This Story is: True Story
Neighbour – Did you hear?
Me – No, what happened.?
Neighbour – Seamus’s wife passed last night
Me – That’s terrible, was she sick for a while?
Neighbour – Ya, f*&king cancer came knocking again…. it’s a sickening thing.
Me – It is, it really f*&king is.
Neighbour – Are you around Sunday around 2 o clock?
Me – Sure, what’s on.
Neighbour – We’ve to dig a grave….
Me – ……?
I had never heard of this tradition before and was initially a little taken aback when asked. It was a neighbour’s wife who had passed away. The tradition to manually dig the grave of a neighbour or loved one is centuries old in Ireland, this is no different in Castlwconnell.. Friends/family of the departed meet at the cemetery and each take turns digging sods of the grave as a mark of respect, you then take a drink (typically Whiskey but can be anything really) after/in-between or during the work.
Jim Morrison of The Door’s fame once said “People fear death even more than pain. It’s strange that they fear death. Life hurts a lot more than death. At the point of death, the pain is over. Yeah, I guess it is a friend”.
I wonder if you are suffering the painful pugilistic fight with cancer or any illness that may be terminal, does it get to a point when the pain and justification for living in that pain albeit even if its for a few more days/weeks……is it worth it? I’ve always said personally, that some standard of life is important, and I’d rather go quickly then spend my final time in pain or having to get someone to mind me. I know of course, if I was in that circumstance, would I change my mind, would I like to taste and appreciate every second and every breath more that the last rather than be taken quickly. My kid’s have changed my philosophy on this, whenever I think about my own mortality, I think of them. I think of wanting to spend as much time with them and hopefully my grandchildren as I get older, in essence I want to live forever!
Everyone is different, I guess. I’m sure it’s an answer I will get to myself at some point in the near future.
I think it’s an honor to be asked to participate in the grave digging ritual. Burying anyone, friend, family member, neighbor is a ritualistic act in itself. I’m not a very religious person, but the act itself is respectful and you don’t need to have to attend mass or be devout to any particular faith to participate in it. There are many traditions of old that are simply dying away, and I think the act of digging a grave as a way of saying goodbye is one that should continue. There are too many Irish traditions that are fading away…..the traditional “Wake” where you hold your departed in the house and a room in their house usually is arranged for people to come in to pay their respects and take a drink/bite to eat and reminisce about their memories is (excuse the pun) dying a death. I’ve never heard of “Keening” being actually practiced, its where the female members of the family will cry or wail over the loved one, it had to be carried out after the body is placed in wake or else there was the risk of summoning evil spirits, but safe to say it’s largely gone from Irish culture nowadays.
That Sunday, a bunch of about 15 of us met at 2pm. We had to wait to Seamus to confirm the plot location (which in itself must have been difficult as he was looking for the site where to bury his wife of over 40 years) as it was a wide stretch of plot where many of his ancestors had been buried. Location sorted, we began. I took about 3 or 4 goes in total (we all alternated every few minutes, working at a ferocious pace) across the approximately hour or so it took to get down 5 feet. Remnants of old coffin, bones and skull were met along the way. I thought in truth, I’d be more squeamish, but I wasn’t even when we met with a skull and then the jaw that came loose from it. We gently gathered any remains we found and placed them in a separate bag, then before we finished at 5 foot down, we dug another smaller localized hole in which we place these remains in it. It was hard work, pick axe had to be used in places due to the shalley nature of the ground but we got there – job done.
The act of breaking ground at a grave, itself I’m sure would be more of an emotive one had you known the departed better (I never met the woman who had died), but I did get a sense of serenity at being able to help with this final act of this woman’s life. It felt rewarding, it felt like the correct thing to do. I would expect had this been a family member or a close friend, then I would have found it more difficult, but I still think the sense of peace it brought me having just helped out would be a positive thing.
Closure I guess of sorts, placing the dead flesh to the soil, that in itself enters the cycle of creation, enriching and fertilizing the soil and feeding all manner of soil dwellers, the stark dawning that you enter this life with nothing, and you leave with nothing.
Perhaps you don’t really leave with nothing? You leave with the respect of friends and the expended sweat that has dropped down in to the soil on your final eternal resting place, for those who have congregated in your memory to expend an effort…. does this help with your final journey?
There was something very sad about the whole experience, the ultimate bleakness of it all, we’re all heard the sayings like “here for a good time not a long time” and “ it’s over in the flash of an eye “(life) ect . It really is true I think, and the older you get, the faster time passes. I recently turned 40 and have only really started to think about my own mortality or indeed the mortality of my parents and loved ones, the inevitable march that death has on us all and unwavering tenant that it’s only a matter of time for us all. We all need to take a little time now and again to appreciate the opportunities and positivity’s that life has given us, take time to dull the aching sound of the usual trails and tribulations and try to just live!
I’ll leave it at this, with a second quote. Rumor has it that Steve Jobs tried everything to stop/cure his terminal pancreatic cancer, and he had all the resources and access to technology, privileged more so than possibly the rest of us. The adage that “your health is your wealth” reigns true. All the shillings in the world cannot save you if it’s your time.
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it, and that is how it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” – Steve Jobs.
I respect both old and new traditions. I respect the grave.
This story is True Story