When the weather turns foul or my much-maligned bike has a spat with the world I drive to the hospital. Parking is an issue, so I park about ten minutes walk away and wander in. This takes me though a park of flowers, trees, greenery and graves.
Yes, some might call it a graveyard. It’s a big one, too, and occasionally while walking I’ll make the mistake of starting to read the epitaphs. I say mistake only partly because it slows down my walking to a crawl and makes me late; the other part is because they wind me up or down, depending. Examples below:
- Winding up/inducing nausea: Some people write the most horrendous ‘inspirational phrases’ or ‘wonderful rhymes’ which, whilst no doubt seeming tender and meaningful at the time, should by no means be placed on something which will last longer than a week. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about ‘Dearly beloved…’ or ‘A wonderful husband, father, and grandfather.’ – no no. What monumental masons should avoid carving into history are things like: “Although now we are apart/you’re forever in my heart.” Hmph.
- Winding down/tragic epitaphs: These tend to be date related, rather than to do with the actual wording of the stone itself. They read something like this:
Micheal J Thomas – 1951-1999 Sarah R Thomas – 1952-1999 John N Thomas – 1988-1999 Jessica C Thomas – 1991-1999
You can feel the sorrow, pain and heartbreak of the rest of the family who lost sons, daughters, grandkids, sisters and brothers. Similarly, graves reading the husband dying 30 years before his wife, with the words ‘Died abroad’ etched into the rock – military service? A holiday gone horribly wrong? I’ll never know, but the facts themselves make for grim reading.
Then there are the gravestones themselves. I like old-style headstones – rough-hewn rock, no gold writing or polished, mirror-bright surfaces, no extensive stonework surrounding the grave. Just a rock, raw and untempered bar the letters burned into the surface. There’s a very old graveyard elsewhere in City I Live, and its a wonderful place – overgrown, tilting gravestones covered in lichen and long grass, unkempt and wild and wonderful. It’s got character and atmosphere that’s missing from more modern cemeteries, and I think it’s a loss that everything is so commercial now. If I were ever in the position to choose my gravestone, I’d probably want it to be plain, simple – something like slate. A slab of uncut, rough slate thrust into the ground, free of twee poetry or claims about how peacefully I ‘fell asleep’ – just my name and the dates bracketing my life. I’d not object to things like ‘loving husband and father’ – that’s fine (assuming I am one, of course) but please: no polished black marble, no elaborately carved mural, no smiling picture of me in my late 40s, fitted to a golden frame for the moss to cloud.
In the end a grave is a peculiar type of personal thing. Its your last contribution to the world, but it’s one that you have no part in making. It’s down to those you know to guess what you’d like, and all you can do is hope that they don’t misjudge.
Not, of course, that you have to opportunity to mind if they do.