It was oddly industrial. My brother and I witnessed the burial, and just before it began, the representative from the funeral home warned us kindly that it involved a backhoe.
A man from the cemetery fastened ropes to the stone box that they placed my mother’s casket in and signaled for the backhoe driver to lift it up. As the casket rose from the ground it swayed, bumped into the arm of the backhoe, and then, as the machine began driving towards her grave, actually began to spin around. It was bizarrely comical and tragic all at the same time. An amusemnet park ride for the dead. It was definitely cold and industrial.
As her casket was lowered into the ground, a man stood atop it to steady it and center it into the hole. And even though I know in my soul that my mom is elsewhere, happy, healthy, young again, the process seemed disrespectful to the shell that was her body. But I know those performing the inglorious task were trying their best to make it OK, so I cannot fault them.
After the casket was settled in the ground, my brother and I tossed down two white roses. And for a brief instant I had the sensation to jump into the hole and make a big dramatic scene. But I didn’t. Thank goodness I am slowly learning that I do not have to do everything my thoughts say to do. It reminded me of the few times I’ve someplace high and the thought comes to jump, and I don’t. It was sort of like that.
After we sent the roses down, the backhoe shovel began to slowly, and I will say, almost tenderly heap the heavy, February dirt into the hole. I think the backhoe operator knew how difficult this was to watch for my brother and I and he really tried to make it as gentle as possible.
As I watched this process I was reminded of a poem my wife Amanda wrote when her dad’s mother died. At that burial, her dad and the other pallbearers actually lowered the casket down themselves. The poem she wrote is very moving and so I will, with her permission, end this post with it.
Your brothers and you are lifting
your mother from the back of the hearse
as she once lifted you
from the deep shaft of nothing,
and you are thinking “she has left me behind,”
as you left her behind and learned to live
a story she had not hoped for you.
Around you it is weirdly warm for January,
and you are coatless before the bare trees
and your own grown children watching
like blossoms on dark stalks
beside the waiting hole.
You are holding her body that once held you,
the wet earth smell around you like a blanket,
and carrying her across the muddy graveyard
as she first carried you when you were too small
to walk, too small to bear
something as heavy as your life.
The casket is so heavy,
the thing inside so light
as you lower her,
as she lowered you,
gently to your cradle,
covering you with kisses that fell
like flowers on your face.
Copyright Joseph Anthony of the Wonder Child Blog