A Green Burial

Skylark
sings all day,
and day not long enough.

It is trying to rain. The long wet grass pulls at our feet as we trudge across the field. It is hard going over all the bumps and humps in the ground, the muddy patches and the twisting grasses.

We struggle across to an old car by the hawthorn hedge where two women are unloading something from the boot. Nearer, we see it is a cardboard coffin. They are strewing it with grasses. It is decorated all over with coloured messages and children’s paintings, thanks, praise, love, memories of childhood, memories of the music she gave us, her good natured acceptance of those childhood days. The youngest drew bright their love for Granny.

The warden of this site comes towards us, something alive in his cupped hands. Two beautiful little animals, male and female – they are the rare Great Crested Newts. Gently he turns them over to show us their brilliant yellow underneaths. Why are they not called Yellow bellied newts, so brilliant yet so secret? He has a tiny toad too, a perfect miniature adult he found in the grave when he checked lest some small creature be buried alive.

Gradually more family come, young, old and very old, all ages. Two dogs, excited to run round a wide field, sensing rabbits, scatter. Son and four youngsters lift the heavy coffin, set off cautiously down the slope to an open grave, a great pile of heavy soil heaped beside it. Yesterday her son dug the grave, a long hard labour of love. They buried his Father here 15 years ago. There is no sign, no cross, no stone to mark the spot.

We gather round and stand, silent. Recorders play Linden Lea; we sing. As four strong people lift and slowly, gently, lower the coffin into the grave, the recorders pipe again. Quiet. A robin sings; distantly we hear the rumble of raffic, a plane roars overhead – in this peaceful Yorkshire field we are aware of the sounds of ordinary life yet secure in the quiet of this small plot of earth.

Clouds are scudding across the sky, the wind has driven away the rain and a soft shaft of sunlight falls across the coffin.

We stand silent.. The family strew the coffin with more grasses and flowers, then the soil, handful by handful.

‘Earth, receive an honoured guest.’

We all stand in waiting silence. Peace. No one weeps. The dogs run off.

The warden brings spades. The youngest grandson throws his whole heart and strength into the shovelling – the only way perhaps that he can now show how much he cares. Gradually the great pile of earth gets smaller- but it is a long hard task.

We turn and leave the family to their rites.

Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you,
Deep peace of the shining stars to you,
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you.
May the road rise to meet you:
May the wind be always at your back;
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
May the rains fall softly on your fields.
Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.

Judith Sayer