I defy anyone to say they are not impressed by the flower displays that mark a fresh grave of a member of the Gypsy community. They are awesome – whether for ‘Nan’, Grandad’, ‘Mum’, ‘Dad’…or inevitably sometimes for young ‘Joe’ or little ‘Sophie’. The funeral occasion itself is impressive, but after that, every year perhaps monthly or weekly, the flowers are refreshed and the grave carefully and lovingly maintained.
The Parish Church graveyard in Coombe Bissett in Wiltshire has an area specially allocated for the traveller fraternity, and they gather en masse for a funeral (as they did the other day, when I was driving through the village). The numbers recognise love and loyalty, but, I think, more than that – respect and duty too. The close family are there in their bereavement, but the wider family also attend – willingly usually, but I’m told sometimes under instruction. They may travel for hundreds of miles if the graveyard chosen has that personal connection, and, en route, they will take in places that have featured in the departed’s life in some way.
On arrival, ordinary village activities, plus the flow of traffic on the main road, all come to a halt, while the ceremony takes place. The tradition of walking in procession to the graveyard is upheld by a wonderful mix of characters, young and old, smart, dignified and in black, who follow the hearse and the assortment of other vehicles (vintage some of them) polished and shining and laden with the floral tributes.
The flowers often depict an object or belonging that meant something to the deceased. They will sometimes include the Floral Chair – for him / her to rest – similarly a floral pillow. The edge or kerb of a grave has importance too – it is not to be crossed so that the occupant is allowed to ‘rest in peace’.
The formal service is, I think, quite brief, and not always relating to any faith or denomination, but the gathering doesn’t disperse for many an hour while stories are told and families exchange their news. And the spirit of the deceased lives on, so he or she is no doubt part of those conversations. Time seems to stop – perhaps we should all learn the importance of that, accustomed as we are to our frenetic lives that don’t seem to have a reason to pause, look around, and value what is often right in front of us.