Graves: Wild Imaginings

6:12:00 PM

When I die I’d like a proper grave with a headstone, and one of those slabs that prevents people walking on top of you.

“I want a proper burial,” I say to my children, “in the ground. I don’t want to be turned into a pile of ashes and placed in one of those cubby holes in the cremation wall, where no one will notice me. I want to have a proper place in the cemetery: be seen, have flowers, be visited, be prayed for.”

My grave will be the book cover of my life. The blurb will read: Here lies Sue Elvis, beloved wife of Andy, mother of 15, grandmother of…  People will know I existed. Maybe someone will come along and read my plaque and wonder about my story.

When we go to the cemetery to visit our son Thomas, we always stroll between the graves reading the words on the headstones, imagining the people who are no longer here. We stop at a few graves, usually at the neglected ones, and pray for the souls of those within. There’s one special grave we never fail to visit.

Martin is the brother of a friend. One day he went mountain bike riding alone, in the national park. He sailed down the side of a very steep hill, his bike out of control, and broke his neck. By the time he was found, he was dead. He was only 25 years old.

We stand by Martin’s grave and say our prayers for his soul, and when we have finished, I think: I hope someone will do that for me one day.

We always visit Thomas on his birthday. We arrive with fresh flowers and a huge bunch of brightly coloured balloons which we tie to his flower bowl, where they bob in the breeze. And after we have scraped off the latest lichen from his stone, and pulled out a few weeds from around his grave, we grab the picnic basket from the van, and settle under a tree for a birthday feast.

While we are munching our sandwiches, I let my mind wander…

I imagine a black hearse suddenly appearing at the cemetery gate, a stream of mourners following close behind. What do they think when they see us sprawling in the shade, having a picnic? Do we seem irreverent, enjoying our food so close to the dead? Should we shove everything back into the basket and beat a hasty retreat? Somehow I feel we have the right to picnic close to Thomas. This place ‘belongs’ to us. We have paid the membership fee. But yes, this time I think we should pack up quickly and quietly and leave the cemetery. Everyone deserves privacy when they are burying their dead.

But the hearse doesn’t arrive and I am now thinking of something else. I am imagining all the people who were ever buried in the cemetery: There’s Martin, and the young man killed in a road accident, all the nuns of a local convent, four generations of an old established family, the brothers and sisters who died within weeks of each other after contracting a disease, Thomas and all his baby friends… 

Everyone is alive and standing between the graves. There are hundreds of people, all with a story to tell. Are they mostly old people? Do they all look as they did just before they died? I am sure everyone is dressed in the clothes of their day. What about the babies? Are they just lying there on the grass? Yes! I can see Thomas dressed in the white baptismal gown he was buried in. He is waiting for me, returned to my life. All I have to do is walk over and pick him up... and take him home. 

I shake my head. No, Thomas isn't coming home. Think of something else. 

I try, but those gone-before-us people refuse to leave my thoughts. This time it is the last day when everyone really will rise from their graves. All those buried people will no longer be just a pile of bones. They will rise and once again be whole:

We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day.

Everyone is smiling and joyful. People are hugging and kissing. Death has been overcome. Pain and disease have gone forever. No need for graves any longer. There are no more old people. Is everyone the same age? Yes, they must be. Thomas is all grown up. He is so handsome, a light glowing from within. I hurry through the crowd towards him. He turns and sees me and smiles, a huge radiant smile of love. And then we meet and we hug. We hug close as if we'll never let each other go.

Then I wonder... haven't we already met in Heaven? It probably wouldn't happen like this. But it’s just another dream, and dreams don't have to make sense. Another wild imagining.

“Anyone like another sandwich?” I ask. Soon the birthday feast is over. We head back to the van with our picnic basket. But before I climb into the driver’s seat, I turn and take one last look out over the graves.

The cemetery is quiet, deathly quiet. No sign of life except for the horses over the fence and a few twittering birds. But all that quiet is deceptive. Life is not over and done with. It’s just waiting… like a wintering tree. One day it will come bursting forth again…

Maybe my imaginings aren’t so wild after all.

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