It was bitterly cold at Shanganagh at midday. The gravel drives that separate the lines of graves, pleasant avenues on sunny days, were potholed by traffic and had become aisles of muddy puddles. The devastation of recent storms had left its mark; flowers scattered, memorials blown over.
The grave diggers looked up at passers by, hands, clothes, boots, covered in mud. I often wonder what they make of the scenes they see. Are they like the diggers in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, wits engaging in dark humour, or do they become introspective and morose as they watch the conclusion of another tragedy?
Twenty years old. We stood in a little cluster at his grave as I read Scripture and then, because it would have meant more to him, the words of Damien Dempsey’s “Sing all our cares away”. The young man next to him was only 27, another tragic end. Don’t ever talk to me about “kind and gentle Death, waiting to hush our latest breath”. Did Francis of Assisi ever try doing bereavement calls?
It hardly seemed a year since we had stood at the grave. It had been at the edge of the line of burials then, now there are two more lines of graves – two more lines of sadness and grief; two more lines of people whose families will look for them this Christmas and not see them.
The cold was of the worst sort, the cold that you only find in an Irish winter, where the thermometer tells you it’s not so bad, but the chill penetrates to the bones. It wasn’t a moment to hang around, and there was no appetite for small-talk. What do you say? There was nothing that was going to make anything any better, nothing to ease the pain.
Yet there was an absence. He wasn’t there. “The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God” says the writer of the book of Wisdom. John the Divine looks forward to the moment when there would be no more crying or pain or death. Perhaps that’s where he was. Smiling, I hope, and remembering the little knot of people at Shanganagh on a wet December day.