Burying Max

In thirty years of parish minisry there were people about whom I came to be increasingly cynical and others who remained a constant cause for admiration, among the latter were gravediggers.

A fascination with gravediggers probably began with reading William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The sharpwitted characters appealed to an egalitarian spirit and English stoicism. The flesh and blood gravediggers I encountered had the wit and philosophical approach of their fictional Elizabethan forebears. The one thing I never appreciated about gravediggers is the sheer amount of physical effort it takes to dig a grave.

Max, my sister’s beautiful German Shepherd dog died on Monday night. He had been at home with my nephew playing with his favourite yellow tennis ball and lay down and died with the ball between his paws.

My sister and her husband returned from their holiday in Cornwall and at midday yesterday her husband and I set about digging a grave under the trees at the top of the garden at my mother’s house. It has been the final resting place of a succession of family dogs and there could be no question of Max being laid to rest anywhere else.

The pile of tools would have equipped a professional grave digger: spades, a long-handled shovel, a pick axe, a 14 lb sledge hammer and post hole digging bars for breaking the ground.

The ground was hard, the soil criss-crossed by tree roots, the sub-soil was composed of stone and heavy clay. Digging a grave was not the sort of experience I had imagined.

Eventually, we agreed that an acceptable depth had been reached. Max was laid gently into the ground, with his blanket, his bone, and his yellow tennis ball.

Stepping back from the grave, I spoke to the dog. ‘Max, there are people who say that dogs don’t have souls, that they don’t go to heaven. They are people who don’t understand the Bible. Saint Paul said the whole creation is awaiting redemption and that obviously includes dogs.  So, Max, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection we commit your body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust’.

Throwing the final handful of soil into the grave, I stepped back and picked up my spade.

With gentle reverence, we filled in the grave, and then covered it with the turves of grass we had cut at the beginning.

Undoubtedly, my burial was a heretical action, but I have long since stopped worrying about those who would purport to talk about heresy. Shakespeare’s gravediggers might have agreed with me,



This entry was posted in The stuff of daily life. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Burying Max

  1. Scrobs says:

    This is a very moving story.

    I had to bury our gorgeous little JRT eighteen months ago, and still apologise and chat to her when I’m gardening close by! She’s near our four cats, but far enough away so not to cause too much aggravation!

    When I dug Nolly’s grave, I’d reached what I thought was nearly the right depth, and the spade hit a solid foundation which seemed to cover quite an area, so she at least has some concrete below her, as well as her blanket, some treats and a ‘ratty’ toy.

    I put a fuchsia in a pot on her grave as a marker, which for some reason, seemed the right thing to do!

    “You buy into dogs” I was once told by a veteran friend, “but there’s an inevitable payback for all their loyalty, love and company”! You can’t say fairer than that!

    Sleep well, Max.

    • Ian says:

      I think the fuchsia is a wonderful idea – it’s capacity to flower for months on end would seem to reflect the constant energy of a terrier.

  2. Doonhamer says:

    I have visited a few grand house gardens in Scotland. Not grand enough to be Hysteric Scotland or require payment.
    There is often a corner set aside for the graves of dogs. Each with an engraved headstone with name and little memory of a true friend.
    Horses are not granted the same respect.
    Human serfs, well they come and go.

    • Scrobs says:

      “Horses are not granted the same respect.”

      A great friend close by here was mortified when his horse died right in front of him!

      He told me several years later, that he still has his ashes in a box in his studio, as he loves the proximity of his love and joy but they’re so heavy, he can’t move them now!

    • Ian says:

      In the castle grounds in Kilkenny there are pet graves, I assume they are all dogs. I had never thought about horses not being given similar treatment. Perhaps it would not be practical, but I remember Dinah, my grandfather’s cart horse dying in the late-70s and she certainly had a character worthy of remembrance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *