I’ve never found any solace in graveyards, even though my son and father are buried in different cemeteries and are just a short car trip away. I just never got anything from standing by the graveside thinking about their bodies lying just a few feet below.
I know people who go to their child’s or husband’s grave every day, or a few times a week. They remember their loved ones, perhaps tend to the grave, and change the flowers. They may pray too. If they get solace from that then who am I to question it? It’s just that I – well, I don’t do any of those things. Perhaps because I’m not religious you may think me coldhearted and thoughtless, but that’s not true. I remember my father and Alan vividly. Their memories will never be forgotten, but I don’t need to visit a cemetery regularly to recall them.
When Alan died after a long and agonising battle I was distraught, though I tried my best to remain in control. Most of that day we buried him is a blur. I vividly recall carrying his coffin in the car and bringing it up the aisle of the church, but after that… It’s a blank.
In the next couple of years, I rarely visited his graveside – he’s buried with his grandfather (and his grandmother who died six years ago) – preferring instead to gaze at his photo and remember him each day in quiet moments. But there were times when I would go alone to gaze at where his remains are now resting and quite honestly I felt this enormous emptiness standing there, complete detachment. It just seemed a hollow gesture to be there.
Of course I took my children there on his anniversary for a few years. It wasn’t the best of times to call then as he died on December 23, so it’s always cold, sometimes wet – not the best circumstances in which to visit. My young daughter Sarah Jane, who was born just months before Alan died, in her innocence tried to make sense of the fact that he was lying in the grave below. ‘Who shot him?’ she wanted to know when her brother explained we were going to see their brother’s resting place. References to Heaven provided some explanation, although not a lot to her young mind. I had her leave some chocolate and a toy in some small gesture for her to understand. But I couldn’t quite explain my own grief because it was unspoken, at least to her.
Every once in a while, whenever I’m at St Oliver’s Cemetery to attend someone’s funeral, we’ll invariably pass by Alan’s ‘home’ and I’ll look on it with a certain degree of sadness. I think of a life lost, a child who never ran and played, laughed or walked, whose daily existence was lying on his side for 22 months. His gorgeous little face remains embedded in my memory, and that’s all I need. Just don’t ask me to view his grave.
When I eventually die – and I’m hoping to postpone the inevitable for a few decades – don’t bother to come visit me. So long as you remember me. That’s all that matters.