benefit of the dead, but for the benefit of the living. Therefore, the decision on how to honor the dead should be left up to those who will be there to do the honoring. Budget is another important consideration, and as The Green Burial Guidebook points out, green burials are a less expensive alternative to traditional burials. And don’t let guilt influence your budget decisions, like buying an unnecessarily grand headstone to make up for the fact that you had a poor relationship with your father. And, of course, you have to consider what kind of disposition you want – buried in the ground, buried at sea, cremation, water cremation, buried in your backyard, buried in a mausoleum, just to name a few.”
Q: What were the most memorable green burials that you’ve ever been a part of?
A: “One burial that I helped out with had these four sisters who did not get along and detested one another more and more the older they got, who were burying their mom. The mom was laying on a plank of wood in a shroud, and after some final words had been spoken, one-by-one the four sisters each grabbed a rope and together they lowered their mom into the ground. Afterwards, having realized they just did something incredible together after years of fighting and hating each other, they broke down and came together in this big hug. It was quite beautiful and very healing.
There was a woman I helped bury called Wanda, and she was the first green burial I ever performed. Her burial opened my eyes to all the different possibilities of ways you could honor and part with a deceased loved one.
And there’s Jaime, with the purple house. A man came to see me and he said that his wife – Jaime – was dying, so I followed him to his home and we did a walkthrough of the yard and the flowers around his house where they wanted to bury her and he described the funeral he had in mind. But before we could put together the beautiful farewell that we had talked about, his wife passed away. I went to their house after quickly attending to the details we would need to bury her, and the scene I walked in on was beautiful. Someone was making gumbo on the stove. A friend was painting her nails purple. There was a woman playing the guitar. Her husband was sitting next to her, talking to her. There was so much love in this little house, it was overwhelming. They ended up burying her in a grave in the backyard lilacs, and it was perfect.”
Elizabeth Fournier’s website – https://www.thegreenreaper.org/home