Wednesday, September 23, 2009

We are family

It was my day off on Tuesday, and I spent it with my mother, my sister, my two cousins and my aunt. This was very jolly, of course, but there was a serious purpose behind our reunion. We were going to plant flowers on my grandmother's grave.
My grandmother died 20 years ago, but her grave has been a bit of an issue. She is buried in a family plot, which had been bought by her parents and left to her. Unfortunately, she did not leave it to my mother or uncle in her will, so technically it still belonged to her.
My mother only discovered this when she wanted to add an inscription for my uncle. He died in 1993, but my aunt (his widow) now felt the time was right to scatter some of his ashes on the grave. However, the cemetery officials told the stonemason they were authorised only to deal with the owner, which made life a bit difficult.
Not all churchyards and cemeteries are the same. In some cemeteries, you "rent" a space for a limited time. My sister told me that friends of hers had decorated a relative's grave in a local churchyard, only to be told that it contravened the terms of the "lease" and they had to change it.
In the case of my grandmother's grave, there are no restrictions at all as regards decoration, plantings or anything else. However, the plot is now full, and the only interments that can be made from now on are ashes. There is plenty of space for inscriptions, though, and I know my mother would like her ashes to be buried there when the time comes.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, my mother now has a certificate to say that she is the owner of the plot, the inscriptions are now in place, the marble has been cleaned and some lovely new crumbly topsoil installed. So after a delicious lunch of my sister's homemade (homegrown) courgette soup and a glass or two of pink Prosecco, we set off, trowels in hand.
My aunt had brought some cyclamen in varying shades of pink, and my mother had brought a spreading juniper. We all agreed my grandmother would have loved the cyclamen (she had a bit of a thing for cyclamen-pink lipstick) and that the juniper was just the right shade of air-force blue. (My uncle used to be in the RAF.)

My aunt scattering some of my uncle's ashes. I think the rest will probably go in the woods where they used to walk.

The finishing touch was a bagful of muscari bulbs in white and blue, which my aunt has asked me to augment in early spring with some English primroses.
As we worked away, the sun came out and it ended up being a lovely afternoon. I think both my aunt and my mother were worried that each might find the occasion a bit overwhelming but in fact, I think they both enjoyed it. It was poignant, of course, but in a good way.
As for us daughters, we loved seeing each other again. I don't see nearly enough of my cousins and even though the occasion was quite a solemn one, we still managed the odd fit of giggles as if we were all six years old once more.
I think the moral of this story is that it is worth thinking about all these things in advance, and perhaps setting out in detail what you want to happen. It may seem a morbid idea, but it can save a lot of heartache and hassle later on. And I also think that, rather than something that should never be mentioned, it can be quite comforting for people to talk it over and know what's going to happen, and where they are going to go. I know that's the case with my mother.

The finished result. My cousin took this picture...

... so I took this one so she could be in the group