There is definitely a type of person who could properly be called the cemetery-frequenter. On initial reflection, one might imagine that those who come to this hallowed and sobering spot might be old or ageing, morbid or morose - in short, in want of considerable cheering up. Nothing could be further from the truth. The cemetery-goer comes from all age groups and is not as sombre and as cheerless as one might at first think.
I must hasten to add that I do not belong to that committed fellowship, that group of “sorry souls” who are obsessive funeral-attendees or graveyard-frequenters. However, while I could never see myself ever becoming a prospective member of such a sorry group, I certainly acknowledge the need we have to face that most modern of repressions at least on a certain regular basis – the repression of death and all its depressing accoutrements.
I read recently of some famous person - someone in the public eye and whose name I forget - who said that he simply hated going to graveyards because he preferred to remember the person as they were rather than as a heap of clay. To my mind he had got it all wrong. No one goes to see just a heap of clay. His statement strikes me as one arising more out of fear than from simple preference.
|Fingal Cemetery where my father is buried|
My first visit to this graveyard was one by way of coping with the reality of my father's death, way back in February 1993. It gave me, then, a focal point for my grief in some pointed way. Previously, it did also make a difference to see the burial, pick up a fistful of clay, let it fall, hear it rasp against the wooden coffin lid. In other words, the sheer naturalness of the whole ritual brought a certain much needed equanimity. When I came here on my first visit, after the funeral, the clay was newly heaped and fresh. Shortly thereafter it had settled and the weeds had newly sprung. It had become more solid under foot. For the year after my father’s demise, my mother had always shown interest in the progress of subsidence. I remember my father saying that under no circumstances would he wish to be cremated. That way, he said, he could imagine the resurrection of the body - simple country faith. Some of us are far too sophisticated these days, far too urban or urbane even, perhaps cynical or even sceptical, to entertain such naive, rural and childish notions. However, he had a right to his wishes and a stronger right to his faith. I remember promising way back then how I would never let the weeds grow on that small plot of clay. I have not lived up to that promise, more to my regret.
This morning before the inevitable and persistent Irish rain thoroughly soaked every inch of life, I decided to come here after a long absence. The sun had just begun to shine and there were three or four or more people visiting graves. Reading the headstones could almost become a hobby. Some father had written two lines of poetry for his son whose birth and death had coincided on the same day. Another proclaimed three deaths, all of them within weeks of birth. A teenage boy was praying at the farther end of the graveyard. A mother and daughter were caring for another plot, planting flowers, renewing life. Further up the path, workmen were laying the concrete surround in preparation for a headstone. A spirit of enterprise and care reigned.
I searched out the spot where Pat McCormack, a former student, was buried. A twenty or twenty one year old, and now nearly twenty years buried. I said a prayer. Fresh flowers are always on his well-cared-for grave. Further down a newly dug grave: loving hands will care for that sad little spot and eyes will watch the settling of the soil and hands will transform it into a happier little plot, full of cherished memories and mementoes. I count it strange now that I never really knew that boy at all, a quiet lad that sat at the back of the class for two years. He had never called any attention to himself. I am still surprised indeed that he had been so academic and had achieved such great results, but maybe that was what was at fault, that he was all too clever and emotionally so fragile, too fragile for such a hurtful world But yet, he is at rest, his questions answered. He lies at the still point of existence forever. The mystics only taste briefly of ecstasy in this life – he lives in its fullness.
Further down an old retired priest whom I know was making his determined way towards the gate and his dog was running happily at his side. He is a great animal lover and is a member of the ISPCA. I read recently where some psychologist said that there is a short step from cruelty to animals to cruelty to human beings. I can see the truth in this contention. A great peace reigned in this cemetery today. Or to put it more precisely that great peace is now reigning in my heart. Like Peter on Mount Tabor I could wish that it last forever. But, as someone so wisely and figuratively put it long ago: the mystic cannot stay on the mountain all day long. He had to, like me, attend to other more practical concerns - enough musing for one day.