GRAVE MANNERS MATTER

This is the final in the series examining the garden of stone known as cemeteries where our collective memories allow us to summon up recollections of those we have loved and lost.

Cemeteries are unique places within our cultural heritage being part of the everyday scene but not usually part of everyday life. Thus a cemetery is a place where tranquillity and quiet are the desired norm and the activities of the everyday suspended in quiet reflection.

I have looked at our behaviour in these places which is defined not so much by how we grieve or mourn a loved one but more about how we have been taught to remember by locating ourselves in a specific place to do so and observing appropriate decorum by employing symbols, meanings and rituals as a ways and means of remembrance.

The act of remembrance commemorates through recollection the essence of the departed: it is giving them life again if only briefly in recalled memories of who they were and what they meant to us. Remembrance can take many shapes and forms: the use of epitaphs provides a brief précis of the life and times of the departed. Who they were, their achievements and how we will recall them are inscribed on a memorial stone in a prescribed manner as a reminder to ourselves and others. But sometimes a memory can be stirred be a certain perfume, a musical air, guitar riff or song, an attitude or pose of a stranger that strikes as familiar. It can be a collective memory shared with others or a private reflection of another space and time which connects with the loved one.

So there you have it. We will all travel the Corpse Road one day to our final resting place to be marked by a memorial gravestone or plaque with some pithy description of who we were and what we did in life. These serve as reminders of our existence and also act as an aide memoir of the time honoured tradition called remembrance.

The desire to be remembered lives within our genetic and cultural makeup. It is the age-old reason why we carve our initials in trees, place our hands in cement and chalk our names on rocks. We want to leave our mark: to be remembered. But for the living, the real marks our departed loved ones leave are the ones they’ve left on us: a hug, a smile, a timely word of advice. We want to remember those we’ve loved and lost, not only for them but also more importantly for ourselves: to mend, to heal, to live and never to forget. That is the true art of remembrance.

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