Final act of love

Charles Cowling



Martin and Julie Chatfield run one of Britain’s loveliest natural burial grounds. 

Yesterday’s funeral featured this hand-painted cardboard coffin. 

It was sourced by David Albery, of Exeter and District Funeral Services (a GFG recommended funeral director), who was looking after Catherine. The family took it home and painted it, then handed it back to David, who did the needful. On  the day of the funeral he brought Catherine to Martin and Julie’s log cabin at the burial ground, and left. 

The family arrived and decorated the cabin. Martin showed them how to carry and lower the coffin, and pointed out the grave, which was bedded with lovely bright wheat straw. He then left them to it.

A little later,  humanist celebrant Alison Orchard arrived. There was a ceremony, then the coffin was borne by members of the family to the grave. A few last words were spoken and the coffin lowered. 

Alison left. The family had a cuppa and a bite to eat back at the log cabin before departing.

So ended a funeral owned by a self-empowered family, facilitated by sensitive, hands-off professionals.

The person who painted the coffin wants it to be an inspiration to others.

So do, please, leave a comment. He’ll be reading this and deserves to know how lovely it is. 

Click the pictures to bring them up to full size. 

Find Martin and Julie’s burial ground, Crossways, here

Find David Albery here



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james showers
10 years ago

Beautifully balanced ‘decoration’ – and I mean artwork. It is not easy to cover such a big surface and still make it look cohesive. Big lettering really works, and I love how this is done. But it’s a brave thing to attempt and needs skill to make it gorgeous like this.

Katie Deverell
10 years ago

How inspiring and fitting. I will definitely share this as I have been thinking a lot about how to take the next step forward in encouraging people to take more control. Getting candles, photos and other things into the crem has been great but it could all be so much better and these examples really help people to see what’s possible. If there are any Essex FDs out there interested in supporting this kind of family led funeral let me know!

10 years ago

Perfect and beautiful my kind of funeral. Far more healing for the family to be able to tenderly decorate the ‘covering for her body’ (I like that too)and lay her to rest in a beautiful personal gift from them. Yesterday I assisted (when they needed me) a family with their fathers funeral, the gentleman had requested me as I had taken his beloved wife to her funeral in Oct 08. It was really lovely they all hugged and kissed me like an extra family member attending the service. Their parents last wishes were that they didnt want any ‘crows’ at… Read more »

David Holmes
10 years ago


10 years ago

The deceased’s husband decorated the coffin himself and when we asked if we could share the photo with others, his reply was “If it will help others and show them that anything is possible funeralwise please do”
He also offered to paint coffins for others, so there might be more beautiful coffins like this to come.

10 years ago

Wonderful. Congratulations to all those involved in facilitating this, including, importantly, David, for not trying to take control.

Kathryn Edwards
Kathryn Edwards
10 years ago

Yes, beautiful, in every dimension.

It seems perhaps a little strange to say this, as I am not connected with Catherine or her family . . . but it seems to me that the ‘quality’ of the beauty is skilfully pitched: it is resonant and clear, while yet free of any hooks that might increase the difficulty of committing the entirety to the distancing, enfolding earth.

And that is art indeed.

Fran Hall
Fran Hall
10 years ago

This beautiful object isn’t ‘a coffin’, it’s all the love that Catherine’s family had for her writ large in a stunning personal but public final act of farewell.
Without doubt the saddest day of committing her body to the earth was eased and illuminated into an unforgettable memory by this lovely covering for her body and the gentle support of the professionals involved.

If only every family out there knew they could have a similar experience – then we would all be in a better world.

gloria mundi
10 years ago


Rupert Callender
10 years ago

Martin and Julie do indeed run one of the loveliest natural burial grounds around, and are also two of the loveliest operators. Nothing is too much trouble for either of them, their calm attention to detail means you can focus on the family not things like whether the grave is big enough or not. Also, their simple log cabin is a rarity but such a blessing. Other burial grounds take note!

10 years ago

Caught up as I am on the 20 minute treadmill, reading this is a wonderful reminder of the intimate, less hurried and more loving possibilities that are out there. Beautiful.

X Piry
X Piry
10 years ago


Well done to them all and best wishes to them in the future.