8 June 2014

A Good Goodbye

We recently buried our friend. And I mean that quite literally. At the end of his amazing DIY funeral his family and friends all took shovels and we didn't leave the cemetery until his grave was filled in. 

I thought I knew pretty much everything there was to know about funerals. I've been to a lot over the years, from cold miserable little affairs where the vicar kept getting the name wrong and most of the ageing congregation looked like it was hardly worth going home, to a magnificent South London send off which featured plumed horses and a stand up comedian. 
The churchyard in Cowgill where my parents are buried
We buried my shepherd dad in a beautiful Dales churchyard surrounded by bleating sheep and carried my mum out to the same plot to the sound of her Women's Institute choir singing Jerusalem. Like I said, I've been to a lot.

But I've never been to a funeral like this one. No undertakers, no floral wreaths, no hearse. Instead, under the guidance of his wife and following his own expressed wishes, the friends and family of this dearly loved man came together and created an event that reflected exactly the life that he led. A life of creativity, respect for the earth and the absolute conviction that if you want something doing you learn how to do it yourself. 

We erected a huge gazebo in the local cemetery and many of his friends arrived by bus. He came in a wicker casket in the back of his mate's van. The sound system was powered by pedal bike and the celebrant wore wellies. After the ceremony, which was moving and funny and life affirming, his nephews and friends carried his casket up a steep slope to a woodland burial area. They lowered it into the grave where the shovels were passed around as we shared the task of laying our friend to rest. And of course there was a wake. A gathering of several hundred people in a club he had loved and pretty much single handedly maintained. It had been cleaned and painted for the occasion and food and drink was prepared and served by his friends.

The time between a death and a burial often feels unreal, as if life goes on hold and normal activity feels awkward and wrong. Not in this case - we all had jobs to do. Painting and cleaning and shopping and cooking brought many of us together on a daily basis. Sharing our grief but also taking great pride in being together and doing it for our friend. It's changed my view of funerals completely and opened my eyes to the joy to be found in not handing over to professionals, however caring, however helpful, but in taking responsibility ourselves for the end of our loved ones' lives .  

And I thank my friend and his wife for giving me the chance to be part of it.

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