Sunday, February 04, 2007

Earth Duvet

Friday January 26, 2007

Sleet splattered the windscreen as my funeral buddy and I crossed the motorway in disobedience of the Sat Nav in search of a toilet and breakfast. When we emerged from the cutsy little roadside caff some half hour later, the sun was struggling to push its way between the clouds.

Stark against the light sky stood the trees in their winter sparseness. Darker green and damp were the fields from recent serious rains and the snow of two days earlier. We meandered across country under a gradually clearing sky.

On the edge of trees, in a cemetery overlooking the sea, I took the weight of the cardboard box that held my father’s body. I felt him shift slightly as though moving to get comfortable and I pushed my arms under to hold him better. All four siblings shuffled uncertainly towards the open grave.

Warm sun licked my face as I turned to position myself. One foot toed the edge of the grave, and I marvelled at the straightness and sheerness of the cut. In the gentle breeze, a tender melody embraced the silent, watching people. The violin player (a cousin) bowed with tremulous tender strokes the heart-piercing tune. All four children bent and payed out the webbing strips, hand over hand, tenderly lowering the coffin.

Turning to face the waiting circle I said:

“Carefully we carry our father
Lower him gently into the earth.
Fifty years and more ago
He carried us, his children
Setting us down to sleep.
How the wheel of life turns.”

The wind touched my cheek softly, the two dogs whined in the backs of their throats as I led the simple secular funeral ceremony. Held steadily by the earth, the wide sky above and the wind rustling the grass and bare branches, I felt the earth shift as though to hold me up. In turn, we spoke quietly, solemnly, comically, emotionally and calmly of the man known to us as husband, father, brother, uncle, colleague, friend and neighbour.

I breathed the cool winter air and felt it fill me with peace, the comforting loamy smell of new turned soil inviting tenderness. Soon, the earth would cradle his body, hold it close, break it down and cleanse it. The soil, enriched and potent would grow flowers and trees. In turn these would feed the creatures of the land and sky and bring comfort to all who mourn the dead buried here.

In the distance, a bird piped mournfully. An old man grizzled his grief, inarticulate and indistinct. He cried for his colleague and friend, knowing how few of them were left, weeping perhaps in the realisation that soon, he too would be no more. I breathed into the earth to steady myself.

One by one we took a trowl of soil and, saying our goodbyes, sprinkled it over the waiting coffin. It was done. We turned to move away and allow the cemetery workers to complete the pulling over of the earth’s duvet.


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