You want to bury him WHERE….!?

September 20th, 2013

By Bob Dennell

The Funeral Director called to ask if I was free on the date she needed. She said it would not be an ordinary funeral nor an ordinary family and I said so what and she said they want to bury him in the back garden.

The extraordinary widow (let’s call her Mrs S) was still angry that her husband had ‘checked out’ on her. “He was only seventy f…..g one” she complained, adding “- the bastard!” The expletives were spat out with affection.

Mr P (‘the bastard’) had married S in pre-reconciliation South Africa after they had absconded from Ian Smith’s Rhodesia in the mid-sixties. In the small seventies they escaped to the UK. He became an early IT boffin, she a mother of two spectacularly intelligent sons. Theirs was an intellectual and temperamental love match. His heart wasn’t strong enough to survive the series of infarctions that ended his life.

When the younger son graduated they had agreed to change roles. Mrs S took a degree in obscure mathematics at the OU, then a PhD and is now a professor at her alma mater. P took up writing full time. He wrote impossibly dense books on information theory, poetry and touching children’s stories.

“P told me that as far as he was concerned we could chuck his corpse onto a skip” she said. “He couldn’t bear the thought of wasting the earth’s resources on cremation and there would be wisps of hell-fire from any consecrated ground in which we might try to dig his grave so the garden it has to be.” I asked what permissions or licences were needed. “None!” she replied, “The local authority said that as long as I consulted all the neighbours and had the land surveyed to ensure that no watercourses would be affected it would be fine”

Their fifties bungalow has an ‘L’ shaped garden. They called it a ‘nature space. The top of the L adjoins chalk downs (that’s where they drove the mechanical digger in) and the nine-foot deep grave is tucked close to the wild boundary hedge. The narrow strip of land in which the grave lies will be shielded with another wild hedge and will become a secluded green tomb.

We stood around in an informal circle. Elder son declaimed a verse P had composed.

The Freeholder

The richest man in the world I am
I own it all, the whole damn thing
The sky and land and seas are mine
and mine and mine alone.
But it’s too big for my bedroom
And it’s too big for the lounge,
So I keep it all outside the house
For when I care to roam.

Japanese daughter-in-law recited some haiku P had written. English daughter-in-law spoke her delicately delightful eulogy in iambic pentameter. Close friends described the life of an exceptional man. I recited Grayling’s Ten Commandments. As the coffin was lowered the grandchildren cast wild flowers they had collected from the Downs and they planted a flowering cherry tree at his feet.

We drank to his life with Champagne. We had assembled to a Mozart Clarinet Quintet and dispersed to the Fifth Movement of Beethoven 6th.

It was a beautiful experience in which I was very lucky to participate.