The view from a country churchyard


A funeral is a formal occasion rich with symbolism. Dark clad people stand solemnly, and as they leave you’ll notice that some of the faces are tear-streaked. Yet there is such a thing as a ‘good funeral’ where the stories are told and you catch up with people you haven’t seen for a decade or more.

And then there’s the ‘crem.’ We’re an overpopulated little island and there isn’t the seven feet of ground available for most of us, so the Crematorium is involved. Some people cut out the middle man and have the funeral there. Some do both, the crem service being after the funeral and reserved for immediate family and the closest friends.

Finally, the last part of the process, we have the disposal of ashes. Some people scatter them. Given the amount of heavy metals etc involved there are actually rules about it, but I’ll let that slide at the moment. For some, they just want to scatter the ashes at a well loved view point or other site and the person fades into anonymity as their family and friends die as well.
Some want to sit out their time with family in the churchyard. Perhaps their children want something, even if only an engraved slab, to gaze at from time to time, to remember Mum, and Grandma, and the various other relations who’ve somehow accumulated in this small common plot.

From the point of view of the Church, interring the ashes isn’t one of the great sacraments. At the funeral everything was said that needed saying. We’ve done our bit and tried to put a gloss on a life on the vague hope that the God we’re including in the service has lost his notes and doesn’t remember what really went on.

So at the Interment of Ashes, there is considerable flexibility. Some families just want a churchwarden to dig the hole. They’ll pour in the ashes and the churchwarden fills it in again. I’ve done a number of these. Sometimes they’ll ask for a vicar to say a final few words. If they ask, they get. A good priest will be there to hear the stories that couldn’t be told and to help heal the wounds that have only dared to reveal themselves after the funeral. Then there’s the spectrum of wishes in between. Some want the churchwarden to say a prayer, some come with their own prayers, some ask if it’s OK to put a flower, a ring, or even a letter, in with the ashes. I always say yes because grief is complicated and individual and you help as and when you can.

And then who attends?
At one extreme we had two churchwardens and the lady from the undertaker. The person whose ashes we were interring had outlived her family, and had ‘kept herself to herself.’ Neighbours who would have turned up out of respect didn’t even know she was dead because she’d had to go into a home.

Close family is more usual, sons and daughters, plus their various spouses and partners. Sometimes a grandchild.

And then, like today, the whole family turns up. Four generations who want to say that final farewell to a much loved lady.

At all these events you get those who are there for duty and those who want to be there because it matters to them. I’m digging holes to take the ashes of people I’ve never met, but as I look round the group of people watching, I can make a fair assessment of that person.
And this morning, as her family said the words of the Lords Prayer, in its traditional version, and a bullock just over the wall bawled briefly before wandering off to find better grass, I decided that this one was probably one of the best.

The family had asked for a short service. We looked at the family and noted the frailty of some of them; we opened up the church and did as much as we could inside. It was a cold wind. The short Gospel reading was where Jesus says ‘In my Father’s house there are many mansions.’ The short talk (and I mean short) that followed it commented that in our lives we’re effectively furnishing those mansions. You get what you are.

Me? I cannot vouch for that one way or another. But one thing I can tell you; when the churchwarden pours your ashes into the hole, he’ll be able to tell a lot about your character from the people who made the effort to stand in the cold and watch him.



More life, death, livestock, quads and dogs available for the discerning

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20 thoughts on “The view from a country churchyard

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt October 27, 2018 at 4:12 pm Reply

    Funerals affect us all, even gangsters (if TV and movies and books can be believed – I have no personal experience). And there’s always someone whose livelihood depended on the tyrant they’re burying, and is wailing.

    I like your image that we’re furnishing our ‘mansions,’ but we really don’t know what the view will be, and what colors are appropriate. Me, I also like to think that the parable of the vineyard workers, where the last get the same pay as the first, applies. I won’t begrudge – my sins are enough for me to be judgmental about; I just want to get there. I have a lot of people to catch up with, and many to apologize to in person.

    Unfortunate that the good effect of funerals isn’t more long-lasting. We go right back to what we were doing.

    • jwebster2 October 27, 2018 at 5:41 pm Reply

      It’s interesting attending a funeral as a ‘professional’ rather than a participant, when you stand, semi-detached. Available but not involved.

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt October 28, 2018 at 2:03 am

        Some professionals are very good at their jobs, and you come away feeling comforted.

      • jwebster2 October 28, 2018 at 6:48 am

        For a lot of these people, when you talk to them, the pastoral side of their job is very important to them

  2. jenanita01 October 27, 2018 at 6:08 pm Reply

    I have never been to a funeral, and don’t intend to start now…

    • jwebster2 October 27, 2018 at 6:10 pm Reply

      That’s the spirit 🙂

  3. patriciaruthsusan October 28, 2018 at 9:28 am Reply

    Where we buried my mother’s ashes we had to have a cremation vault. I was told another body or another person’s ashes can be put there so I told my kids to put me there. My husband was cremated here in India and his ashes put into a river so there’s just me. They can just have my name added to my mother’s marker. It began with my parents and me and will end that way. An odd thing is an old neighbor of my parents who lived down the hill from them is buried down the hill from them in the cemetery. 🙂 — Suzanne

    • jwebster2 October 28, 2018 at 11:06 am Reply

      It’s one of those areas where we start with culture, add a touch of faith and then make our own road. What matters is the comfort it gives to those who are left

  4. patriciaruthsusan October 28, 2018 at 11:28 am Reply

    I just don’t want my kids to have high burial expenses. Funerals in the U.S. can run into thousands of dollars. —- Suzanne

    • jwebster2 October 28, 2018 at 2:20 pm Reply

      round here if you have a church funeral and cremation it can come to £3000, getting buried in a church yard can be cheaper but then you have to have the grave first

  5. patriciaruthsusan October 28, 2018 at 2:43 pm Reply

    I had a regular funeral home service and embalming for my dad in 1980. I had to buy the plots as my dad didn’t have ones for him and my mom. It totaled about $4,000 and that was 1980. He had insurance and some savings that paid for it. He was a WWI vet so the government furnished the marker for free. I later bought a matching one for my mom. —- Suzanne

    • jwebster2 October 28, 2018 at 3:42 pm Reply

      dying isn’t a cheap hobby, keep living, it’s the cheaper option 😉

  6. jbwye October 29, 2018 at 9:23 am Reply

    A lovely post, Jim. And I recognise the picture!
    My husband died last year, and I can safely say for all my family that his was a good funeral. We were gathered from “the ends of the world” for our golden wedding anniversary. He made the date with a day to spare, but the celebrations were held ten days later as planned. Only, we were celebrating his life, rather than our anniversary. We had a wonderful remembrance service, that day, where each family member spoke; our church prepared a lovely spread for the guests, before family went to the crematorium. Then an evening with extended family at my sister’s home rounded off the day.

    • jwebster2 October 29, 2018 at 12:44 pm Reply

      Hi Jane
      ‘If done right’ a funeral is a place of healing and helps the family come back together to cope with their grief. I’ve seen ex-husbands welcomed to their late wife’s funeral because the day is too important for pettiness

  7. jbwye October 29, 2018 at 9:23 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Jane Bwye and commented:
    Amen to this.

    • jwebster2 October 29, 2018 at 1:23 pm Reply

      glad you liked it Jane 🙂

  8. Cynthia Reyes November 4, 2018 at 12:01 pm Reply

    What an interesting post, Jim, and a perspective of death and funerals not often shared on blogs I follow. Thank you.

    • jwebster2 November 4, 2018 at 1:30 pm Reply

      Death is always there, once you realise that, you have a chance of getting your real priorities in order 🙂

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