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