Last rites

I’ve had several conversations with friends recently about funeral preferences – must be one of those Zeitgeist things. DunbarJane’s mother died in June, and was buried in the family plot, and
Jane’s now ordering a new inscription on the headstone.

When I was looking into my ancestry a couple of years ago I spent many happy hours – and they were happy – going round the graveyards of Buchan, looking for the Will and Mutch families, and of course I found them. Strichen, Foveran, the Newburgh, Ellon, Longside, Lonmay, Crimond and more had the names staring out at me, carved into sound pink granite. And thanks to my 2nd cousin, augmented by Genes Reunited, I could place the names into the family tree.

Prior to that, I’d always thought cremation would be the way I’d prefer to be disposed of. There is no afterlife in my universe, and although I’m a Buddhist, I can’t accept reincarnation either, except as a kind of molecular recycling (which is OK by me). Then I realised that my descendants won’t be able to have the life-changing experience I had, of finding where the bones of my ancestors lie. So thoughts of alternatives started to creep in, with burial being first. The new cemetery in Dunbar is in a beautiful setting, with a fine view down the slope to the sea, but I thought, “Who would see the view?” I certainly wouldn’t, and I don’t expect people to visit my grave. I’m no Robert Fergusson, after all, (someone whose grave in Canongate Kirkyard I often visit). Woodland burial appeals to the environmentalist in me, but the only local site I know about is on Corstorphine Hill, and although I was born in Edinburgh, I haven’t felt any connection to the place since I left it at 15. Incidentally, the grave sites aren’t marked with headstones etc, just GPS co-ordinates. That, as one of my friends said, might form the subject of a poem. If I stick to cremation, would I want my ashes scattered? Scattering my father’s ashes was a bizarre experience.

So I’m still undecided. And yet I know I should specify funeral instructions so that my family will know what I want, when I eventually make my mind up.

The form of funeral is another decision to be made. I’d like it to be poetry and music. I don’t fancy a eulogy – it would have me spinning in my grave or forming an ashy whirlwind – a dust devil if you like. What poetry? What music? Actually the music is something I have thought about: Aarvo Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten, Britten’s Passacaglia from Peter Grimes, Beethoven’s Ode to Joy from his 9th Symphony.

I heard all about sky burial and water burial when I was in Tibet last year. I can’t see either catching on here – not enough vultures for one thing, and strong anti-pollution regulations on rivers. The poem is now away for revision.


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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6 Responses to Last rites

  1. Rachel Fox says:

    Interesting point about visiting graves, the view and so on. I have done a lot of grave visiting…to known and unknown residents, to writers, family and others…who knows – you might get more visitors than you think! It only takes one poem to get picked up for something major (posthumously or otherwise) and there you are…on the tourist trail before you know it! Your own signpost…It sounds like you’re nowhere near any decisions re instructions. At this point I haven’t thought of anything but the soundtrack…I was amazed how busy that post about funeral music got too!x

  2. BarbaraS says:

    That’s a terrific poem, Colin, very meditative and precise. And I like your considered post as well. Your poem reminded me strongly of a poem by Peggie Gallagher, an Irish poet from Sligo.Her sonnet, Letter to my Children, was collected in the Best of Irish Poetry 2007, edited by Maurice Riordan. Mid-way through the volta, appear the lines: ‘The soul is not in residence. It’s out there /somewhere, desperately seeking Flight Exit. / (I was never one for finding my way easy.)”That poem inspired me to write ‘Deathwishes’ in the collection, ‘Kairos.’ I can email Peggie’s poem to you, if you like – you’d enjoy it.

  3. Colin Will says:

    Thanks Barbara. I’d love to read Peggie’s sonnet – it sounds like my kind of poem.Colin

  4. Tommaso Gervasutti says:

    Dear Colin, your poem reminds me to my old passion of the 80’s for Sanskrit, Hindu religion and in particular Kashmir Shiva cults…Then I landed back on Yeats’s territories and “Sailing to Byzantium” and S.Heaney’s “Seeing Things”… and a little, very little bit of fame came when my poem “Prodigal” got into the Buddhist Urthona Magazine. “Prodigal” was born on the beach while lines, in my mind connected to Karma and Rebirth, (and related to “Sailing to Byantium”),were crowding my interior monologue wanting to be written down.Best wishes, Davide

  5. SMSteele says:

    I actually feel rather sad when people decide not “to grave” and not “to grief” (no service please per deceased’s request)… we have thousands of years of burial/mourning tradition which serve, after all is said and done, the living…I guess I’m lucky in that I come from a religious tradition (Catholic) which spells out the formalities, and a family tradition (musical), which dictates laughter, music, tears, family drama etc. after the funeralwe “buried” a 26 year old this year (see my latest Singing With The Boys entry), so grief and our endings is very much on my mind at present

  6. Anonymous says:

    it seems to me the fashion is swinging round again to burial – and if we have a choice we will use our choice – but my preference lies towards cremation, because so much land gets used up in burial grounds. The big problem with cremations now is the way people leave heaps of ashes all over the countryside – spoiling the tradition for those who do this in a proper manner – and it isnt ash, it’s highly recognisable white grit. I do think this needs legislating though everyone must know I am liberal minded – there have to be places you can leave ashes and places you can’t. Mouldering in the soil is expensive and inscriptions and stones even more so. I think cyber (internet) memorials may well be the best way forward.SallyE

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