A vision came to me: my headstone. I wouldn’t have all the usual descriptions of what jobs I did or a list of family members. No meaningful quote. Just my name, the date I died, underneath one word in massive type: yep!
You may feel that I should explain myself but I’m not going to. I don’t need to describe my artistic process. And anyway, I’m not sure myself why this word appeals to me; or why there’s a lower-case Y. It could be about the inevitability of death for everyone or a positive affirmation of life. Or, it could say: here lies a pretentious smart-ass who embarrassed his family with his dying wish. No wonder they don’t visit the grave any more.
The vision came to me while I was in a cemetery. We were visiting my parent’s grave. Herself had brought a flower arrangement. Because my father was Scottish, she’d asked to have some thistle included but when she got to the shop the woman told her that they didn’t have any so they’d put in eucalyptus instead. Nothing says Scotland like koala food.
Visiting a grave, especially when the people have died many years before, can be perfunctory. Herself put down the flowers. We commented on how well the grave was looking. We stood there for a few moments more and then went for a walk around.
Headstones don’t just commemorate the dead. They are attempting to tell you a story about them. The dates inform you if the person had a long life or one that was cruelly short. Some of the headstones we saw were for children. Most tried to reflect some essence of the deceased. We came across a flower arrangement that included a can of Guinness; at another, there wasn’t just a headstone but a replica of a jukebox. Mike Denver featured heavily. And it was striking how many of the graves expressed the poignant hope that one day, they would all meet again.
Cemeteries are always fascinating, yet it had been some years since I had visited my parents’ grave. I can’t give you a precise reason why, other than I never really felt the need.
There is, for me, an irony in this. I’ve long insisted that I’d prefer to be buried. I want an ice cream van at my funeral and, now, a baffling headstone. Yet, if you get buried, this does place a burden on the people left behind. It’s more expensive than cremation. They have to maintain the grave. They may feel a weight of duty to visit.
Herself regularly points out all the hassle my demise will saddle her with and so, on the drive back up to Dublin, I announced that perhaps my desire to be buried is a little unfair.
I was being disingenuous: I was half-hoping that she’d fervently declare her intention to honour my dying wishes so I could tell her about my headstone idea. But, instead, she said: well, that’s the first I’ve heard about this.
There then followed a discussion about what to do with my ashes. I don’t fancy being put into an urn which will inevitably end up in a cupboard or be accidentally flushed down the toilet. Or, lost. I can imagine Herself ransacking the house, screaming: does anyone know where your father is?
But, we couldn’t think of any location to scatter my ashes. I wouldn’t mind being shot into space but that is super-expensive and essentially space-littering.
I shouldn’t care about any of this: because, obviously, I’ll be dead. But, it’s a bit like all those headstones. When faced with extinction, you still want something of you to survive. If not the mind or body, then an intention, something small and punchy enough to pierce the veil of oblivion. Metaphysical graffiti, that says: I was here. yep! It’s as good as any other word.