December 5, 2012

For Maine man, final resting spot is a homecoming

Home burials date back to long ago, but some families are returning to tradition.

By Leslie Bridgers
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Pastor Mark Kraines, left, leads a burial service for Edward Lovely on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012. Lovely was buried on the property of his son Don after being diagnosed with lung cancer in October and expressing his desire to be buried on Don's property.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

After the burial, Don Lovely spends a moment at the grave of his father, Edward Lovely.

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

Regulations on home burials are fairly simple in Maine

Most states have no laws regulating burials on private property, said Josh Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance. They leave it up to local officials.

Although Maine has some requirements for backyard burials, the law is relatively lax. The property owner must first establish a family burial ground by writing up a description of the land designated for the cemetery and recording it with the town clerk or the county's register of deeds.

It's not necessary to hire a surveyor to determine the boundaries of the parcel, said Chuck Lakin, a home funeral educator from Waterville. The description could be as simple as: "The 100-by-100-foot plot in the northeast corner of the property marked by four stakes."

The boundaries of the burial ground must be marked, by a fence or otherwise, state law says.

The burial ground can be no bigger than a quarter-acre. It must be set back at least 100 feet from a house or land used for recreation and at least 200 feet from a water well used for domestic purposes. Construction or excavation cannot be done within 25 feet of a burial ground.

Anyone who establishes a family burial ground owns that land in perpetuity, once someone is buried there. Even if the land around it is sold, family members of those buried have an easement to walk from the nearest public road directly to the burial ground. Occasionally, families agree to move graves when they sell land with family burial grounds, said Jim Fernald, spokesman for the Maine Funeral Directors Association.

Lakin suggests checking with the local code enforcement officer to determine whether the community has zoning or other regulations that restrict the location of a family cemetery.

Municipal zoning and code enforcement officials in Greater Portland said this week that they aren't sure how their departments would handle a request for a burial ground on private property.

Marge Schmuckal, Portland's zoning administrator, pointed to the city's land use ordinance, which allows cemeteries in several residential zones as a conditional use approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals. She said she's never heard of anyone wanting to start a family burial ground in the city.

Gorham allows cemeteries as special exceptions in its suburban residential and rural zones. Town officials said a private cemetery hasn't been proposed there in at least 20 years.

Pat Doucette, director of code enforcement in South Portland, said that if a request for a family burial ground came to her office, she'd use the state law as her guide. "There's nothing that prohibits it," she said.

Other states that mention family cemeteries in their laws include Florida, where they must be smaller than two acres, and Michigan, where they must be outside city limits.

California and Washington require cemetery licenses for burials on private property, along with fees of $400 and $300, respectively.

-- Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers

As to how people are buried on their own property, the state has no rules.

"Everybody's familiar with the phrase '6 feet under,' but it's custom, not law," said James Jacobsen, a project manager for the DHHS subsurface wastewater team, which licenses cemeteries.

When the state registered family burial grounds, Jacobsen said, it typically registered about 18 to 20 a year, with little variation.

"I still get a lot of inquiries about it, so I presume it's holding steady," Jacobsen said last week. "This week I've already had three."

The Carll-Heald & Black Funeral Home in Springvale handles a couple of home burials in western York County every year. Funeral director Dan Guillemette said the arrangements he made for Edward Lovely were no different from those for any burial in a rural cemetery.

"It's not the most common thing we do, but it happens here and there," he said.


The New York Times published a story in 2009 about the national trend toward more home funerals, attributing it, in part, to cost savings.

Josh Slocum, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, said there are no statistics to document the trend -- the evidence is in the number of phone calls his group gets and the number of people who have jobs assisting with home funerals.

Home funerals aren't always accompanied by home burials, he said, but the same type of people are often interested in both.

Lakin said the savings can be significant, but that's not usually the reason for home funerals or burials.

After paying the surveyor and attorney, the Lovelys will probably spend more to have the burial at their home. In the future, they might save money by using their backhoe to dig the graves -- something they didn't feel they could do this time, Lorrie Lovely said.

"It's just too close timewise, and, too ... yeah," she said.

Saving money was never the Lovelys' motive for starting the cemetery. Since the days when Donald Lovely and his siblings were small enough to squish together on the benches at their dinner table, they have believed that taking care of family comes first.

And, by granting their father's final wish, they can celebrate the start of something new, said Donald Lovely's brother Darren.

"It will be the beginning of a legacy," he said.


About 100 people gathered on the property Saturday for the burial. Pallbearers carried Edward Lovely's flag-draped coffin over ground covered with a dusting of snow.

Standing in a semicircle around the grave, people huddled against the cold as snow fell lightly and Pastor Mark Kraines of First Parish Congregational Church in Lebanon called people to prayer.

"Heavenly father, we thank you for the beauty of this moment," Kraines said. "The snow falling, the woods, the family that is gathered here, the friends. We thank you for the beauty of Ed's life."

After Kraines read three passages from the Bible, Donald Lovely's daughter Sarah walked to an iPod and started the song "Go Rest High on That Mountain" by Vince Gill. After the song, two friends of Edward Lovely fired three cannon shots, which echoed across the property.

A two-person naval ceremonial guard played "Taps," folded the flag that had covered the casket and presented it to Janice Lovely, Edward's widow.

After the ceremony, people walked slowly back to their cars and Withey lowered the casket into the ground. Before Withey started filling the grave with dirt, Donald Lovely returned to the grave to spend a moment with his father.

"He loved being in the woods and he loved his kids," he said. "He'll be surrounded by both of them now."


-- Staff Photographer Gregory Rec contributed to this report.


Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:


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