Sunday, May 01, 2016

Blue Bell Burial

Blue Bell Burial
Hastings Green Burial Ground
Friday April 29, 2016
Last time we were here, it was late January 2007. Snow in January is usual,
falling as it did that year, between my father's death and his funeral. The
ground still coldly soaked, but the earth firm enough.
Now there is no sign of where he is buried. The woods have grown up around
and across the graves. This time the two family dogs are absent, both being
long dead. Today promises to be a much better behaved affair.
The woodland is carpeted with blue bells, so I am told. The trees, some
mature, some young, encircle us protectively; their feet covered in flowers
and nettles. The soft grey sky is high. There is no sun, but there is no
threat of rain either.
A solo violin drifts across as we reach and take the handles of the coffin.
Slowly, carefully, we begin to move forward, gently shuffling through the
nettles. We place her on the planks across the grave. Netting is looped
into the handles.

I prepare to put my back into the task of lifting the coffin, engaging my
core muscles, as taught. We lift. She is light when all four children take
her weight, as we once were when she lifted us for the first time into her
There's a science to how we manoeuvre the coffin on the boards over the
grave. We slip the long mesh strips into the handles, and loop them under
the coffin. Lifting and lowering her gently down into the grave is done
without mishap. We do all this. No one falls in and no one drops her.

Russian words join the violin as we sing The Volga Boat Song. I'm not sure
why this song is chosen, other than because it was a presence in our
childhood, especially sung by Paul Robeson, whose communism and human rights
activism, mum admired. Anything Russian, interested her anyway, so why not.
And mercifully it's easy.
Circling together, we gather to celebrate her life, on this soft rich earth,
carpeted with bluebells, their fragrance drifting to us on the wind. I
breathe in the scent of new leaf and crushed baby nettles. This bitter-sweet
tang is edged with salt and seaweed, from the sea beyond the high cliff and
shielding trees. The soft richness of new turned earth offers calm solidity
beneath the inconsequential intangibility of a grey sky and brisk little
One by one we children tell our stories of her. One by one, the friends,
neighbours and colleagues speak their experiences of all she was. Together
we paint a picture so typically her, yet interwoven with things that were
surprises. Amusingly, animatedly, affectionately, we honour who she was to
The violin tenderly nudges the tune of "Moscow Nights"; the guitar adds it
sustaining rhythm. A man's mellifluous voice joins the dance of music as we
hum and sing along. The soft rich Russian words, though incomprehensible to
many, speak eloquently of beauty. I smile to remember the somewhat more
prosaic version rendered by mum, when she was at her happiest. Not this well
turned performance but an enthusiastic rout!

The little red flags are small for our fingers. Nevertheless, we wave them
aloft and sing "The Red Flag" with gusto. I love the words:
"It well recalls the triumphs past,
and brings the hope of peace at last,
the banner bright, the symbol plain,
of human right and human gain."
Human rights, equality, socialism, fairness and the preserving of the
world's resources, the things that mattered most to mum. We honour these as
we offer her physical remains to the earth, as we toss the brave little
flags into the grave. She is given up to the worms and all other organisms
that will play a part in the breaking down of her tissues.
The grave diggers, who have been skulking in the trees, begin to emerge, as
we turn away. High in the sky, a pigeon sings; There is comfort in its
"Droo-droo-droo, droo-droo". Like a lullaby, it sooths and eases. We can
leave her now so we do; walking from the shelter of the little gentle
woodland, past the regimented ranks of the organised dead in the other
cemetery and the fierce coastal wind beyond, for it is time for tea and


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