Two days before the funeral I heard that the vicar was not allowed to bury Robin on his farmland as it was unconsecrated land. So, as a Baptist though unable to officiate in the church I was given this unusual responsibility. At least for me it was unusual. My last funeral but the first time I was involved in a private land committal. When we processed out of the church behind the wicker coffin I squeezed into the hearse as we drove to the farmyard.
There the coffin was loaded onto a trailer behind a temperamental tractor which managed to start up, after problems the day before. To hold the coffin in place, 5 grandchildren clambered onto the trailer. They were needed! I joined one of the families in the 4x4 as we pitched up and down on the rough ground as we started driving over the fields. Through one large one, then another with the children holding the coffin from falling off the trailer's open rear. Parking, we then walked through to the corner of what will soon become a wildflower meadow.
The rain held off, birds sang sweetly and we completed the sad task of saying farewell prayers and making the committal. I had been told that two of his dogs were nearby. Sure enough their grave was clearly marked and very close. Reuben and Briar were greatly loved by Robin, especially Reuben, a black Labrador. In one of those strange near death experiences, Robin suddenly spoke and told the family gathered around him that Reuben had come to be with him. That he was there in the room. It is extraordinary what can happen when someone is dying and comfort comes.
As we turned back to join the guests I felt a wave of sadness. Someone asked me a few days ago which I found the more difficult to conduct - weddings or funerals. I remember at theological college being told that weddings were more difficult because they marked the beginning of a relationship in the knowledge that ahead they faced all the complexity of making marriage work. What a responsibility! Well, yes. But for me coping with the grief of the bereaved has always been much more difficult.
I end this chapter of responsibility with gratitude to God that I have survived this ministry. Real gratitude.