Do you ever think about what you want to survive you? Not who. Not spouses, partners, progeny or pals. What.
Erecting a large stone over your decomposing mortal remains is the most popular way of leaving something behind after death. Even if the ashes-to-ashes process is expedited through incineration, people often want a physical remembrance. Hence the market for cremation urns.
Oh, sorry! I just realised that I’m violating my vow to moderate references to death and dying in these ruminations about Getting Older. I’m told it chases readers. So let me pause and divert your thoughts from tombstones and crematoriums to…
…a walk along the coast, or perhaps on a path in a forest. You’re hiking along, feeling suitably energized. Just as you inevitably tire, you spot a welcoming bench up ahead. Your heart lifts as you walk towards it. Your feet, and rear end, give thanks as you sit down and savour the rest and the view.
I have enjoyed this experience many times in my life and had it again on a recent beach walk. Again and again and again, in fact. My hike was literally benchmarked.
You see, as I strolled I kept passing memorial benches. Functional wooden benches. Benches of ornate concrete. Environmentally sound benches made from recycled plastic. All looking out on inviting views. This made for haphazard landscape design, with benches juxtaposed from different styles and periods, but it was nevertheless a pleasing sight.
The unifying theme was that every bench had a memorial message. For all of us who will ever chance to pass by. The messages are from the people who loved a person who loved to sit in that particular spot. (Or an animal; a few benches celebrate favourite pets’ fave places.) The loved one’s name and dates of birth and death are usually inscribed on a plaque. Some with famous quotes, a few with original poetry. Many of the messages are written in stone or engraved in metal.
“In loving memory of…” is the most common way to start an in memoriam message. You can download a template to write one, along with details on how to purchase the bench to put it on. Or more accurately: how to arrange for a plaque on a bench in a park or other public or private place. Plus useful advice, like “Plan for future maintenance.”
There’s a How-to in the Death and Dying section of www.about.com on How to Memorialize a Death. A memorial bench is described as an option that “beautifies your community while honoring a loved one.”
Now I’ve got nothing against giving back to the community after I’m dead while beautifying a place. It’s impressive to think that in years to come untold numbers of people could experience splendor and repose, thanks to me.
Or maybe not. The first snag is that there is no single stunningly beautiful spot where I have always walked, sat or pondered. I stay home a lot, where I take in less extraordinary, though dearly cherished, vistas. When I go on holiday I tend to follow the Dalai Lama’s travel tip about visiting a new place every year. I don’t manage it often, but the older I get the more I feel like trying.
So I don’t know exactly where such a bench would be located, should there ever be one dedicated to my memory. I’m not even sure that I’d want one. More importantly, I don’t know that this is any of my concern.
Over at www.thewellplannedfuneral.com they definitely think it’s my concern. If I’m among those who have “taken the enlightened step of planning (their) own funeral arrangements in advance”. As opposed to the bereaved who will be tasked with implementing them.
“There’s lots you can do to make sure you live on in people’s minds,” is this website’s take on ensuring you’re not forgotten. “In fact, the only constraints on memorial ideas are your, and your loved ones’, imaginations and financial means.”
I don’t care to invest in making sure that I live on in people’s minds after I’m gone. I kind of figure that death puts a moratorium, so to speak, on spin-doctoring. That whether people remember me or not isn’t something I can influence.
I consider it one of the up sides of our finite nature as human beings that there will come a day when I will no longer care what anyone thinks of me. Ever again. For all eternity. From my present earthly perspective it seems one of the more enticing rewards in The Hereafter.
So, much as I would love to offer respite and inspired views to future weary amblers, don’t count on ever finding a convenient and comfortable bench with my name on it.
Above photos taken at Cape Saint Francis, Eastern Cape South Africa.