Memorial; or Mawkish?


Far from the madding crowd’s ignoble strife,
Their sober wishes never learn’d to stray;
Along the cool sequester’d vale of life
They kept the noiseless tenour of their way.

Thomas Gray. Elegy in a country churchyard

I have written of many things, of actions, of political promise and deceit, of the lunacy of modern life, of the wonder of a tiny premature Grandson, of love, of honour; but not many times of death. Death is the one mystery which is still, even in this secular Society in which we live, given honour, remembrance, wonder and gratitude. The death of a lover, or a family member who was loved, is still the one cause in which all these four Nations of ours unite. While I spurn and deride the false silences demanded by European Union apparatchiks for those such as the Tsunami dead, I accept the tributes given at the Cenotaph by Royalty and the marching Veterans as honest, as well as the similar memorial services the length and breadth of this nation. You will probably note that I dismiss almost without exception the presence of politicians of whatever hue who attend these mournful remembrances; as there are very, very, very few politicians who live up to either their promises or their published expectations.

There is a small North-Eastern town in England which I used to call home, despite working far away so long ago. In that town there sits a small Catholic church, with cemetery adjacent. Within the confines of that Cemetery lie the mortal remains of my beloved sister, who died at the age of sixteen from leukaemia. Her death shattered my Dad, who never completely recovered from her loss, and my Mum wasn’t much better in her grief. There is just a green sward where she lies; no stone, no winged angel, no border resplendent with flowers; because her face is before me as I write these lines. We three remaining brothers need no chiselled granite to remind us of our sister, and so it is.

But perhaps we three are in the minority, as many do need a permanent reminder, a true memorial, to the child, the mother, father, brother, to those who have gone before. And there is nothing; I repeat nothing, mawkish, overly-sentimental or over-the-top in holding to the memory of one who has died by erecting any memorial, stonework or statue in a cemetery which the family wishes to do so.

So when I heard the placid tones of Dr. Richard Pratt (by name and nature, if ever) decrying the intent and actions of a family who have placed a stone image of their dead son’s dog on his Cumbrian grave, I decided to write these few lines to place my own point of view. I accept that most people, in these days where probably the only times they enter a church or churchyard is for either a wedding or a funeral, a memorial is fitting if it reflects their memories of the one who died. They are just not interested in the Churchyard Regulations, which were of course written and approved by a group of Churchmen, approved and deemed fitting to their idea of what is acceptable within the confines of a Churchyard.

The friends and relatives who mourn the loss are just not interested in the views of a Church who, for so long now, has usually ignored the views and needs of the laity. Who decides what is acceptable in a memorial? Are the views of a group of old men who have probably forgotten what an honest emotion is all about to take precedence over a family who remembers their son in the only way they know, which was together with his beloved dog?

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