Not a hint of death hangs about the garden behind St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Eastport. No tombstones with sobering messages or crosses marking the burial place of infants. Nothing but flowers and light.
The flowers grow pink and white on this small hill behind the church, the first garden in the Annapolis area for people who choose to be cremated.
At the head of the horseshoe design grow miniature red maple trees. Dwarf shrubs and blooming plants provide color in every season of the year. A single granite plaque reads simply: "St. Luke's Memorial Garden."
Inside the church, a bronze plaque commemorates those whose ashes have been buried in the garden. Among them is Anna May Wilson, whose vision brought the garden into existence.
For years, Wilson dreamed of having such a garden. She checked with City Hall and found out there could be no more cemeteries in Annapolis, but a local funeral director explained that the ashes of a cremated person could be buried anywhere.
She and her husband, Frank, looked at memorial gardens in Hanover, Pa., and at Episcopal churches in New Jersey and Virginia. Closer to home, they surveyed gardens in Woodlawn and Severna Park.
Finally a plan and diagram were approved by the church vestry. Last July, the garden was dedicated at the celebration of Anna May and Frank's 50th wedding anniversary.
Contributions were suggested as gifts for the anniversary party, and more than $3,000 was putinto a trust fund to maintain the garden.
A month later, Anna Maydied and her ashes were buried in the garden.
"Losing her was oursorrow, yet we all felt it was planned," says church member Sena Sigafoose.
"The quiet beauty of St. Luke's Church Memorial Garden speaks of life," says her husband, Frank. "It is a place of joyful memory and thanksgiving rather than a gloomy retreat dominated by a sense of loss."
When someone dies, the family calls the undertaker with instructions that the body is to be cremated, eliminating the step ofembalming. In the United States, about a third of all corpses are cremated, local undertakers say.
The ashes are to be returned to St.Luke's in a simple box, which will be placed on a stand in front of the altar on the day of the funeral.
At the end of the funeral service, the family and congregation leave the church, following the priest. The ashes, removed from the box, are lowered into the ground andthe service is read by a priest.
Shortly after the funeral, a bronze plate with the name of the deceased, date of birth and date of death is affixed to the plaque designated for those who have their remains in the Memorial Garden.
A complete record of the names of the deceased is kept in a logbook, with date of birth, date of death and record of the internment fees. This logbook also includes a diagram of the consecrated area where the ashes are interred, and notes the date of internment.
Though the garden is small now, a 20-foot circlewith a 5-foot border, the church plans for a full-sized garden in six years. Church members have planted tulips, narcissus, pansies and summer annuals, but the circle is in the hands of the landscape gardener, a deaf-mute gentleman hired for the project, Daniel E. Hines of the West River Landscape Co.
The cost to a family is minimal, with the only expense for internment in the garden a small fee for the name plate.
But the best part of the garden, church members say, is that no headstones mar the beauty of the spot. Rather than the exact place where a loved one's ashes are buried, the memorial becomes the entire garden, an oasis of azaleas and holly and green grass in the summer sunlight.