All my mother’s ancestors are buried in the same small graveyard in the mountains of Southeast British Columbia. My great grandparents, who are buried there underneath a huge old Ponderosa Pine, were born in the mid 1800’s. There’s been a steady trickle of family members join them around that tree over the last 80 years.
The graveyard is at the end of a long dirt road in the middle of the forest. It’s informal, but it’s very well cared for. And I love it. I love it because it gives my family and me a beautiful and easy place to come and be with our dead. It’s a portal the “Village of the Ancestors” in from dimension.
I’ve been part of burying many family members in this little graveyard, and it’s an amazing experience. We dig the holes ourselves – little kids, old folks, everyone participates. We bury the ashes and urns, and we do it with care and attention. When we buried my uncle, we poured his ashes into his favorite guitar, and we opened a can of Coke and set that in the hole with him. Those were the things he loved and we used them to show our love for him.
When we buried my grandmother, we lined the hole with a piece of bright flowered fabric from the curtains she had made for her bedroom years before. We filled in the dirt, planted a Canterbury Bluebell on top (a flower that had been re-seeding from her mother’s garden, 50 years previously), and each of us added a scoop of water from the lake she loved so much. These ritual gestures help make the process much more meaningful.
When we buried my dad, my two young nieces laid a piece of Kerr tartan in the bottom of it, invoking my Dad’s more distant ancestry. On top of the tartan, my mom poured my Dad’s ashes. We decided to forgo an urn, because my Dad was never one for frills. We thought he’d want to go right back into the ecosystem.
My Dad was a geologist, and when we invited people to the ceremony, we asked them each to bring a special stone. After we laid the ashes, each person came forward to place their stone on top of them, and to talk about what they loved about my Dad, and what they’d miss most about him.
The final addition to the hole was a bag of tiny gifts that friends and family had made for my Dad at a ceremony just after his stroke (you can read all about that ceremony here). There are literally hundreds of years of relationship and love carried in that bag, and it feels good to know that my Dad is carrying that love with him on his next journey.
We even have pets buried in this cemetery. When my 6 year old niece’s guinea pig died, my sister asked her where she would like to bury it. She was very clear, “In the graveyard with everybody else,” she said, “Because that’s where I’ll be eventually.” For me, that’s the heart of why this place is so special to me and my family. Ella was sad about the death of her pet, but because the graveyard is a normal part of her life, she knows that Whiskers is not lost, and that when her time comes to die, she won’t be either.
Our experiences at the cemetery help us all to understand that death is not disappearing, but just moving to a new position within the family, and that brings ease and comfort.