Friday, 4 February 2011

Hilltop farewell

This morning, Clare and I joined Moonyeen's family and a few close friends at the hilltop Natural Burial Ground overlooking Cardiff outside St Nicholas for the burial of her body. The site is an open field, surrounded by large groups of tall mature trees. A lively gusty wind blew causing the trees to hiss melodically, and it wasn't that cold, fortunately - "A bit like Wuthering Heights"  someone remarked, while we were waiting. "It's a real R S Thomas day", said another, referring to our most admired Welsh dead poet of bleak landscapes. I wasn't the only one there to declare this to be just perfect weather to conclude the farewell which began at the celebration of her life at Thornhill last Saturday.
Her wicker coffin was painted with a band of rainbow colours, a huge bunch of flowers on top. Some people made the effort to wear something colourful. I wore my green parka to match the grass. As we drew to a conclusion, the funeral director in charge stood at the foot of the grave, pulled out his iPhone, pressed a button to give him a pitching note, and sang 'Myfanwy' beautifully in a fine operatic tenor voice with the wind in the trees as his sole accompaniment. ("I'm studying with Dennis O'Neill", he told us later.) It left me smiling rather than tearful. Moonyeen would have loved it because it was so well done, not bland or sentimental, as a rendering of this piece of classic Welsh Victorian music can be.

Most of the dozen people present spoke words of appreciation, or offered a poem. No prayers said, no rite of committal other than the shared scattering of flower petals over the coffin before we left. The whole occasion was itself an act of committal, entrusting her mortal remains to a place where she would have been happy to camp out, and lead some circle dancing. Now we'll all know exactly where to find you. I thought - she who'd learned to live as free and unpredictable as the wind

There were things I could have said, prayers or scriptures I could have recited from memory. There was no reason for not doing so. Nobody would have taken offence at me. I was content to listen, to offer my silence as a gift. For forty years I've stood at the mouth of one grave or another, being the voice of a group struck dumb by their grief, if not already made inarticulate by the presence of a minister of religion. Whether the mourners were believers or not, all laughed and smiled,  hugged each other, and wept their tears of  sorrow. They could minister to each other at least in part, because of something they had, received from the one they now mourned. 

The rarity of this experience left me with nothing to say and no need to speak. I could simply appreciate and savour the Spirit at work, bringing peace and healing, binding people together in sympathy. They didn't need a parson. I felt good about that. I recall circle dance evenings when Moonyeen would teach us a simple measure and enjoin us to move meditatively. As it ended, before the hugs, we'd stand in the circle united comfortably in deep silence, for as long as it took. Sacred dance is not a technique or a ritual, but an experience of graciousness passing from movement into silence. 'O taste and see'. The wind danced for us today as we stood around her grave and took our leave of her, when all was said and done.

Instead of joining the others for refreshments in friend's home, Clare and I went off to Worcester for lunch with friends of very long standing, Mike and Gail. They celebrate their Ruby wedding in April. Gail observed that I'll be one of very few of the original wedding guests left able to attend. It happens when a generation's worth of time passes.

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