-This is Joey, proud son of Rebecca, wishing you all a very happy new year~
To wrap up 2017, tonight we’ve shared on You n’ Taboo a little story written by Jonas Kyratzes called ‘The Moddey Dhoo’, in reference to the Manx folktale.
I stumbled upon this article by complete accident only a couple of months ago. I was feeling awfully nostalgic at the time, so I decided to revisit some old flash games I enjoyed when I was in primary school. One in particular was called ‘The Fabulous Screech’, and I remember it as one of the first games that emotionally affected me.
Upon revisiting it, however, I discovered that it was not a standalone title. Rather, it was a part of a collection of games and short stories collected under the title- ‘The Lands of Dream’.
Since then I have downloaded and played all the games I could, pertaining to The Lands of Dream. They are wonderful, by the way. I recommend them to anyone interested in good, meaningful ‘interactive novels’, as they are called. (As they are more like books than games.)
As for the short stories, (all compiled under the heading: ‘The Oneiropolis Compendium’), they are equally as flavoursome and anecdotal as the games- if not more so. This particular story is a favourite of mine, as it puts a refreshing spin on the classic Manx story.
We learned about The Moddey Dhoo during our time on The Isle of Man. Whilst there, we visited the beautiful Peel Castle, or the ruins thereof. Mum and I headed down some crumbling brick stairs that were far, far older than us and we came to a dark, dank cellar dug out on the edge of a cliff face, so that the barred windows overlooked the rough ocean.
We spent quite a bit of time in that cellar, and from a plaque we learned that the area was used as, as well as a cellar, a prison and a guard house in its lifetime. While we were chatting about how we ‘couldn’t imagine anyone spending more than a few hours down here at a time’, a father and two small children- a girl and a boy- came lolloping down the stairs.
“Okay kids, let me tell you a story…” the father began, and mum and I decided to listen in. I sat down in a corner and watched.
“…this room was used as a guard house many, many years ago. One cold, dark, rainy night, four men were all sat around a fire pit, over where that boy over there is sitting-”
(That boy was me.)
“-taking turns patrolling the castle. Every hour they would change patrol. At midnight, they all heard a big, loud barking and howling from outside. They were all frozen- with fear. The person that was meant to be outside didn’t come back, so one brave man decided to look for him… after half an hour, the same thing happened. There was a loud barking, and the man never came back…”
At this point, my mother, the two children and I were completely wrapped with what he was saying.
“…the third man sitting around the fire decided to look for the two missing men, and the same thing happened again. So the two guys left are looking at each other, frightened of what was out there, when all of a sudden-
pat.. pat.. pat..
-they hear something walking down the stairs. Do you know what it was…?”
(A pause, for effect)
“…it was a big, black dog. Bigger than you or I; it was as big as a car and as dark as night. And its eyes were two burning flames. It didn’t attack the men, though. It simply crept up to the fire and sat with them. Well, the two men tried to reach for their gun, but every time they moved, the dog started growling at them…
…in the morning, when the next group of guards came to swap posts, the dog was nowhere to be seen, and all they saw were two dead guards- who died of fright.”
That, we later found out, was the legend of The Moddey Dhoo, more or less.
So, in conclusion, what can we take away from this? I would say this-
Death is both scary and romanticised in many different ways and in many cultures, all around the world. This is, at it’s core, because death is a hard beast to understand. We spend our entire lives living and no one knows why it is that all living creatures must stop. It is scary because we don’t know, and will never conceivably understand what lies beyond death, because as far as we know it’s a one-way door.
There is, however, light at the end of this tunnel. Through tales such as The Moddey Dhoo we get to see death in a different way, one that makes it a tangible, understandable thing. We are reminded that death is but a mere part of life, and that fear of death is the only thing stopping us from truly living.
Find where the original inspiration came from at – http://landsofdream.net/the-oneiropolis-compendium/the-moddey-dhoo/
“Christmas Grief” by Christy McMillan
I know the lights upon your tree, won’t seem so bright this year
And carols that the children sing, you may not want to hear
The holidays bring back the pangs, of grief within your heart
And once again you’ll question why, your loved one had to part
We are gifted loved ones, but they leave us all too soon
Then Christmas seems to reinforce, your world is out of tune
Hold tight to friends and family, they’ll shelter you with love
Through them you’ll sense your loved one’s heart, from their resting place above.
For some of you this will be your first Christmas without one of your loved ones.
If you struggle with grief at Christmas time, this is for you.
It is a difficult time especially if that person was one who you shared all or many of your Christmases with; someone who was a special part of your festive time. They have left a hole that will never again be filled. Their place may be taken by someone new but no one else can ever fill that gap in the same way.
I trust that, being very close to Christmas Day, you have given thought to how you will negotiate all the activities of the day and how you will navigate all the thoughts and feelings that are beginning to flood your mind.
Here’s a few suggestions –
- Be kind to yourself. If you think it is just too much to face people on the day, don’t plan to do so. You may need to take this Christmas off from celebration. On the other hand, there may be close family and/or friends who know, understand and love you who you can trust with your raw feelings and emotions. Spend as much time as you can with them and accept the healing and cathartic experiences that are a possibility.
- There will be particular times or happenings that you know you will struggle with. Maybe your loved one had certain roles or tasks throughout the day that they had made their own. Give that some thought and work out a strategy as to how you may be able to prepare yourself for the inevitable rush of emotions that will come when those times arrive. Place yourself in a position, emotionally and physically, where you will be better able to handle the situation, hopefully with someone close who will understand.
- It is probably not a good idea to completely isolate yourself for the day. Be prepared to push yourself a little. Be honest with your family and friends with how you are feeling and coping.
- Do something that you know you will enjoy. Get out of the house, even if it is to go for a walk or a drive to somewhere you love being. Allow yourself to feel the weight of your emotions, even just a little, don’t be afraid to let them out. Lifeline and other organisations offer telephone counselling services all year round and it may just be enough for you to give them a call and tell the person on the end of the line just how you are feeling and your fears. They are trained to listen and be gentle. And they may even be able to offer something to help you in your struggle.
- Christmas is a time of memories. You have created so many of them throughout your life of Christmases gone by. Maybe now is the time to fashion some new ones. Consider creating a space for the one you have lost in some way. Perhaps you can think of something that represents their presence or contribution to past Christmases that you could place as a special memento in their honour; their favourite Christmas hat, their wine glass or fresh new potatoes like dad always supplied. Even a simple verbal acknowledgement of their absence this year and the way you will miss them is healing. I have had the moving experience of having everyone who would like to, share what they are feeling, missing or remembering. Maybe having a candle burning as a symbol of their presence is enough.
- Another idea I have heard of is to have an empty seat at the table, a powerful symbol of your loved one who is absent.
Whatever you choose to do try to make some tangible acknowledgement of the deep loss you are feeling. The externalising of the turmoil within is a healing experience. Eventually, you will yourself experiencing brief moments where you may find yourself laughing or smiling and those moments will become more frequent. Your will remember the past with fondness and sadness and the fondness will grow stronger. Death doesn’t stop for holidays, but it will not always haunt you either. What you need this year may be different to what you needed last year and what you will feel like next year. That is part of forming new traditions while walking the path of a healthy bereavement.
This weeks blog post is bought to you by Edwin Quilliam.
I’ve been to a few funerals in my day. I’ve been involved in the funeral industry for around ten years. I’ve lead around eighty funeral services in the past three or so years… and a few before that as well. So I’ve heard and presented quite a number of eulogies over that time.
Now I’m not proposing that a funeral service or the eulogy delivered as part of a funeral service is a performance but I do strongly believe that a eulogy should be prepared and delivered in such a way that it is engaging, somewhat entertaining whilst covering off on some basic components.
By way of definition, does this help?
“A eulogy is a speech or writing in praise of a person, especially one who recently died. It is a speech given at a memorial or funeral service that commemorates and celebrates the life of the deceased. It is essentially a way of saying farewell to a person who has passed away by expressing and sharing thoughts, feelings and experiences that honour and respect the deceased.”
One eulogy I remember very well and no doubt everyone who was present that day does as well, was delivered by a close family member who was very creative, artistic and engaging. The first few minutes were very entertaining, the first ten minutes had us intrigued, after the first half an hour we were starting to tune out and by the time forty-five minutes had passed I was well zoned out, and it still wasn’t finished. Take-home message: make it as performance-based as you like but also make it succinct, punchy and memorable (for the right reasons).
I have found the best eulogies are sprinkled with tears and laughter. They should be as the person’s life was. There are not too many people whose lives aren’t sprinkled with happy times, sad times, hilarious moments, stressful experiences, momentous occasions, devastating tragedies and many more. A good eulogy will reflect their life experiences even if it doesn’t elaborate on them all. Because, of course, it can’t.
It is amazing the amount of ground that can be covered in six to ten minutes if a eulogy is properly prepared and well delivered.
I usually find that a person’s life story has a certain theme. If I am to prepare and present a eulogy I generally spend an hour or so talking with family members and sometimes other people who knew and loved the deceased person and madly scribble notes most of that time. When I sit down to write their story it is useful to go over the notes and mark them. I will mark the characteristics/attributes of the person with one colour. Then I will see if their life story slots into eras or sections or emphases and mark relevant things accordingly. Things that highlight the outstanding feature of their life and would make a powerful ending, I will mark specially. Basically, I look for the themes of a person’s life.
Most often I do not start with, ‘John was born on 6th February 1945 to Bill and Joan in Perth, WA……’ and work through their life in finely tuned chronological order. I will usually begin with some story, event or characteristic that is a feature of their life and then work their life story into the main body of the eulogy, sometimes in no particular order at all.
Like any good speech, a eulogy needs a strong opening, good structure in the body of the speech and a strong, memorable ending. A good way to end is with a brief summary of what has been said and highlight their family relationships, if they were positive, and they generally are.
I strongly recommend that a family member presents a eulogy. Now that is a BIG ask for many people but with lots of encouragement and as much help as they think they need, there is usually someone who can do it. I don’t always insist on this myself when I am asked to conduct a service and am asked to do the eulogy as well. But I have spoken to one experienced funeral celebrant and seen a documentary of another who both insist the family take this role and are prepared to give all the time, assistance and encouragement required for family to be involved in doing so (See the doco, ‘Zen and the art of dying’). As hard as it can be, it is a very fulfilling and healing thing to do and I would like to get to the stage where I am able to at least strongly urge my families to do their own. A family member or the celebrant standing close by to place a hand on their shoulder and whisper assurance will help them get through the hard, emotional times. People don’t regret speaking at a funeral, they can regret not speaking.
Some of the memorable eulogies presented by families have been shared. All the siblings or all the deceased’s children or grandchildren can follow each other to the lectern and say their piece. And it works very well for them all to stand together and ‘tag team’ the entire presentation. That way they all feel the reassurance of each other and can offer a hand of comfort if needed.
I trust this is of some help if you are struggling to find the courage to present a eulogy for a loved one or know that you may be asked to do one sometime soon down the track. And I’m sure you are aware that there are many more resources online to help you. The most important requirement is to have the people around you who you can rely on to give you every help and encouragement you need.
The very last Natural Burial Ground we visited was not the one we’d originally planned on.
We’d had a wonderful afternoon the day before which included a long lunch with a lady by the name of Rosie who heads the Natural Death Centre Charity in the UK. It was on her suggestion that we got up the next morning and headed in exactly the opposite direction to which we had originally planned. It made for a long day of travel and a late arrival in London but it was exceptionally worth it.
Higher Ground was the name of this Natural Burial Ground but it is also much more. The name really struck me because here they are doing exactly that, taking the higher ground.
Here they provide people with options for their natural burial. They have a wildflower meadow which they alternate with cutting hay in the summer and at least two (maybe more) paddocks that they are regenerating into natural woodland. In the woodland burial section, families get to choose from a range of trees native to the area which are planted at the head of the grave. Each parcel of land is divided with tall hedges and the pasture has a gentle slope to it so that in parts you can see over the hedges into the paddock beyond. They also provide a stunning chapel for services to take place on site. The chapel started as a hay shed for the farm and has gradually been extended and enclosed providing a beautiful space for ceremonies. There is solar power, a composting toilet and a wood heater in there for the winter. They have the ability to play music for people and have a microphone for the front. The huge glass doors not only provide lovely natural light but they also open out to a backdrop of the burial ground. And, there is more. A few years ago, they made the decision to take the leap and offer funeral services as well for those who want to be buried here in their ground. So, they built themselves a basic mortuary, modified a vehicle for transport and now they offer care for the dead as well as the burial. All natural. All ecologically friendly and sustainable.
The have natural mortuary practices, no packing, stitching, eye caps… they use damp cotton wool over the eyes and leave the body in as much peace as they are able. As little disturbance as necessary. It is surprising when you start to consider the real minimum that is needed for mortuary care, how much we truly overdo it all in the western world. And its not about hygiene. Its not about dignity. Often, it is just about making things easy for funeral professionals who are charging the earth for unnecessary procedures. But more about this another time….. (we’ve yet to tell you about some of the fabulous funeral directors we met along the way).
At first we met Tom, a very clever fellow and son of the owner, he did much of the building work and vehicle modification himself (he modified a hearse to double as a transfer van and even built the mortuary fridges himself from flat pack!). He showed us around their Chapel of Rest and as we went we talked about how they do what they do. He walked us through his mortuary, their practices and the services that they offer. The language was quite different here, in fact all through the UK we were interested to find that they don’t refer to viewings much as viewings, they are called ‘visits’ and they call a viewing room a ‘chapel of rest’.
Higher Ground offer a prepaid funeral and prepaid right of burial and people can choose what field they want to be in. They do all their digging themselves, they have a digger to do it but they try to rotate the paddocks of their ground so that no one piece of land is getting overused with people traffic and thus avoiding mud in the colder months.
In their burial ground, they run the plots by grid – old style, with string. They have guide markers plotted out down the sides of the paddock and so for each grave that is dug, they run the string and accurately pinpoint the dimensions. They also allow a little more room than the other burial grounds we visited, here they allow 4m from the centre of one plot to the centre of its neighbour.
They allow for markers here at Higher Ground, a natural wood block with a plaque attached which sits flush on the ground. It is with a little difficulty then that they maintain the ground for cutting hay but it is not such a loss to have to cut the grass a little higher than is would usually be.
They are very strict with what goes into the ground, among other things, they will not allow plastic under any circumstances and they talk people through what will and will not be accepted well ahead of time.
When a family arrives at Higher Ground for a burial, or a service there concludes and it is time for the burial, the body in its shroud or coffin is placed upon a bier and walked through the ground to the place of burial. Family can accompany the bier or indeed lead it themselves. There is a wonderful focus here on family involvement and they work with people to make sure that the family walk away with a little peace at having laid their dead to rest in a beautiful place, in a natural way and by doing do so, performing a gift of giving to the earth.
Welcome to UK natural burial ground number three!
The third natural burial ground that we visited while in the UK was in South-East Cornwall – right on the edge of the famous Bodmin Moor, a place called Pentiddy Woods.
In true natural style, there was nothing imposing about this place, it was tucked away on a quiet road – very unassuming. There was a small car park area set aside across the road and as we parked there was only one other car there beside our own. We had made a time to meet with the owner a little earlier in the morning, as they were expecting a family for a burial in an hour and a half hence.
We arrived and approached the most beautifully secluded spot, lined with hedges and off to the side a stunning arch, covered in vine, spanning a gate that could only be described as having such a quaint country charm. We ventured in, the owner was not there yet and so we wandered around.
Eventually the owner arrived and started showing us around. You could see where the more recent burials had been, the soil still being raised a little from ground height and trees were planted at the head of these graves as well. The ground had a gentle slope to it and on the top side had been placed a small stone circle, with 2 larger stones forming a kind of natural alter style stand – flat enough for a coffin to be placed on while a ceremony took place.
Pentiddy Woods has been operating for 8 years. Officially. They had facilitated burial there before turning it into a public ground. It took them 2 years to get all of the permissions and authorisations required to begin as a natural burial ground but they have not looked back. In the last 8 years they have had over 90 burials and sold about 150 prepaid plots. Like the other places, they have an ‘at need’ interment and digging fee, only the right of burial is prepaid.
They mapped the land and bury by grids, which seems to be the most common method in non-woodland grounds and the calculations of bodies that are able to be buried there seem to be similar as well, working on about 600 bodies per acre. The really interesting thing here that we were so impressed by was the fact that they dig every grave by hand. No matter the rock content. We were lucky enough to be there on a day when a grave had been freshly dug and it was the first time we got to have a look at what a shallow depth grave looks like in real terms. It is such a different feel to those in Australia where you can nearly get vertigo standing at a graveside – its just so far down. The shallow depth felt warmer, kinder, less harsh. I could imagine a family lowering their loved one into the ground there and not being daunted by the visual impact.
The idea at Pentiddy is to turn the land into a woodland. They are planting trees native to the area as they perform burials with the idea of regenerating the paddock into a natural wild ecology for the community and the wildlife to enjoy. At the time of our discussions, he was in the process of getting another parcel of land approved and that was going to be a wildflower meadow.
Everything done to the land has been by hand. Even in his dual use of the land, he has been cutting, turning and baling the hay by hand. He has been grazing sheep but not using any machines or bikes to round them up or move them and as i said before, even the graves have been hand dug.
A little way off beyond the burial ground, within the grounds of his farm, he has an old store roundhouse which he has been making available to families for gathering, ceremonies or coming to spend time in remembrance. They do not allow markers in the ground there but as you go into the ground – through that lovely arch – there is a wooden stand on the right and on it are brass plaques – all with names and dates of those buried within. It is a beautiful ‘roll of honor’ style creation and it silently lets you know that the woodland being created before you is the legacy of all these people listed here.
What a gift it is as well.
Perfectly positioned with a picturesque pastoral outlook beyond, we sat on those rocks a while and drank it all in. One side of the ground was the most magnificent stone wall and the other 3 were hedge. Because of the slope of the land you could see beyond the hedge to pastures in the distance. Now if a view is a consideration for your final place of rest, there are certainly worse places than this.