On my way to the Death Café a couple of weeks ago, I wandered through a couple of old kirkyards at the base of the Edinburgh Castle. And it got me thinking about how headstones crumble over the years, and how one day they will be nothing more than fodder for future historians and archaeologists.
I often do wander through graveyards – old and new – paying close attention to my surroundings and my emotions in tandem. Especially in a graveyard like the ones at the base of the castle, or disused and “forgotten” places like the Greenwood Cemetery in my hometown. Places where the graves are largely un-tended and most of the monuments are in various states of demise. Places where the stones have been weathered so badly that the inscriptions have been washed away. Places that have been overtaken by plants and moss, slowly crumbling stones that get in nature’s way. Places where stones have been toppled over and are being swallowed up by the ground on which they lie.
Seeing these old and crumbling stones makes me think about the future of my own headstone. Right now, it is the stone that marks Paul’s grave. But (a long, long time from now, I hope) it will also mark my final resting place, as I intended to be buried with my beloved when my time comes. Only, as a childless widow, I can’t imagine that there will be anyone to tend to my grave. I expect to outlive my parents, so they won’t be there to place flowers. And my sisters and their families will not visit. So over time, my headstone will be covered in moss and lichen and it will, eventually, become a forgotten monument to a forgotten person.
However, I console myself in the faith-based knowledge that, when I am dead, my soul will be reunited with the love of my life. I am steadied by the knowledge that Paul and I will be together for eternity, and that we will be too happy enjoying each other’s long-missed company to care about the state of a silly physical monument on Earth.
Of course, in addition to looking at the crumbling nature of old stones, I find myself reading the inscriptions. I find it fascinating to read what people inscribe as the last physical memorial to a lost life. Even the dates help to tell a story – even more so when there are multiple names and dates inscribed. Husband and wife. Children. Siblings. Parents. Sometimes all in one lair or family burial plot. There is a sadness in the listing of infants or young children; of never-married children; of young adults taken before their time.
But the sadness that strikes me most is that of a husband and wife where there are decades between their deaths. It breaks my heart to think of these widows (and less commonly, widowers) living for so long without their spouse. And it makes me wonder if that’s what my future is: Another decade or even two, three, or four decades alone. One decade has been lonely enough. I don’t know how my soul will cope with another lifetime of living without the love of my life.
But, again, I console myself in the joyful memories of a happy marriage. And with the hope that maybe I will be lucky in love once again. A new love to complement my first love; a new love to share in the joys of the living world with. And if that’s the case, then I imagine that eternity would be an even happier place with not one, but two souls to be at peace with.
In the meantime, I will continue to wander around the resting places of the dead, whilst thinking about the living. Alone for now, and with luck a kindred spirit in the future. And as I wander, I will think about the lives that are marked by the stones, and I will hope that the bereaved they left behind were given some comfort by the memorials; some measure of hope for a future in eternity.