Funeral Bees

Recently I shared this post on my facebook page, swiping it from another friend’s page (thank you Lynn!). It was a little clip from the Danville Bee, June 4, 1956—a story posted about a swarm of bees attending their keeper’s funeral in Adams, Massachusetts.

Throughout his life, John Zepka had raised, worked with, and loved bees. He became widely known in the Berkshire Hills as ‘a man who had a way with them’. “

According to the article, as the funeral procession approached the tent they found it swarming with bees. Clinging to the ceiling and floral sprays, the bees weren’t there to harm anyone. They were there to bear witness to their beloved keeper’s life and death. They were merely showing up along with the other mourners to give their solemn regards.


It brought to mind the old tradition of “telling the bees”….that when a member of the family dies, the bees must have their hive draped in black cloth, lest they leave for good. As one northern European song goes:
Honey bees, honey bees, hear what I say!
Your Master, poor soul, has passed away.
His sorrowful wife begs of you to stay,
Gathering honey for many a day.
Bees in the garden, hear what I say!

(Ethnobeeology, Nov. 13, 2013)

I share this story, along with last week’s post, because I am fascinated by the intimate connection that we are able to have with the natural world.  We’ve noticed it with bees, because they are among the few creatures with which we’ve cultivated a relationship—for over 5,000 years. Since I’ve begun to have a relationship with bees, I’ve paid close attention to their habits, changes in their behavior and housekeeping patterns. When I lost both of my hives last winter, I cried. Spring blooms were not the same without the busy, buzzy beehives in my backyard. For me they signal life and the passing of seasons. I certainly mourned their passing. I’m not sure they would mourn mine.

As a bee colleague of mine once said, “I don’t think a few years of having bees qualifies one as keeping bees”. I would concur. One must spend a lifetime of care and dedication to nurture such a bond of trust, as John Zepka’s funeral bees illustrated.

We have many miles to go in our relationship with the world of wild creatures.


4 thoughts on “Funeral Bees

  1. Thanks for sharing this story. It bring me back to when my great-grandad had a bee hives and made homemade honey. My great-grandma got sick because of lot of bee flying around,don’t remember what she was doing when she got stung by bee. My great-grandad sold the hive. Year later at her family funeral and 2nd one for her friend,family,church,and town. I saw a bee flying around and again at 2nd funeral. I showed my step-brother the bee flying around. I say that our Mimi. Then a week or two after the funeral outside my side door there was a bee hanging around not with the other bee. I’ld like to think it was her.


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