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,