Reverend Peters slowed as he passed the newly filled grave on his way to the vicarage. The autumn nights were drawing in and the dusk light had faded to a faint glow. The teacher’s burial that morning, was attended by her colleagues, some parents of those she taught, some ex-pupils, and a few of the older children from the school. Very few had withheld tears, just as few hadn’t cried as first her husband, and then her head teacher, had delivered the eulogy. She had been a remarkable teacher, they said, not just dedicated to teaching her pupils in school, but to setting them off on a good and valued journey through life. Her care of the pupils went well beyond the classroom, or their time at school, she would always find time to guide them through the troubles of their early lives.
None of this had caused the reverend to slow as he passed. Dealing with loss and grief was an occupational hazard, and while he cared for the loss in every death, he’d built barriers over the years, so he could move on and help the living. What caused the reverend to slow and then pause, was the solitary white flower – a crocus perhaps – on the freshly turned earth. The white of the flower, caught what little light remained and radiated a brilliance with life. Surely it had been planted fully formed, as the coming chill of the autumn evening, would cause it to wither and die.
The next morning dawned to a hard frost – the first of the year, and on passing the teachers grave, the reverend saw that the flower had indeed gone. Not just shrivelled, but gone without a trace. Further ahead in an older part of the graveyard, he could see a young lady kneeling over a grave, clearing away weeds with her hands. This was common for the recent graves, but where she worked held the remains of those a hundred or more years old. His curiosity demanded he found out more.
“Hello, it’s a frosty morning,” the reverend called out as he approached the young lady. It was a meaningless greeting, but as close as he could get to ‘what are you doing’, as he dared.
She rocked back on her haunches as she turned to look at him. She was perhaps in her early twenties, her shoulder length brown hair framed a little too pale face. An anxious frown clouded her welcoming smile.
“Is this someone from your family’s past?” The reverend continued. He glanced at the headstone:
a scoundrel in life,
may he find the true way in death,
“Oh, it seems he may not have been a pleasant man.”
“Not this one,” her voice was tinged with sadness. “Others here led better lives, a few not, but they all deserve to be released to find their way home.”
The reverend followed her gaze as is swept across this corner of the graveyard. He saw then that she’d already cleared many of the graves of weeds and brambles.
“There really is no need for you to clear the ground like this. The church should do it, but my budget is limited and I spend it on tending the more recent graves. Once in a while, I encourage the parishioners to spend a weekend clearing the worst,” he said, knowing that it had been many years since that had been done.
As he looked back at her he noticed the basket of bulbs by her side. “Are you planting the bulbs? Was it you that planted one on the teacher’s grave yesterday?”
“Yes,” she said. “It’s what I do.”
“And it grew from the bulb to flower in just one day? That’s remarkable,” I said.
“Her spirit was stronger than most – it created the brilliance of the flower as it was released. And she was pure – pure spirits always produce a beautiful white flower. There are strong, trapped spirits all around here. The display later will be wonderful to see,” she said.
“You say there are spirits trapped in these old graves, and you are releasing them?” the reverend said. “It’s my belief that our spirit moves on to heaven when we die, whether we are good or bad in life.”
Still kneeling by Jonathan Adams’ grave she looked up at him then, and he could see an intensity in her eyes.
“Some spirits cling to life strongly. Flowers on their grave help them let go, and find their way to their new home. There are many trapped spirits here. This is what I do. My flowers allow the spirits to be free. The stronger the spirit, the more brilliant the bloom. The purer the spirit, the whiter the colour. You’ll see the truth of it tonight.”
“I’ll be sure to look,” the reverend said. Seeing that she was doing no harm, he offered her warm tea in the office should she get cold, and left her at work. When he returned through the graveyard later that day the girl had gone.
At dusk Reverend Peters returned to the graveyard. From by the south door of the church he could see the graves the girl had been working on that morning.
“You see? It’s beautiful. The spirits are released to find their way.” The reverend hadn’t heard the girl approach, but she stood just beside him, the troubled frown from earlier gone.
She was right. All around graves were picked out by single brilliant blooms, like small lights in the increasing gloom.
“It’s more than beautiful,” he said.
Most of the blooms were white, with some tinged with colour. Only that on the grave of Jonathan Adams stood out as different. Brilliant like the rest, but unlike any others displaying a vibrant, wicked crimson, bloom.
With a nod towards the grave of Jonathan Adams, the reverend said “Perhaps, he’ll repent when he reaches heaven.”
“Perhaps,” the girl said at his side, and after a pause, “this is what I do, and its done here now.”
When the reverend turned to look, she had gone.