Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Laying to Rest of Willy Holmes

Just one of the thousands of handshakes shared

It started out as a beautiful day Tuesday morning, but by the time Dennis Moore, the local gravedigger had pulled up to the cemetery on his bicycle and arranged everything for digging, the clouds had thickened and wind blew the cold air through my clothing. So, I was happy to pick up the pick axe and lend a hand at loosening up the earth in the 7-foot long 2 1/2-foot trench.

It's a tradition that's done less and less these days in Ireland. The family and friends, dig the grave, carry and lower the coffin, fill in the grave site. I was honored to be there, in spite of feeling a bit like I was intruding on a private affair.

But the two days I spent here with my wife's family were anything but a private affair. There were, of course, moments of privacy, but for the most part, the community members showed up in large numbers to participate celebrating and honoring the passing away of Willy Holmes, who would have been 80 this Saturday, Mary's father.

At the local mortuary in Cappamore, thousands stopped in - one friend drove more than two hours from Dublin, gave his condolences, then stepped back into his car and drove back. The family stood and sat around Willy as people filed in and shook hands.

"Sorry for your trouble..." or something along that line. Sometimes I didn't understand the words that were whispered. But I understood.

I felt I understood the effect that Willy Holmes had on the people of this community as I sat for more than two hours and shook hands, and looked into the eyes of people I did not know, as I stood and watched members of the community pick up shovels and fill in the hole that I helped dig in which Mary's brothers had just lowered the casket in which their father was laid to rest.

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