During the summer of 1975 when I was on the road with an architect, a singer, an uileann piper and a gypsy guitarist, we diverted from lucrative street performing in Germany to visit Scandinavia. We travelled in a green VW van which had been gifted to us one night during a dinner party in the home of an academic from Alabama. (I promise I will tell more about this part of the story at a later stage!)
Anyway, when we reached Stockholm, there was a debacle with the police who were not too keen on our celtic art and the old Irish come-all-ye’s. A young woman came forward to assist and she ended up inviting us to stay in her small flat. She confided in us that her partner had just passed away and she was going through the whole funeral and burial process during those few weeks.
I am remembering her because of a recent visit to a World Heritage Site Skogskyrkogarden in Stockholm which is actually a grave-yard unlike any I have ever seen. Tiny tomb stones set in 102 acres of mature forest, light filtering through the pines, paths directing you towards the key devotion points. A place of peace for the dead and the living.
Reflecting Swedish sensibilities about equality, there are rules to be abided by; green burials, flowers only in certain places, open plan spacious communities of graves, secular spaces for rituals. The overall effect is of quiet order and beauty, a place of sanctuary and respect.
And yet when I think back to that young woman in her lonely grief I remember how confused we were by the lack of a wake, the absence of ham sandwiches and beer, of callers, neighbours, family. The chaotic week long family occasion that is the typical Irish funeral. She seemed to be isolated except for ourselves.
As I get older and explore more the rituals and shrines we create, I have come to understand the importance of choice in death and dying. Where and how we are buried is part of that. I know I won’t belong in a conventional graveyard myself….if it even matters at that stage! So bury me in a bio-degradable mushroom suit, or send me off in a blaze of flames and scatter my ashes where they will add some nourishment to the earth.
See also an earlier post on the mushroom burial suit here
Thank you dear friends for your kind wishes! Yes, I won the Best Photography Blog for the second year in a row. After the initial delight all I could say to himself was….how am I going to keep this up? A touch of performance anxiety maybe which like all my other short comings I will choose to ignore!!
Next week the little book will be on sale, so watch this space.