Blue Bell Burial !
Hastings Green Burial Ground Friday April 29, 2016
Shirley mary hearn 3rd October 1926 to 5th April 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 arms.
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 breeze.
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 us.
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 cake.