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Editor's column: Memorial trees celebrate cycle of life

Richmond News editor Eve Edmonds laments the cost of planting a memorial tree and not being able to make a lasting memory at the site
memorialbench
Memorial benches are the norm in Richmond, given that there are no graveyards

It was last October, just weeks ahead of the municipal election, a time when local politicians explain their visions and priorities for the city. That’s when Mayor Malcolm Brodie told the Richmond News he’d like to see the city develop a memorial garden.

Richmond can’t have graveyards because of our high-water table, so a memorial garden could be an alternative. Brodie said the idea had been proposed and agreed on by past councils but remained just that — an idea.

It was a comment that a few years ago, I probably wouldn’t have given a second thought to, but life (and death) has a way of focusing one’s attention.

In January 2022, we lost my kids’ dad and in January 2023 we lost my dad. The issue of what to do with a body’s remains is now a very real topic of family discussion.

For my kids’ dad, I was certain he’d want his ashes scattered in the ocean or along the beach on the Sunshine Coast where his family had a summer home. In fact, he said as much. But that was when he was younger and stronger. When the time actually came, he chose instead to be interned in a family plot in a Vancouver graveyard. He liked the idea of being where family could gather, which is exactly what we did on the one-year anniversary of his passing.

So now what to do with my dad. We’re not interested in a memorial bench. They’re expensive, there’s a wait list to get one, and you can’t exactly scatter someone’s ashes all over them. But we do want some place in Richmond that’s easy for my mom to get to, some place we can return to and feel his presence.

Now for some background...

My dad was a forester and worked “in the bush” for 20 years. He eventually changed professions, but while he left forestry, he never left the forest. Every summer it was camping and hiking, and every winter it was cross-country skiing. In his final years, he was so grateful for the grove of trees in Steveston Park where he would walk.

“I never feel alone when I’m among trees,” he told me.

Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this — a memorial tree.

This isn’t an original idea. The city already has a memorial tree program of sorts, but it needs tending if it’s going to really take root...groan.

My mom phoned the city about it and was told it would cost $650 and she could have a tree planted in a new park at the south end of Trites Road. It’s actually a little patch of grass with a kid’s slide and a view of the Harbour Authority’s chain-linked fence.

To be fair, this was just a suggestion. In a recent report from city staff regarding memorial benches and trees, city staff said it would try to accommodate a family’s wishes regarding location. And for an added cost, they may also accommodate a family’s choice of tree.

I asked the city about being able to bury the ashes at the base but haven’t heard back on that. I know scattering ashes just anywhere doesn’t jive with some people’s sensibility, but that’s them. My father would love to know his remains were helping nourish the life of a young sapling.

The second quibble I have is about a marker. The report notes that no plaques or markers would be allowed on or in front of the tree for fear it could damage the tree.

Obviously, harming the tree would defeat the purpose, but if we’re paying $650 to help grow the local tree canopy, a stated objective of the city, surely there is some way to recognize the person memorialized.

Vancouver doesn’t even charge for planting a memorial tree because planting trees aligns with the city’s objective of "improving the tree canopy cover," according to a spokesperson for the Vancouver Park Board.

We need that kind of encouragement here not just because we don’t have graveyards, but because allowing people to honour their dead by planting new life is a beautiful and healthy way to celebrate a person's -- and the planet's -- cycles of life.

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