A short-cut into the churchyard, has been carved out recently through a hedge. It runs along the steep hill that must be climbed to reach St. Laurence Church in Alvechurch, which has stood sentinel over the village for eight centuries.
The earth is clay; the red clay that gave the town near to the village of Alvechurch, the name Redditch (originally Red-Dych).
I found myself walking the roughly hewn path, strewn with sticks and stones, many times during my two weeks in the ancient English village of my childhood, in May.
I felt compelled to go there on my first evening.The air was filled with birdsong; the Evening Chorus. I reveled in the sight of bluebells and a variety of other wild flowers and blossoms, snapping photos as I walked.
My destination was Dad’s grave. It seemed wrong to be in Alvechurch and not go there right away. I found his quickly amongst the crowd of headstones and I touched the stone, still warm with the sun of the day, tracing with my finger, the letters of bright gold in the dark gray granite.
I thought of the care that went into every detail of it's choosing. The stone, the words, the celtic cross. All of them chosen with great care and executed by a local stonemason, a craftsman.
I whispered, “I’m here Dad. I love you.”
My brother and I visited that spot together more than once while I was there. We have an unspoken understanding of the importance of such things.
Robert would quickly see any unruly encroachments of nature and squat down, his large but gentle hands plucking stray clumps of grass from the edges of the stone or brushing away the grass clippings from the ledge. His gentle solicitousness strikes me as poignant. He recieved so little of it from the one whose grave he tends.
Our father's grave stands in a row of others in various degrees of neatness.
Our old headmaster's grave lies a couple of rows ahead of dad's grave. How well I remember him.
But sadly, although he has lain there for two years already; he died on Easter Sunday, 2006, his grave is untidy and uncared for, and a "temporary" wooden cross with brass plaque, is all that marks it.
There may be many reasons for this. Perhaps his children are far from home now or perhaps there is a story behind the apparent neglect; we can't know.
In any case when I was reading the book of 2 Chronicles; the record of the kings of Israel and Judah, I read of two very different men and how they were remembered.
There was a king named Jehoram who lived a life of wickedness and idolatry and in 2 Chronicles 21:20 are words that sum up his life:
He passed away, to no-one's regret, and was buried in the City of David, but not in the tomb of the kings.
On the other hand, in 2 Chronicles 32:32-33, we read of another king named Hezekiah and this is what is written:
32 The other events of Hezekiah's reign and his acts of devotion are written in the vision of the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz in the book of the kings of Judah and Israel. 33 Hezekiah rested with his fathers and was buried on the hill where the tombs of David's descendants are. All Judah and the people of Jerusalem honored him when he died...
We can't know how our grave will be cared for when we die. In some cases there seems no logic in how that works out. What matters more is how we live. How sad it would be to end up like king Jehoram.