As I walked across the churchyard to the plot I had recently dug I could see four people coming up the path to the site. A man, probably in his mid-thirties, a woman of about the same age, and two boys, one of them is holding the woman's right hand. This boy looks like the younger of the two, slightly smaller in stature but not much. Twins? No. brothers? They look too close in age. One a child from a second marriage? Quite likely. The older of the boys is carrying the box of ashes.
It is one of those clichéd scenes from a TV drama where there is a mysterious figure among the mourners at the graveside.
I am the Sexton. When acquaintances find out that I have this as a part-time job there is almost always a joke about having a job as a sex worker. I've heard it so many times that I now just treat if with amusement.
But there may be people out there who don't know what a Sexton actually is. He, or she, is the person who digs graves in a churchyard, and carries out the burial of the dead. Traditionally the Sexton was the grave-digger: think six feet by two and six feet deep. If you are of a literary bent you'll probably also think of Hamlet and poor Yorick (alas). These days if a body is to be buried the grave is excavated with a mini-digger; my burials are of the ashes of the deceased in much smaller plots in the churchyard. For the purists among you this is an interment (not an internment) rather than a burial. There is a lot of other quite odd terminology that goes with the job.
I enjoy people-watching and there is a surprising amount of it to do in a churchyard. Usually the family or whoever else is attending an interment will bring the ashes with them. These usually come in a tough plastic bag inside some sort of box. You can tell a lot by what is being carried, and how. Sometimes the box is being clutched tightly to the breast of a child or widowed partner, sometimes it is being held at arm's length by someone who really does not want to be too close to death. The latter often bring the box in something like a supermarket carrier bag to disguise what they're carrying. Some people are quite nonchalant and stroll up the church path while chatting to companions who are also attending the interment. At the extreme end are those who instruct the undertakers to deliver the remains to the church, and then ask me to carry them to the prepared plot. You learn to read the situation.
What many people are often not prepared for is that the interment can be like having the funeral all over again, with all the attendant grief, but with no warning or preparation. I always carry a packet of tissues just in case.
Anyway here I am with a job to do. Unusually I don't recognise the family (is it a family?) or the name of the deceased. Odd because I've been here long enough to know most of the people I'm interring. The Vicar arrives to take the short service and I notice that both boys are now standing together, the older appearing to be supporting the younger. I get the job done but I have to admit that my interest is piqued by this little tableau. Something does not feel to be quite as might be expected. Nothing wrong, just unusual.
Afterwards I looked back down the church path. The group had stopped by a bench and it looked as though one of the boys was sitting down. The others were grouped around him.
After packing my tools away I went in to the church to wash my hands. I met the Parish Secretary who I knew well, and reported that the interment was done. She had taken the booking for it and since she was very well-informed about goings-on in the area she would probably know more than anyone what the story was. But she might be too correctly discreet to share any information. Still, I felt it worthwhile asking.
"Those poor boys. They've been through a lot" was the reply. She was evidently prepared to share what she knew.
I'm James. Jack Morton was my Dad. Today we buried him and I'll never be able to talk to him again and that hurts so much. He died a year ago.
I'm twelve. I never knew my Mother. She died when I was three. I don't remember her at all. There are photos of her holding me and playing with me. She looks a nice and happy person. She had some sort of accident and instead of the damage healing it went wrong and she got sepsis. It was not found in time and although she got treatment it was too late.
I look at other kids with mothers and I wonder what it is like to have one. I suppose she would have looked after me and taught me stuff. Maybe she would take me out to visit places. It would be nice to have someone who did that for me.
Dad wanted to marry again. Just before my fifth birthday a woman and her son moved in with us. Dad said he might be going to marry her. He told me once that he could not bring me up on his own without help and that was why. Her name is Shan. I suppose it is short for something. I don't know what, I never found out. I never wanted to know anything about her except when she was going to go so that Dad could find someone else. Right from the start she criticised me for everything I did. My table manners were all wrong and I did not speak properly. I was always in the wrong place or doing the wrong thing. She got rid of all my clothes and bought stuff that she liked. I was not allowed to eat my favourite foods. She got rid of all my books when I was at school one day. Even the ones I had bought with my own money.
If she told me to do something or other I had to do it straight away and not argue. If I did she would hit me. I was always having to tell Dad that I had fallen over or tripped up or something like that when really there were marks and bruises from her hitting me. She never hit me if Dad was around so I used to stick close to him when he was home.
She made me call her Mother but she was not my Mum. She found I had some pictures of Mum in my bedroom and she took them away and hid them. I still don't know if she threw them away or just hid them. Dad did not notice or if he did he did nothing about it.
She is a horrible person. She told Dad all sorts of lies about what I was doing and how disobedient I was. I think Dad knew she was lying but he did not seem to be able to stand up to her. She would make sure that I never contradicted her when she told Dad these lies.
I used to cry a lot and I got hit for doing that. I learned not to cry or show anything about how I felt. I used to dream about growing up and being able to leave home. I wondered if I could run away and find someone else to look after me but I did not know where to go or what to do.
The only good thing was that she had a son of her own called Andy. He is just a few months younger than me, although our different birthdays mean that we are in different years at school. Andy is really nice but he was not nice at the beginning. His Mother used to also tell him lies about me and tried to make him hate me. At first he would not let me play with any of his toys and he would not play with me. Then he began to hear the lies his Mother was telling Dad about me. He tried to tell her she was wrong and the next time she had the chance she really beat him up. I heard it all and saw the bruises and the cut on his arm from where she hit him with something hard.
Andy and I had to share a room because the house was quite small. I had to push all my things to one side of the room so that there was room for his stuff. At first he would have nothing to do with me but after the beating he cried all night. I could not sleep and I knew he was really unhappy so I went and sat on his bed and held his hand. He let me. We were about 7 at the time. I was getting cold just sitting there so I pulled the bedspread over me and spent the rest of the night like that. She found us together the next morning and I got a beating but Andy didn't.
After that there was a terrible row. Andy and I were in our room and we could hear shouting. Once we heard something breaking, like a bottle or a plate. Andy said we should block the door like he had seen in a film. I didn't know what he meant but he showed me that you could wedge a chair under the door-handle so that it could not be turned and the door would stay shut He also said we must open the window in case we needed to jump out and run away. It was quite exciting but also frightening.
We heard the front door slam shut and then the house went quiet. We could hear someone moving stuff downstairs and then the vacuum cleaner started. It sounded like someone was clearing up a mess. Then Dad's voice was outside our door. He wanted to come in but he couldn't open the door. We asked if it was safe and he said yes. So we moved the chair and let him in. He saw the open window and knew what we had been planning.
Dad sat down and told us that Andy's Mother had gone away for a while. We asked how long and he said a long long time. Andy did not seem very upset.
That night I got into Andy's bed with him and we held on to each other until we fell asleep. We were still like that the next morning and Dad found us and I thought he would be angry but he said it was all right and he didn't mind if we were happy. After that we always shared the bed and Dad bought us a new bigger one so that we could have some space to spread out.
I hope that Andy's Mum does not come back. I don't think he misses her. It would be nice for both of us to have a nice Mother.
My Mum always had one of her boyfriends in the house. I don't know how any of them there were. Often when I came downstairs in the morning there would be some man I had not seen before in the kitchen. Some of them were all right but some of them told me to go to bed early. I think Mum and they wanted me out of the way.
I did not know if one of these men was my Dad. She never told me and I never had anyone to call Dad. It would be nice to have a Dad to learn things from and do stuff with. Perhaps he would be someone I liked.
She said we were going to move out of our house and go to another house where there was a man and another boy. I was told that the boy was really bad and I must not have anything to do with him or let him touch any of my stuff. She said that if I had anything to do with him she would punish me badly.
The man at this new house was really nice and talked to me. The boy's name was James and was a bit bigger than me and a year above me in school. He seemed all right but I had to keep my stuff away from him and not talk to him like my Mother said. My Mother was always telling me how bad he was and if I had anything to do with him I would become bad as well. She told me lots of naughty things that he had done.
One day I lost some of my school books and my project work. I knew I had put them in their usual place in the house but I could not find them. Then when the other boy and I were downstairs she found them under the sofa. She said that James must have hidden them there to make trouble for me.
I said the boy could not have done that because he had been upstairs all the time since I had come home and he did not have the time to do it. She started shouting at me and then she grabbed a long-handled spoon from a drawer and started hitting me with it. I could smell something horrible on her breath. The other boy told my mother that he had not hidden the books and she shouted at him that she would beat the shit out of him. I did not know what that meant but it sounded bad.
That night I cried a lot because I was so unhappy. The other boy, James, came and sat on my bed to me to make me feel better. He held my hand. I knew I was not supposed to touch him because of it being bad but it felt nice. He was feeling cold so he got under the bed-cover to keep warm and we slept like that.
In the morning my Mother found us and she went mental. She began to beat James but not me. Then James's Dad came in and shouted at her to go downstairs and for us to stay upstairs in our room and shut the door.
Then there was a terrific row and shouting and throwing stuff. The other boy and me hid in our room and fixed it so that the door could not be opened from the outside. We opened a window in case we needed to jump out and run away. I had seen that done in a film so I knew it would work.
We stayed in our room and sat together in case we were attacked. We started talking and I really liked him. Then there was silence downstairs after we heard a door slam and then we heard someone using a cleaner and then the boy's Father came up and we let him in to the room and he had a long talk to us. He said that my Mum was going away for a long time. I felt a bit upset and asked what about me and he said I could stay in his house as long as I wanted. I asked if I could play with James and he said yes of course and that James was not bad but that my Mother did not understand about him.
After that James and I did lots of things together and I really liked him. I felt lonely and James came into my bed and we started sleeping together which felt nice and warm. One day James's Dad said if we wanted he would take both beds out of our room and get one bigger one instead and we said yes please. That was even nicer.
One day James's Father said that he did not feel good and asked us to telephone for an ambulance. We did and while we were doing that he had some sort of fit and fell on the floor. We put a blanket over him and the ambulance people came but they said it was too late and they took him away to hospital anyway. We heard later that he was dead from a heart attack.
Someone who said she was from the Council came and said we would have to go and stay somewhere else. They went to see the lady who lived next door and she said she would look after us for a few days. Then we were taken to lots of different places and someone wanted to make us go to two different houses and we said no and we held on tight to each other. Then a man came along who said he knew James's Dad and we could go and stay with him so we did.
He had nice house and a wife called Sue. He said we could have our own bedrooms because it was a big house but we said we wanted to stay together.
Today we buried the ashes of James's Dad's body. James was very sad. The man and his wife came with us and we all went back to their house together. She held my hand while the ashes were buried. I had not seen that happen before. James was very sad and cried a lot afterwards. I do not remember him crying before.
I would like to stay at this house and I would like to stay with James too.
My name is Michael Stoker. I'm a solicitor. I first met Jack Morton when his wife died and he came to us for help dealing with her estate.
When Jack thought of perhaps re-marrying he came to us again for advice. One thing I remember talking him through was a new will to make sure that his son's interests were preserved. I advised him to set up a trust fund of some sort for the boy. This is quite a standard procedure but not one that a lot of people think of doing. As I remember, Jack had no relatives that he knew of. His late wife had some relatives in her own generation but she did not maintain contact with them.
When Shan and her son Andy moved in with Jack he came to see me again to find out if there was anything he needed to take are of. We talked through the matter, and also the possible need to revise his will. I gave him appropriate advice. I asked about her family. He did not know and said that if her son had a known father there was no record of him
Later he consulted me again. His new partner was, he thought, abusive to his own son James and possibly to her own son also. She was also drinking. She was causing a lot of friction in the house. He was going to ask her to leave and wanted advice on how to cope with any division of property after that. There was an issue with his son James and Andy, the partner's son and their very close relationship.
One evening I was called by a woman who identified herself as the next-door neighbour to Jack. Jack had a massive heart attack and died at home in front of the boys. This clever lady knew the situation there, and had a key to the house. She got in, found Jack's address book, and saw my name. The boys had no-one to care for them and Social Services had moved in on the case. I knew what that meant and I started phoning around. They had been put into a foster home that would have them both for about a week. Apparently they would not be separated under any circumstances and that had caused some problems.
Many phone calls later the next day I had secured temporary wardship of both boys by virtue of being executor of Jack's estate. I knew the right buttons to push and the boys were made wards of court with me as their Guardian. They could not live in Jack's house alone so I was able to secure the right to house them at my own property. We had plenty of space having bought a large house in expectation of a family that never happened.
We offered the boys a room each but they wanted to share a room and, to our surprise, a bed. After what they had been through it was hardly surprising that the wanted to hold on to some stability. My wife told me to accept it as being for the best.
They are two lovely boys, and unusually close. We hear a lot of laughter from them, and never any disagreement. It is wonderful to have their noise and activity in the house. It is worth noting though that they speak to each other more than they do to us. Perhaps that is what youngsters do: we have little experience in that area but we are learning fast.
I am Susan Stoker, Michael's husband. I am a relationship counsellor. I had heard from Michael about these boys and the things that they had to cope with. It is amazing that they are still as well-adjusted as they are.
Today we buried the ashes of James's father. After the little ceremony as we walked out of the churchyard James started to cry. This was surprising as usually he shows almost no signs of emotion. He seems to have learned to cover up his feelings. We got him to sit down on a bench. I thought the tears would never stop. Andy sat next to him and comforted him. There is an extraordinary bond between those two. I have never seen it in boys before. They act more like lovers than the step-brothers that they are.
I don't have much of a part to play in this but I do have a big part to play in helping them to sort themselves out. For a start I realise that they missed out on a lot of normal developmental stages as youngsters. Regression therapy can help them to go back and experience some of those stages, even though they are almost teenagers. We have been going on lots of outings, walks, adventures. When the weather improves, Michael and I are going to take them camping, if they want to go. I think they will. In the summer we will be going on holiday to Tenby and I expect to see them paddling in the sea, building sandcastles and lots of water play. Neither of them has ever ridden a bike or learned to swim, so we will take care of those things. Also perhaps music lessons which I think they will enjoy.
I have started reading bedtime stories to them and they seemed to enjoy these as much as I have. We have set up a structure of routines which is so important. It is not a rigid timetable, but a way of getting rid of the chaotic background that they have had.
I have decided that if they agree, I will give up my job and home-school them. I don't know yet how to do that but we will learn together.
Michael has been awarded Guardianship of Andy and James. Again, with their agreement, we will apply for permission to adopt them both.
Michael and I tried for many years to have children. We also tried IVF which was painful and very intrusive, and did not work. Now it seems that we have been gifted the family we have wished for.
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