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.