When the GFG went to the London Funeral Exhibition last summer at Epping Woodland Burial Park we met Angie Whitaker, who works at a sister burial ground, Chiltern. Her husband is buried in the woods there. Angie gave a talk to visitors about her experience of natural burial. I asked her to write it up for the blog, and here it is:
There is an element in all of us that likes to be in control. We work, we plan our birthdays, our holidays, our weddings; it all has to be perfect. Very few of us think of our death, we put it to one side, hope it will go away.
That was me.
Then the worst possible thing happens. My husband is diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. Both of us become very quickly aware that this part of our story will not have a happy ending.
It is December 2009, and I have the local doctor talking to me about funerals. Through the haze of unreality I hear him mention a local funeral director, and know this is not what I want. The thought of waiting in a conveyor belt at the local crematorium fills me with dread.
Fortunately I found an advert in the local directory for a Green Funeral Director, rang them, they came to see me. Please tell me I can have a funeral with a difference? I said Keith, my husband, was an artist, a woodsman. At this, a brochure was presented to me. Chiltern Woodland Burial Park. Great, let’s go see it. But I need an unusual coffin. A brochure appears. Brilliant. Cardboard coffins with pictures on.
On a bleak, wet, icy, windy January day I go to the Burial Park. We are met by Peter Taylor, given coffee, kindness and a woodland tour. A tree is chosen, the date confirmed.
The weather worsens. It snows like it never has before. The Woodland Burial Park somehow manages the whole event. A hundred and twenty-five people have battled their way through blizzards and closed roads to stand in awe at our very own Narnia. They gather together, drink wine and talk about Keith, then walk through the trees to find the turquoise-blue coffin with images of a sparrowhawk flying a Sparrowhawk aeroplane, one of Keith’s mad ‘Animals That Travel’ pictures. Keith was a graphic artist and was working on illustrations of animals that travel. He had an idea to put together a little book for Motor Neurone Disease. The pictures included a hippo in a hot air balloon, a jaguar driving a Jaguar car, a freisian cow driving a milk float, and a sparrowhawk bird flying a Sparrowhawk plane.
So many people said to me we had a great day, it was the best funeral we have ever been to. So many people did not know that there is a choice, you can have the exactly the kind of funeral that is right for you, and right for the environment.
I knew that I had got it right.
And afterwards, when we go back to visit, we are always met with kindness.
Our woodland is exactly what the brochure says: a place to celebrate life.