Recently my mother-in-law asked me to take her to visit the
burial place of her husband. He is buried in a natural burial ground nestled at
the base of the South Downs. She is in her eighties and cannot get there easily
on her own. It involves a bus journey and a hair-raising game of Frogger to get
across the busy country road.
The day was perfect, a beautiful autumn day, bright blue
cloudless sky. We sat on the bench by his tree enjoying the sun’s rays warming
our faces and bodies. It was so peaceful sitting listening to the sounds of
birds, the gentle breeze blowing through the trees and looking up to the
windmills on top of the Downs. We sat in silence, each with our own thoughts.
I started thinking about how different it was to where my
mum is buried. My mum was cremated and her remains interred in a church graveyard
in an area reserved specifically for cremations. A simple plaque marks her resting
place, she is in the corner of the graveyard at the bottom of a hill adjacent
to where the bins are kept and the area is forgotten. Whenever I visit, I get
despondent. Don’t get me wrong it is not an unpleasant place to be it just
feels oppressive. She is hemmed into a corner, it’s dark, the tree branches
hang down so low and brush against you as you walk over the uneven, cracked
path that lead you down the hill past headstones marked with age. It feels
gloomy and dark and my body reacts the same way. I hunch up my shoulders and
draw my arms around myself as if to shield myself from death. The natural
burial ground is more open and light, I can see the sky above, and I can
breathe and relax.
Perhaps, I thought, my feelings are a reflection on how they
died. Both died from cancer but their deaths could not have been more different.
My mum’s, although expected, was full of fear, confusion and a certain degree
of chaos. My father-in-law’s was peaceful, calm and dignified. Maybe I am manifesting my experiences of their
deaths onto the way I feel about their final resting places. The human mind
works in mysterious ways.