Friday, 21 March 2008

Good Friday

Making the Good Friday visit to my grandparents' grave at Kenwyn, Truro, it occurred to me how much an inscription on a stone can tell about the relationship of the one buried beneath it to the ones who put it there - in perpetuity.

My grandparents are buried on a gently sloping hillside, with an idyllic view of Easter lambs and golden daffodils in the Cornish valley below. In the row below theirs is a grave whose inscription always moves me to tears. ('You're not crying, are you?' my daughter asked, as the March wind reddened my cheeks.) It's for Gisela, born 1923, in Westphalen, Germany, and reads: Bis uns wiedersehen, mein Schatz. If someone put that on my headstone, I'd be resting happy.

The nuns in the communal grave at the top of the slope have the formal but beautiful requiem, 'Lux eterna luceat eis'. A little further up are two 'beloved children'. And how said this one is, for Alan died, aged 7, in 1963, his sister Lynn, aged 12, in 1978. I thought about their parents, getting over Alan's death and trying for another child, a daughter this time, who arrived some three years later, only to be taken from them before she reached the age my daughter is now. Then there are the 'reunited' couples and the man who drowned while bathing at Perran Porth (sic) in 1812.

Then come the 'of aboves'. My grandma one of these: 'Also Edith, Wife of the Above'. There are some infants from the mid 1800s, too young, I guess, for their parents to have risked a bond with them, who are brothers and sisters 'of the above'. It reminded me of orphaned Pip, from 'Great Expectations', explaining to the convict, Magwich, that his mother is 'also Georgiana', an unknown quantity buried in a windswept grave on Romney Marsh. Commissioning the tag 'of the above' on someone's headstone is testament either to the inscriber's gross failure of imagination - or to something much worse: a coldness far more morbid than the remains on which it stands. Please God don't let me be 'of an above'. Let me be 'reunited' or 'beloved', or, best of all, 'Mein Schatz'. With light perpetual shining on me.

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