Love lost, read and found
A resting place is a place where one ends but I find myself questioning if it’s well named and if it is, if so only for the dead. Is there really such a thing that can be called a resting place for those that are left living?
I find myself at this time in my life reflecting on where it is that our loved ones end up, if indeed they find rest, and more to the point, the lengths the living will go to, to ensure they lay their loved ones to rest, and in my immediate conclusion it feels I can say, find a resting place has given me no rest.
I wonder if others, in fact even many, feel the same tugs of turmoil in laying their loved ones to rest with the same pull of conflict? After all I am not just basing my thoughts on the recent loss of my wife and its impacting experience on me, but on the fact that this is not the first time burial decisions have impacted on me.
As I grew up, my Gran Clara lived at home with us all of my life but I had never known her husband my Grandfather seeing as he passed away when my Father was just 8 years of age. At the time when that happened, he was laid to rest in a cemetery in the south of Spain, in La Linea of Andalucia in about the year 1950 twenty years before I was even born. Up until this very moment in time as I sit down to write this, I grew up always having known my Dad to be in charge and control of all things preceding my life. When I was growing up and each year on our annual holiday, my parents would take me to see my ‘never met before’ Grandfather’s grave and seeing my resolute and iron resolved emotionally strong Father stand there and fail in his efforts to discreetly hide the fact that he stood there and cried, I somehow in never giving it much thought, just assumed as a matter of course, that my Father had once in his much younger life, had to arrange this resting place for his father. But now I realise of course, how could he have of, when he was just 8 years old when it happened? My father was always so in charge all the time and no one really questioned or begged to differ, but I realise now it was not always so, and my sweet Gran who lived at home with us, had once had to make all the necessary arrangements to bury her husband and move forward alone and raise their only surviving son. When she made this decision she probably had no other choices available to her and my Father her son was still only 8 and who could see anything ahead in the future when the present is challenging enough to overwhelm you on your own?
They lived on the southern border of Spain neighbouring British Gibralter, but my Gran could have little guessed that her husband’s resting place would later be reason to cause any conflict. But 13 years later, my fatherless Dad would be 21 and left Spain for England to try out another life than the one that he had known, and it wasn’t long before he was convinced he could make a better life there and in 1965 he went back to marry his wife and then with his mother and another, he brought them all over with him.
The other I refer to is someone over the years that we came to lovingly called ‘aunti’ and she was our Great Aunt and my Gran’s sister Joaquina who later became my Godmother too. When my Gran had become widowed so young, she moved in with her sister and between them they raised my Father like he had two mums. But the relationship over the years between the two sisters was never the most easiest and the competition for my Father’s affection manifested itself in many ways, almost daily and in a battle that lasted throughout all their following years.
When Dad made up his mind that London was to be our future home where he would raise a family, in 1965 just married he brang over his wife and his two mothers, the sisters just 6 years apart, and over the years as my parents gave birth to all my siblings and me, we grew up as if it was normal, knowing almost two Grandmothers at home as part of our daily life, but both on my Dad’s side.
My Gran and my Dad, I guess when I was small, must have gone to visit their husband/father’s grave each time they went back to Spain on their yearly holidays but being so young I can’t remember. By the time I was old enough to remember, my Father was no longer taking my elderly Gran back on holidays with us, so the few times we went to his father’s grave, it was only my parents, me and my brother and sisters. But he would also then take us to another wall mounted grave which was the resting place of his grandmother, my Gran’s and my Great Aunt’s mother.
So with that background set out, many years later when at 83 my Grandmother ‘Nanny Clara’ passed away, we were so used to having her at home with us all our lives, that it seemed only the natural choice that she should be buried here in London England, next to us, the family who would be missing her most and bound to visit her resting place. It never really occurred to us to make a case for her to be reunited with her husband back in Spain, and maybe that was because he had died 40 years earlier and with so much water under the bridge, we never really knew him, not my Father that much nor any of us siblings, to really consider the option. She was our loss, and we wanted her where we could visit her grave as often as we wanted. I don’t know if my Father was conflicted in making the choice as he never made that clear to any of us, but being in charge he made the decision to bury her in London and that was well with us all.
My ‘aunti’ was different as over the years, she had repeatedly made very clear her wishes to have her remains be reunited with her mother, and so when 15 years later in 2005, the time came to pass, she was first cremated here in London and then my parents had her remains placed in that cemetery in Spain with her mother, my Dad’s Grandmother and the grave that as children, he had often on holiday taken us to visit without us siblings understanding its significance or probably even much caring.
When my Gran first was buried, dutifully we all regularly visited and often we would all even meet at her grave. But as the time passed, our visits slowly reduced until it was only Mothers Day, Gran’s birthday, Christmas Day and her anniversary of passing but it wasn’t long before that too became even less and before very long, if any of my siblings went at all, it would be on very few and odd occasions in the many following years, with even I myself, only visiting on the odd occasion when I unintentionally found myself driving past and then had pulled into the cemetery on an unplanned visit due to the pull of a twang of regret. Each time this happened, and as we all reflect, we feel a horrible sense of guilt, that Gran is buried there alone, and that over the years, she lays there almost forgotten. It was not what we planned or what we hoped of ourselves looking ahead to tending her grave. But things became harder as slowly we all moved away from the immediate area and regular visits became an impossible thing of the past.
This feeling became even worse when my ‘aunti’ died and instead of being buried with her sister, my parents did as she wished, and took her ashes to be laid with her mother and had the gravestone replaced to mark its new addition and contents. This was 2005 and by this time instead of the teenagers lacking foresight who were so young when my Gran had previously died, as more fully grown adults, we agreed that our Great Aunt had to be laid to rest as requested.
Even then at that stage of my life, I cannot say I still really felt any of the conflict that I would later come to collect. I guess as sad as I was from her dying, I did not mourn my ‘aunti’s’ passing quite as much as I should and perhaps this was down to 3 factors. She was old and her passing was to be expected for one, and over the last few years she had disappeared from our homes and lived in a residential care home for the frail and elderly, so when she died, we were already accustomed to her absence from home. But I came to realise something much later, 8 years in fact, that when we had her funeral/cremation service, it was never followed with a scattering of her ashes or subsequent visits to her grave, because my parents took her to Spain and laid to rest with her mother as had been her request, and the chances to mourn and reflect just somehow remained always on hold and over time, forgotten.
Now apart from a flying visit to my other Spanish grandmother (on my mother’s side) for all of just 4 days, so that I could introduce her to Baby Hannah in 1999, I had not gone to Spain on any holiday since 1990. After many passing years, the call of my origins was pulling at me and I had wanted for 3 consecutive years from 2010 to 2012 to return at last in holiday with my wife and my girls and the missed opportunities regretfully managed to elude us. Firstly in 2010 my Father-in-law Ernest being ill and my wife Kath wanting to stay close to home, then the following year with him having died, my wife did not want to go abroad but instead revisit her own last holiday with her dad years before and so we went to Polperro in Cornwall, and then the following year when my wife was herself dying and once again my Spanish holiday was not a possible option in her weakening condition. So it was finally the summer of 2013 when deep in mourning and in full flight from everyone living, I took my widowed self and motherless daughters to reconcile with my Spanish roots and the paths of my past. I reconnected with family and friends and places I fondly remembered from when I was young and while we were there, just as my parents had done so with me, I took them to the cemetery to find were their great great Aunt, my ‘aunti’ and all our other ancestors were buried.
It was a hopeless task without knowing exactly where to look in hundreds of endless rows stacked six high up and down and after a couple of fruitless hours we finally managed to locate a staff member to help and after more agonisingly slow search through hand written records, he was finally able to point us the way before at last we found the resting place of my ‘aunti’ and on locating it I felt suddenly so raw I became overwhelmed and much like my father before me, I failed in my attempts to hide my grief and my free falling tears from my daughters beside me. I don’t know why I cried as much as I did but I realised in all of that time, it hadn’t really sank in, and that despite the 8 passing years since the death of my Godmother who was at home just like another Grandmother to me, due to such distance and my fated circumstances, I had not been able to come to pay my respects up until now, at any resting place of hers and now here I was mourning at last with my chance to really reflect for the first time since her death, while finally paying tribute to the giant she had been in my life.
My visit to her resting place renewed once again the sense of regret, both for how far away she now lay from all of us living back in England, though of course I was comforted greatly to see her name engraved by her mum’s. But in a way, that comforting thought only caused me more anguish as a few moments later, just as many years before my Father had taken me, I took my daughters to the other grave, that of my never met grandfather who had died when my dad was just a boy. Here at the grave, still thinking of my ‘aunti’ just moments before, I felt even more sad that her sister had not had the same fortune to be buried in the company of loved ones. I was here at the Grave of the husband of my ‘nanny’, Granny Clara, but she was buried back in London in a family plot grave and still on her own, with no assurances that anyone later would ever join her, and I couldn’t understand how we as a family hadn’t overlooked our own immediate needs and had her buried, reuniting her with her husband, after all as a life long widow, she had never loved anyone else. Now she was all alone in a plot long gone cold, not with her mother or her sister, or more poignantly, even in the plot that so many years before, she had had to arrange as a resting place for her husband, probably certain that she would sometime join him there too.
Who would have thought when I was a boy seeing my Father cry at these graves, that later they would ever come to mean anything special to me, and I wonder now if my girls seeing me crying standing in the same place, in years to come, will have something further themselves still to tell? My daughters being born much later, didn’t know my Gran, but Hannah knew my ‘aunti’ and was with me when I watched her die. For my daughter’s benefit in years to come, I mention here that my ‘aunti Joaquina ‘ was also the one who bought Katherine and I our wedding bands/rings that now sit reunited once again in one box. Aimee was only two years old when she died so is unlikely to remember her, though there are many photos of us all with her so I hope that this piece of writing will one day help her connect some of the dots to who was who in our lives.
I find myself now thinking of my wife Katherine’s grave and wondering if life and death will end up repeating itself and wonder why I beat myself up over the thought, especially when she was so right in telling me not to worry about who would and wouldn’t come to lay in her grave, long after we both hoped she had moved into heaven.
So what of these unresolved loose ends, what do they mean? Do they even matter? Do the dead once they’re dead even care? Dying means your soul leaves it’s body and so your conscience is no longer there, so why do we fret so much as to where we place the remaining flesh and bones to compose? We know we are not burying their souls but what was left behind when their souls left, and what is left in the ground so many years later that we would some way want to reconnect with, probably not even bones.
Somehow the need to find peace in a resting place, is a symbolic folly of the living and a need to somehow believe we have done right by our loved ones in the only way left to us living, now that other chances lay with the dead.
If it is symbolism alone, then we should save ourselves the unrest and regret, after all the symbolism would reflect a reunion of souls not of bodies and as we know, when the soul leaves the body, we hope it moves elsewhere and onto somewhere special. Just as in death when a soul has moved on and the living can’t hold onto and keep the remaining body, we just have to move on. A dead body cannot waiting for anyone, long after its soul has already moved on. It is totally illogical to feel like a dead body will find rest and peace in the company of another dead body, be they laying there or after their visible remains long have gone.
But this is the way we are conditioned and the sentiment of the living holds true, we just need to feel like we can tie up loose ends that will help our resolve, and feeling like in a burial and final resting place our dearly departed are reunited with loved ones, gives us some immediate earthly measure of comfort that spiritually will take much longer to know.
So if I can reason this out, then why can’t I myself find any rest from the conflict of wondering if I will eventually need or end up being buried on top in the plot with my wife? I think of true love and its symbolic undying image and of all the ways that in tales such stories are told and it feels like anything else would be a betrayal. When my wife died, I had Eva Cassidy’s version and lyrics of ‘oh Danny boy’ for months playing over and over in my mind and just as if she were living, I felt like Kath was there still waiting for me and the thought and the call from the grave is too over whelming. Somehow after death, the living still dutifully do what they can to honour what the dead were in the living.
When my daughter Jessica died just before she turned 1 year old, I was not conflicted at all at where she should go, I was happy that her ashes stayed at home with Katherine and me. I was not concerned at laying her to rest but then again there was no one at the time that she could reasonably be reunited with. But more pressing back then, was to keep my wife feeling whole and Jessica home with us, healed us both.
When Kath’s Father Ernest died and was cremated, much thought went into were his ashes would lay. His brother ashes before him, were scattered in a cemetery rose bed in Streatham but no one suggested joining them there. I walked with Kath and her Mother and even her brother, around the local cemetery and looked in depth at the various options available, in which to inter Ernest’s ashes and mark his resting spot but despite time and much thought, Kath’s mother didn’t reach a conclusion and for the next 16 months she kept his ashes at home. She was no closer to knowing what to do with them even then but during this time my wife was battling cancer and dying fast and I had no idea that the conflict of finding a resting place was once again going to rear it’s head and plague me once more. Soon before her death, Kath asked me to bury her and to place her Father ashes and our daughters ashes alongside her in her grave, and just as my Father had done for his mother grave, I thought about buying a family plot.
But the choices were even more difficult than I thought. The prices varied greatly from cemetery to cemetery and doubled in costs from a two plot deep grave to a four plot deep grave and I was unsure of what I should do in light of the escalating costs of the funeral already.
I could have settled for one of the cheaper cemeteries but I was torn wanting continuity and Kath to be buried on the cemetery site where 3 of our loved ones had been cremated before. Our daughter Jessica, my ‘aunti Joaquina’ and my Father-in-law Ernest had all been cremated in the same crematorium and I didn’t not want Kath to be buried somewhere different than sharing the same grounds.
But in my wife’s immediate death I was already conflicted once again about future conflict in choosing the depth of her grave. I wanted of course to be buried with my wife, whenever that time came to be but now I was also concerned by what she had asked of me before she died, and how that would affect the later choices of those remaining living.
Kath’s mother had always said to me over the years, that when she died she wanted her ashes spread in Mallorca, where she as a child had blissfully grown up. This was very clear to me, but I was worried that with her husband and daughter now dead, did anyone else know her wishes. My concern was that if Kath’s dad ashes went into her grave, what if Kath’s mum one day changed her mind and wanting to be reunited with him. Or what if her son (Kath’s brother), not knowing his mother’s wishes, when the day finally came, wanted to find comfort by reuniting his mother alongside with his Dad? So many ifs but none I wanted to ever face without Kath at my side and what if anyone of those ‘ifs’ threatened my remaining plot in which to be buried myself with my wife?
Like in the film ‘Rosanna’s Grave’, my main aim was to preserve the space in the grave for myself and never have to be challenged for it. I thought about asking Katherine’s mother directly herself to clarify anymore later uncertainty, but I realised that when she came to one day die, it would not have been with her that the conversation would have had any benefit, and so I was best tasked to deal with whoever would eventually be tasked or responsible for laying her to rest be it by cremation or having to bury her. I was grieving and troubled of course, but I couldn’t deal with the conflicting thoughts and emotions on top, and so I chose my words very carefully as when you are dealing with the grieving living, even the most tiptoeing sensitivity can shatter fragility’s captive souls.
Taking the opportunity a few days after Kath had died, I spoke with her brother with an aim to finding peace in my resting place on my mind, and I asked him the following simple questions:
“So that I can commit to purchasing and planning the right size of Katherine’s burial plot, I need to be able to make some informed decisions. Please talk it over with your Mother and yourself and let me know if you are both happy for your Father’s ashes to be laid in the casket and buried with Kath?
Then can you ask you Mother what might be her own future resting place wishes as she has always said she wanted her ashes scattered in Mallorca, but with Ernest’s ashes maybe going in with Kath, might she want to later be buried there with her daughter, granddaughter and husband remains? If she doesn’t that’s fine, but if she does, and only if she does; then ask her if she would be willing to contribute to the difference in costs from buying a two plot grave to a four plot one?”
I guess I thought I had made it quite clear, but grieving souls have their heads somewhere else in the heat of the prolonged mourning moment that death’s furnace throws you into. When he returned a while later from meeting with his Mother he had the following responses to say:
“I have spoken with my mother with what you asked. Firstly, we are both in agreement that Dad’s ashes should go in with Katherine. Secondly, Mum says she would like to be cremated and have her ashes spread in Mallorca”.
So with that cleared up in my head! I was able to move forward with purchasing my wife’s resting place and planning my future grave, where some point in time, I might hope to find my own long lasting rest. But all I could think of in that moment was my wife has just died and left me and her daughter’s alone, and at a time when I could have done with a comforting hug from someone supporting me in my choice or patting my back to reassure me, my daughters were too young too give me any kind of assurances not knowing what the future might bring.
But grieving manifests itself in this way, and those in its grip, cannot be held accountable for their actions, decisions or for even any of their poor choice of words, as when it visits, grief can rip you inside out and turns your thoughts on their head.
When we are in the immediate stage of first grieving, we are not our true selves, that person we only rediscover later when we are reflectively grieving and that is best done stood at the grave. When we grieve we are putting ourselves back together and in doing so we alleviate all our unrest, so it’s no wonder we feel the need to reunite our loved ones both in souls and in flesh and bones be it dead. It is not the dead but the living, who feel that peace of mind can be found in a resting place, but the search to find such a place can take you and your resolve all over the place, so all you can hope when in immediate grieving you find yourself in death’s mourning furnace, is that you were able to make the kind of decision that you can later live with and will one day bring you peace of mind, when at last you lay down to rest.