Not so much looking down as across..

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rest in peace!

I have always been fascinated by the 'life after' and by cemeteries. Some of my earliest memories are of playing with my country cousins in an abandoned (or so it seemed) cemetery just outside Donegal town. We passed the cemetery every day on the path down to the harbour and so it seemed the most natural thing in the world to spend hours wandering around the plots, trying to find the oldest headstone, the youngest or oldest person buried, the biggest gap in date of death between a husband and wife. Children can cope with death better than adults. For children death is the most natural thing in the world.

The cemetery had no defined walls that I can remember but it did have a ruined tower at one end. Aged approx six I decided I would climb to the very top of the crumbling ruin. My younger cousin ran home across the road and announced to all and sundry that I was now atop the tower. The fire brigade was called and a small crowd assembled at the base, joined by myself who in the meantime had climbed down to see what the fuss was all about.

I think I would like to be buried in a 'nice' cemetery - one that overlooks the mountains or the sea. It's a bit late to convert to the Church of Ireland, I suppose; they seem to have the nicest and best kept cemeteries. How do they manage it?, I wonder.

On the basis that we might be dead a long time it seems to make sense to be careful of where you are going to be buried. People spend a fortune to spend a mere twenty years in a castle and begrudge the thousand euro to buy the plot where they will spend the next twenty thousand years.

I find cemeteries peaceful. I get the feeling that most of the people who lie there are at rest. They are mostly old people in their eighties for whom death is a welcome companion. Every now and then I see the headstone to a child of two or three and I cannot help wonder what kind of life would that young child have enjoyed? I envy the people who have their graves well tended even after thirty years. I feel sorry for the graves that have not been visited since the coffins were lowered. It seems the relatives disappeared off to the pub and the next day rushed off to probate, said 'thank you very much' and never looked back...

To a great extent we cannot pick our neighbours in the cemetery. My father's grave in Deans Grange lies beside a young couple who died in a plane crash around the same time as him, in early 1980, leaving a young family. I often wonder how the children may have coped.

I used to pray at gravesides - without much conviction if truth be told. Now I don't pray any more. I believe they are beyond prayer and in a sense they don't need it. They have passed back into the mystery of life and death. I feel very strongly they are not entirely gone, neither do I see us round a big banqueting table at the end of time. Every good thing we did is captured in eternity like the fossilised resin we discover millions of years later - the spirit has changed but is still there.

I think it is nice to have somewhere to visit a lost loved one. I think cremation is fine as long as the ashes are placed somewhere accessible and durable - in the graveyard or elsewhere. I am not sure if I want to sprinkled out to sea, it just seems a little vague. The children will say 'dad is all over the place', so nothing much has changed. Neither do I want to be left on the top of the mantlepiece. One hears of unfortunate stories invovling overseas cleaning staff, fractious grandchildren and playful puppies and one feels a certain frisson. One would hope that the sense of dignity that has evaded me for most of my adult life would at least claim me in the next.

My hope is that my ashes will lie in a casket, (cemented to the wall, just in case), in a picturesque cemetery that sits perched above the Atlantic in Northern Tenerife in a little village called el Tanque. I think it is important that we have a good view of things, even after we pass on. Standing at my father's grave today I was cheered to look across at the hills of Dalkey and Killiney. The hills were looking out over South County Dublin and Deans Grange cemetery and it looked back across china blue sky of a bright and blustry Spring afternoon. I think Kevin A Murray would have approved.

Meanwhile round the corner my father in law Desmond Harte has a view of Howth Head that sits above the cemetery like a mountain in the distance.

Ar dheis De go raibh a anam dilis!
May his sweet soul repose at the side of God!

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