All This Light : Sample 1
#34 CHRISTMAS MORNING.
The wreaths on the graves look impressive, even if they are still clearly fake. Leaves and flowers and ribbons contorted in circles, heart, crosses, the architecture of the bereaved. Cookstown Forthill Cemetery is on a hill. On the top of the hill used to be a small forest, dense enough to disappear into and create adventure as a child while your parents went round paying their respects. That was thirty years ago. Now only a modest circle of trees is left standing, to give some separation between the rows of graves and the nearby houses.
Traditionally one side of the graveyard would have been to bury the Protestants in, the other side for the Catholics. Even in death, division didn't give up its grip. I would like to say that these rules were relaxed in recent years thanks to newer and wiser ways of thinking, allowing the dead to intermingle. The truth is the council is simply running out of space: the business of remembering our dead is a spacious enterprise. Now, people are mostly buried in the order they fall. Plots are limited in size, and even the height of the headstones is restricted.
My father is buried nearing the top of the hill. This means his grave is exposed to high winds that can sweep flowers, vases and ornaments up to scatter and deposit them across the rows. Wreaths need to be pinned to the ground with tent hooks, flower pots weighted down with stones. The image of tenderly laying a flower down across your beloved's grave is lost here. The one benefit is the view: Forthill Cemetery looks over the town’s greenbelt, so you can survey an impressive panorama of houses giving way to more and more countryside, hillocks and farmland rising on the left, the church steeple peeking out on the right looking into the town. It's odd, but slightly comforting, to be able to stand beside the dead while looking out on so much life.
People grieve in different ways. I do not stop by my father's grave and cry. That site is not him, just our memorial to him. I realise that sounds callous, and I don't mean to disrespect anyone else's displays of grief. My mother, who only lives a five minutes' walk from the graveyard, visits every day. I remember him through mental snapshots, snippets of conversation that randomly float back, the picking up of a book we've both read, the occasional dream. The dead live on within us, a form of them stays alive as long as we do. Dad is wherever I am, not just by his graveside.
For myself, I am uneasy with the idea of a permanent personal marker. I can't see - do not want to imagine - people visiting my grave. Possibly by the time I die, there will be no space to bury us anyway. Cremation will be the standard. Only people with long-ago purchased family plots will be interred. Mum will be buried alongside dad, close to her mother and other relatives. I do not know where I will go. I do not like to think about it. I must think about it.
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