As a bit of a history buff I have a thing about old graveyards, not for any ghoulish motive, but because it gives me a chance to pause and reflect upon my own mortality and to try and conceptualise the time and the people who lived a long time ago. The Old Graveyard at Simon's Town is a favourite haunt on my pre-dawn walks. At another time and space I have written of thoughts on previous visits - http://www.news24.com/MyNews24/Contemplating-life-in-an-old-cemetery-20120912 .
One thing that strikes me is the repetition of certain phrases on many tombstones. “Sacred in the memory of.....” was very popular in the 19th Century as was “Thy will be done”. I pause to wonder what these words are supposed to mean. “Sacred in the memory of.....” is apparently very Catholic and may infer that the grave is in fact empty and the deceased was lost or buried at sea or otherwise unavailable for interment. To me it seems that “sacred” is a final plea to the god be kind and to allow the deceased to enter Heaven irrespective of past misdemeanours or lack of respect or piety.
“Thy will be done” is a real enigma frequently applied to the graves of children and young adults. I can't get my head around what this bit of the Lord's Prayer is supposed to convey on a gravestone so I Googled the phrase and found this amazing bit of blather:
“Thy will be done” This petition is properly added to thepreceding; for when the kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy,in the Holy Spirit, is established in the heart, there is then anample provision made for the fulfilment of the Divine will.The will of God is infinitely good, wise, and holy; to have itfulfilled in and among men, is to have infinite goodness, wisdom,and holiness diffused throughout the universe; and earth made thecounterpart of heaven.
Sorry, that's mumbo-jumbo, unhelpful, I don't understand a word of it and it sounds like it was written by some News24 contributor. I suppose I am missing the context …..... again!
To me, “Thy will be done” is a statement of confusion and helplessness. Carved into a gravestone it conveys, “We don't understand why god decided that the bloke must die but it is part of his plan so we accept it.” Perhaps these phrases were popular and parroted because the stone mason had them near the top of his list of standard epitaphs.
When one surveys the huge numbers of gravestones that lie broken, fallen over or which have the messages and names obliterated by time, one fails to understand why people still go to such great expense, and I am sure crippling expense, to erect transitory memorials to the departed. Inevitably, over time, these memorials will deteriorate to dust and they just leave the grieving family poorer. It is like those sad memorial crosses planted on road verges at the scenes of fatal accidents. For a year, maybe two, they may be tended and flowers placed next to them. Then the flowers are not replaced, the pathetic memorial rusts or rots and eventually disappears.
In South Africa there is a highly lucrative funeral, funeral venue and funeral insurance industry that preys upon the superstitions of the poor and the desire for grand memorials. Some of these activities verge on the criminal. But one has to giggle at some of the catalogues for gravestones, grave markers and suggested epitaphs. One gravestone pedder exploits the desire to do the right thing and show off to the neighbours with various and escalating prices for memorials classified as General, Executive, Celebrity and Presidential. I can certainly think of at least one person deserving of the last type and the sooner the very extended family obtains one and installs it the better it will be for all of us.
And the prices are enough to desiccate your soul. Why the Beethoven at R38 900 is less expensive than the Vivaldi at R41 000 I can only put down to the fact the the latter must have been a better composer of graveside music.
Well my survivors don't need to worry about the disposal of my cadaver as I leave my body to science. Let them take what you want that can be reused by someone less fortunate and then hand the remains over for some medical students snigger over. That way my eventual disposal will be less messy, cost nothing, nothing will be left for Satan to bother about and I may do some good.
There will of course be no memorial and no epitaph. But if I were to choose one then I would perhaps posthumously appreciate something along the lines chosen by some ex-enterprising fellow called John:
Free your body and soul.Unfold your powerful wings.Climb up the highest mountains.Kick your feet up in the air.You may now live for ever.Or return to this earth.Unless you feel good where you are.
Yep. Its for real.http://www.snopes.com/photos/signs/headstone.asp
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