They fit into a spread hand, yet reach into eternity

Charles 7 Comments



Posted by Rupert Callender, owner of The Green Funeral Company.


As human beings, we look for meaning everywhere, superimposing it over everything that comes into our lives. The Australian aborigines believe that the world was vocalised into existence, literally sung into creation, and that the song needs to be continued so that reality can flourish. We are no different, giving identities to our household objects, cursing our computer when it misbehaves or urging our spluttering car toward home. We see patterns where, without us, there are none. A world that responds to our awakening gaze, and freezes again as we look away.

As undertakers, we work in an area where meanings blur and identities become less certain. For us, a body is just that: a body. Something awkward and heavy to be treated practically between us, to be lifted and moved, dressed or washed. But when they are in the presence of those who loved them, they become people again, suffused with personality and history, mute vessels for love and longing, themselves but changed. It is to witness this change that we gently lead the living toward, no more certain as to what it means than they, only sure that it is as important as it is painful.

The picture above is of one of our lowering straps, part of our meagre collection of professional equipment. We have two of them, simple strips of furniture webbing to reinforce chairs that we bought thirteen years ago in a haberdashery shop in Cornwall. You can see the colouration of the soil on them, their history stained into the edge. The red thread marks the midpoint. It rests over the centre of the grave, a guide for when we stretch them over before the coffin is laid on top.

They are just material, yet for me they are one of the most powerfully resonant things I possess. They have lowered old men and children, people whose deaths were a longed for mercy and those ripped from their families. They have held mothers leaving shellshocked children, people who have had terrible things done to them, and those who have done terrible things. They have slipped through mine and Claire’s hands a thousand times, and the hand’s of grandmothers and fathers, lovers and friends. They are tinged with our blood cut by the edges of coffins, stained with soil and mud and grass and sweat, and of course, with tears. The tears of people doing the bravest, hardest, saddest thing of their lives, gently lowering their beloved down into a grave.

They fit into a spread hand, yet reach into eternity. Not just bits of woven cloth, but portals, ladders to another world, or at least to the end of this one. At times they appear like mandalas, or spiraling universes. They seem to possess a patient wisdom, to have personality. We certainly have shared history.

I wonder what part they will play in my own end, whether their frayed edges will still be strong enough by then. In my secret heart, I know they will, that they are an umbilical cord reaching out into the womb of my own death, ravelling me nearer.

Hopefully, when my time has come I will be burnt on a hill. If I am, them perhaps one should be wrapped around me, the other to journey with Claire to who knows where. 

These decisions are not ours to make, and maybe they will slip through the hands of my family as they lower me down into the ground. Where ever I am going, I have confidence that the straps will see me safely to the end. They always have.


  1. Charles

    Writing of this quality brings together powerful feelings, rational thought and aesthetic ordering in a way that only such good writing can. I’m not being disrespectful to this blog (the best) when I urge you to use this and other things you’ve written and make sure they get into a larger, longer medium. This is not a consumable, it’s a capital asset. Thank you.

  2. Charles

    This is a meditation of the highest order – on your life and death, on what matters most and, in its own way, on the deepest duties of the funeral director. All the duty, care and dignity of the role is there. Thank you for reminding us.

  3. Charles

    Oh Ru,  what depth, length and breadth of love and life your circle of webbing present! When I saw the spiralling coil I felt that here was a picture with no need of words…but I loved the words, I loved the path we followed through your heart, mind and soul.

    Aboriginal paintings speak to ancient, deep need – each dot part of the song, each song part of the journey, representing the map of time, place and eternity. The circle represents a well, a resting place, a meeting place…we meet together at your precious webbing and are refreshed by your thinking, ready to journey on. Now a part of you travels with us, as we look at that worn, used, ordinary, mud stained, tearstained, bloodstained miracle handing us into the sacred secrets of beyond. We are forever part of your song.

  4. Charles

    What a beautiful piece of writing Ru. I shall never again see them as just a practical item.

    Your writings are, as Gloriamunidi quite rightly says, a capital asset. Do record them for posterity.

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