One of the great things about living in a small Devon Village is not only the number of events and activities that the residents have the opportunity to take part in all run by people who live in the village but also the other things – off the wall if you like – you find yourself involved in.
I’ve done a number of jobs in my life from being a coal miner to lecturing to Physical Education Student Teachers, from serving in the Royal Navy to being a Senior Manager working in a prison, but one thing is certain, and that is I never imagined I’d end up in retirement digging graves for the internment of the peoples ashes.
The thing is it isn’t as macabre as you would at first think.
But before I go on let me explain a few things.
To start with I think I’ve been quite open about the fact that I do not hold one God to be superior to another God – in fact I treat them all equally by not believing in any of them.
Which begs the question I suppose as to why I should even be digging internment graves at all in a Christian Churchyard.
The way it came about is somewhat convoluted but to put it as simply as I can, the previous gravedigger – I’m not even sure if that is the correct term because I don’t dig full graves only those large enough to take a crematorium casket – suddenly passed away.
Which is how I came – with a mate – to be undertaking (couldn’t resist the pun) the role.
In our small community people talk – well gossip really – endlessly and somehow my name and that of a long time friend were put to the local vicar as two who would between them take on the role.
I should explain that the village church is 700 years old this year so as you can imagine the graveyard is getting to the “No Vacancies” stage of its existence however not to worry they have purchased an adjacent field so there will room for years to come.
Anyway back to the main point of this blog.
The first of our tasks was bizarrely that of interning the previous gravedigger.
The next was amusing because as instructed we started to dig the ‘casket home’ in the place allocated only to hit a memorial stone about ten centimetres below the surface inscribed with the name of – well we don’t know who – so time to call the vicar out.
He explained what he thought it was.
Now who else has ever given a thought that some people carry out illegal burials of their families ashes.
Certainly not me.
So we relocated away from the headstone about fifty centimetres and started to dig again only to find a casket in our way.
Back to the vicar with a suggestion that I could move the existing casket to be beneath the ‘illegal memorial stone’ only to be told it would be considered an exhumation and that we would need a licence and police presence.
So – yes you’ve guessed it – we moved another 50 centimetres in the family plot and this time successfully managed to complete the task.
Which was just as well because any further and we would have ended up in someone else’s plot.
This illustrates that even when trying to establish a final resting place the reality of life and previous actions sometimes get in the bloody way.
As for should I as an atheist be doing it perhaps I’m the ideal person.
I do it simply because whilst I don’t think there is anything after death I do recognise and respect the living and that they in their grief at having lost someone they love want them to be treated with dignity and respect in their final resting place.
My only wish if there is such a thing is that all caskets were a uniform size them at least we’d be able to know that the final resting place will be large enough.
As for being macabre – not really – it’s a part of life and as part of life’s rich pattern is also at times both tragically sad and amusing.