Following on from our article on pages 54-55 of the Autumn/Winter 2013 edition of the More To Death magazine (http://issuu.com/moretodeath/docs/more_to_death_autumn_winter_2013) where we spoke about why it has taken such a long time to join the Association of Natural Burial Grounds, I have now been asked if I would like to submit a follow up article on our relationship with families after the funeral, the sense of service we provide and how this provides a level of, for want of a better phrase, a ‘sense of job satisfaction’ as a Burial Ground Manager.
As I mentioned in the previous article, Tithe Green was opened in 1999 and I took the post of manager in 2010. Initially there was a period whereby a certain amount of discouragement of traditional memorialisation was required and visitors were actively encouraged to plant wildflowers as an alternative. As time marches on, I have found this to be an ongoing process, but it does allow me to ‘chat’ with visitors whenever I come across them at the Burial Ground.
I have often found that grieving friends and relatives just want to talk and for someone to listen and it can be even more comforting for them if that someone was not necessarily associated with their departed loved one – they just need to talk and I am happy to be the one that listens! One of the comments I have made is that I have heard all sorts of wonderful stories about all sorts of wonderful people and I feel extremely privileged in being able to share in the good memories that visitors have when at Tithe Green. There are also of course many comical memories and I believe that in itself can help the healing process.
For a number of families there is the tree planting ceremony or placing of plaques at graves and memorial trees. I always try to meet with families for this and again this is another opportunity to chat, to listen and to encourage families to become part of a growing community of people who are involved in developing a beautiful and natural legacy for future generations. I believe it is therefore very important to provide plenty of time for this and to not rush such ceremonies.
I think it is also very important to listen to the opinions of everyone with regard to the way the Burial Ground is managed. There are some extremely knowledgeable people around and I have been fortunate to learn many things from many of these people in the short time I have been at Tithe Green. There is very much a balance to be achieved when providing families with their current needs of a final resting place for their loved ones whilst keeping an eye on the future and the direction the Burial Ground should take. Often when people understand what we are striving to achieve they are more than willing to help in this vision.
We have continued to run our Christmas ‘amnesty’ each year and I believe this is one the areas that we can provide a much needed service to our visitors. It is of course a very normal tradition to place wreaths on graves at this time of year and we are quite happy to see people doing so whether the wreaths are natural, plastic or whatever. We publish a date in our notice board when we carry out a clear up of Christmas items so people can arrange to remove them themselves should they wish to. We do still draw a line however and I have on one occasion had to remove baubles, garlands and fairies from a memorial tree! This practice also allows us to have a full clear up of the Burial Ground should there have been any inappropriate memorialisation from throughout the previous year but we are now finding very little, if any at all.
Over the last two years we have also organised an autumn wildflower planting event, which this year was held on 4th October. We publish the event in the Burial Ground notice board, on our website and also by e-mail. The event entails arranging for a local wildflower farm to set up a stall at the Burial Ground and sell flowers for planting throughout the site. Being experts in the growing of wildflowers they are also able to give help and advice to customers on which flowers/plants to buy and how best to plant them. We had a fantastic turnout for our first year and following feedback we have this year included tea, coffee and cakes for sale by a local vendor as well as having a portable toilet on site. Unfortunately there was a threat of rain for this year’s event but we were pleasantly surprised to find yet another fantastic turnout. What an uplifting sight to see groups of people all over the Burial Ground planting wildflowers on and around the graves!