When I die I’d like a proper grave with a headstone, and one of those slabs that prevents people walking on top of you.

“I want a proper burial,” I say to my children, “in the ground. I don’t want to be turned into a pile of ashes and placed in one of those cubby holes in the cremation wall, where no one will notice me. I want to have a proper place in the cemetery: be seen, have flowers, be visited, be prayed for.”

My grave will be the book cover of my life. The blurb will read: Here lies Sue Elvis, beloved wife of Andy, mother of 15, grandmother of…  People will know I existed. Maybe someone will come along and read my plaque and wonder about my story.

When we go to the cemetery to visit our son Thomas, we always stroll between the graves reading the words on the headstones, imagining the people who are no longer here. We stop at a few graves, usually at the neglected ones, and pray for the souls of those within. There’s one special grave we never fail to visit.

Martin is the brother of a friend. One day he went mountain bike riding alone, in the national park. He sailed down the side of a very steep hill, his bike out of control, and broke his neck. By the time he was found, he was dead. He was only 25 years old.

We stand by Martin’s grave and say our prayers for his soul, and when we have finished, I think: I hope someone will do that for me one day.

We always visit Thomas on his birthday. We arrive with fresh flowers and a huge bunch of brightly coloured balloons which we tie to his flower bowl, where they bob in the breeze. And after we have scraped off the latest lichen from his stone, and pulled out a few weeds from around his grave, we grab the picnic basket from the van, and settle under a tree for a birthday feast.

While we are munching our sandwiches, I let my mind wander…

I imagine a black hearse suddenly appearing at the cemetery gate, a stream of mourners following close behind. What do they think when they see us sprawling in the shade, having a picnic? Do we seem irreverent, enjoying our food so close to the dead? Should we shove everything back into the basket and beat a hasty retreat? Somehow I feel we have the right to picnic close to Thomas. This place ‘belongs’ to us. We have paid the membership fee. But yes, this time I think we should pack up quickly and quietly and leave the cemetery. Everyone deserves privacy when they are burying their dead.

But the hearse doesn’t arrive and I am now thinking of something else. I am imagining all the people who were ever buried in the cemetery: There’s Martin, and the young man killed in a road accident, all the nuns of a local convent, four generations of an old established family, the brothers and sisters who died within weeks of each other after contracting a disease, Thomas and all his baby friends… 

Everyone is alive and standing between the graves. There are hundreds of people, all with a story to tell. Are they mostly old people? Do they all look as they did just before they died? I am sure everyone is dressed in the clothes of their day. What about the babies? Are they just lying there on the grass? Yes! I can see Thomas dressed in the white baptismal gown he was buried in. He is waiting for me, returned to my life. All I have to do is walk over and pick him up... and take him home. 

I shake my head. No, Thomas isn't coming home. Think of something else. 

I try, but those gone-before-us people refuse to leave my thoughts. This time it is the last day when everyone really will rise from their graves. All those buried people will no longer be just a pile of bones. They will rise and once again be whole:

We firmly believe, and hence we hope that, just as Christ is truly risen from the dead and lives for ever, so after death the righteous will live for ever with the risen Christ and he will raise them up on the last day.

Everyone is smiling and joyful. People are hugging and kissing. Death has been overcome. Pain and disease have gone forever. No need for graves any longer. There are no more old people. Is everyone the same age? Yes, they must be. Thomas is all grown up. He is so handsome, a light glowing from within. I hurry through the crowd towards him. He turns and sees me and smiles, a huge radiant smile of love. And then we meet and we hug. We hug close as if we'll never let each other go.

Then I wonder... haven't we already met in Heaven? It probably wouldn't happen like this. But it’s just another dream, and dreams don't have to make sense. Another wild imagining.

“Anyone like another sandwich?” I ask. Soon the birthday feast is over. We head back to the van with our picnic basket. But before I climb into the driver’s seat, I turn and take one last look out over the graves.

The cemetery is quiet, deathly quiet. No sign of life except for the horses over the fence and a few twittering birds. But all that quiet is deceptive. Life is not over and done with. It’s just waiting… like a wintering tree. One day it will come bursting forth again…

Maybe my imaginings aren’t so wild after all.

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  1. Oh, how beautiful. Sue, you are a truly talented writer. I mean that with ALL my heart. You took me there with you, and I wasn't sad... I was hopeful, and thinking of those grand reunions, and of the graves of my own loved ones. And I especially liked thinking of a grave as the book cover of a person's life. No wonder I've wanted mine "a certain way!" :) It's on the other side of the cover, however, when the full stories can be told....

    1. Nancy,

      Thank you! I really did have these imaginings while we ate our last birthday picnic at the cemetery, so it was easy to write this story. Yes, I didn't feel sad either (apart from a brief moment) but so hopeful. Unlike many people, I love going to the cemetery. It really is a place of peace... all those souls waiting!

      I can't wait to read the full stories of our lives and understand...

  2. I want to have a proper burial site and gravestone as well. My family all want to be cremated, but I want the whole shebang.

    1. Kellie,

      I want the whole shebang too! I want my life to end with full ceremony, the whole works. Thomas' funeral was beautiful. Though we mourned, we also celebrated his short life. I don't think we should hide death, burying our dead as quickly as possible, and moving on. No, we should do things properly!

  3. I so agree about being buried properly, Sue. The whole idea of carrying dead relatives around in an urn seems wrong - much more natural to return to dust in the ground, I think!

    It's so sad to think about young people dying in accidents. I imagine their families would never be the same again. We wonder about people's stories when we visit a graveyard, too - it's fascinating to imagine the cycle of generations.

    It was lovely to read that you would put aside your own visit to Thomas if other mourners arrived - it's heart-warming how kind you are:-)

    I like your imaginings! I hope to be surrounded by holy souls when I die, as well as Our Lady and family and friends, of course.

    I love these posts, Sue!

    God bless:-)

    1. Vicky,

      Maybe some people want to be cremated to save space and be 'environmentally friendly'. I know Nannie was cremated because she didn't want to be buried in a grave that might be vandalised. So I guess people have their reasons, but I would like an old fashioned burial in the ground like you! It is painful seeing someone lowered into the ground. But again, it is a comfort having a proper place to visit, to have a little piece of land that belongs to a loved one. Yes, an urn just isn't a substitute to my way of thinking.

      I know a few families that have lost young people due to accidents. Another of my posts will feature one of these stories. Yes, it would be so hard, especially for the parents.

      It didn't actually occur to me that we'd be doing something good by vacating the cemetery if a hearse arrived. Thank you for your kind words! I guess I was just thinking about the day we buried Thomas. The cemetery belonged to us alone that day, and I was glad we could bury him in private. I'd want everyone to have a similar privacy. Our needs are very small compared to those of the newly bereaved.

      The holy souls... oh yes! We shan't be alone when we die. That's a very comforting thought.

      I am so grateful for your kindness in reading and enjoying my posts. Only 19 to go! 19? Wow, that's still a lot of posts!

      God bless!

  4. Sue, you're not irreverent. People in the Philippines picnic and party in cemeteries on November 1st. Plenary indulgence and visiting the dead all in one stone. We too visit our little ones on their Feast Days (we don't know when they were born in heaven so we count the day of the miscarriage as their birthdays/feastdays) and I hope to hold them in my arms someday.

    1. Anabelle,

      How beautiful you were able to bury your miscarried babies, and you can visit them. That must bring you much comfort. None of our miscarried babies have a final resting place... Yes, we will all be reunited one day! I heard that the Church no longer teaches that unbaptized babies go to 'limbo'. I fully expect to see all mine with me in Heaven. What a joyful day that will be!

    2. The idea that the very innocent would go to a nothing place Sue always struck me as repugnant. It must have caused a lot of misery for mothers over the years. God always to me seems a being who would take the innocent in, those of us who have had time to sin might have a harder time.

    3. Karna,

      "The idea that the very innocent would go to a nothing place Sue always struck me as repugnant." I have to agree with you! It just doesn't make any sense to me. I have been thinking a lot about how innocent babies must be so very dear to God, their sufferings must result in so much grace for the world. Just my own ramblings!

      Thank you for stopping to share your thoughts. I appreciate it. God bless!

  5. Sue, after reading that your grave will be the book cover of your life, I couldn't get this quote off my mind. I have long loved it.

    "All mankind is of one Author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another..." (John Donne)

    John Donne, it seems, would agree with you.

    1. Nancy,

      Thank you so much for the quote. I love it! I am going to copy and paste it into my journal. I haven't read any of Donne's poems but I'd like to. Have you? And was he an Anglican? I shall have to find out more!

  6. I too, want to buried properly. It bothers me that Mark just wants to be cremated. He can share a spot with me though.. and our kids can visit us both with one visit.

    I have family members who think I am wacko... as I walk along the graves, I talk out loud (quietly) to the deceased, pray for them, set up their flowers, and read the stones and wonder about them. I try and not step on anyone's grave, and always apologize to them if I do.

    When I visit my friend Stephanie, I feel like she can hear me better in the cemetery, which I know is probably silly, but knowing she is right there... well, it seems 'right' to me that she can hear better when I'm closer to her. I tell her everything, like I did before she passed away. I tell her how much I love and miss her.. Mark and the girls leave me alone.. they don't want to interrupt my visit with my friend. I have to fight the temptation to lie down on her grave, and hug the earth... Stephanie s grave is unmarked, and I hate knowing she is just underneath.. in her pretty dress, and I just want to hug her.. :*(

    When I visit Grandpop, (who is buried properly) I always in my heart want to fix him a huge plate of food and take it to him. My skinny Grandpop dearly loved a good hearty meal, and had a huge appetite despite how thin he was. I stand weeping, talking to him, and kiss his gravestone when I leave, since it's as close as I can get to kissing him.

    1. Susan,

      It's not easy when we want different things but maybe Mark will change his mind about being cremated. As long as you rest together, I guess that's the most important thing.

      I sometimes wonder if people think we're silly worrying about stepping on graves etc. It's not as if those buried can feel our feet going by. But it just seems to me, that this is one way we can show respect to the dead. It would be so sad to be buried and then forgotten, or treated as if we were of little value. Those gone before us are still important.

      I know what you mean about feeling closer to someone at the cemetery. We always say we're going to 'visit Thomas', not we're going to visit his grave. I shout a mental prayer out to him if we're driving past the cemetery. I say goodbye to him when we leave. Part of him is still there, and our last memories of him are associated with the cemetery.

      I've always wondered if our loved ones know if we've left flowers, or visited or cried at their graves. I am sure they do. When you meet Stephanie she will hug you close and thank you for your faithful friendship and your love shown to her, even after her death.

      Susan, we'd make good cemetery companions. We'd spend lots of time standing at graves and talking and praying and crying. Then we'd have a huge picnic in honour of you dear Grandpop. May he rest in peace! And Stephanie too.

      God bless you!

  7. Your visions from the graveyard were beautiful, touching, comforting, thought-provoking and also funny.
    In Denmark some 100 years ago it was normal, even fashionable, to go and pick-nick at the cemetery. It was later forbidden because of people being too noisy and even drunk at those occasions, but people still went there to visit their dead family members and friends. In our days, only old people and Catholics visit the cemetery and pray for the dead. When we visit and tidy my MIL's grave, we always tell the children of the people buried there, and end with a prayer.
    Graveyards in Denmark do not typically invite to sitting down or thinking there, it is all very straight and squarish. Small hedges, kept low and straight by gardeners separate the graves. Pebbles cover the graves and a simple headstone with name and dates, sometimes a profession or a verse from the Bible, is all that's allowed. There's even standardized vases for the flowers. I'd hate being buried in such a "Privet Drive"-like place, but thankfully the catholic graveyards (we have maybe six in Denmark, some only small parst of a bigger cemetery) are more colourful. As the Church in Denmark is made up by a big majority of immigrants from all over the world the rules there must needs be more lax, and I must admit that I like the thought of being buried next to an Italian "nonno" (Granddad) with flowers, holy water stones, hearts hanging in the trees and so on, and surely a prayer spoken for my soul, as I now pray for him, pleases my unruly heart.

    1. Uglemor,

      I feel sad that not everyone thinks to visit the dead and pray for their souls. I guess it's only Catholics who see the value in that type of prayer. All those souls who need prayers but never get any...

      Thomas is buried in a Catholic cemetery attached to a church that is no longer used, except for All Souls Day. There isn't enough local population to justify having Mass there every week. But we were able to have Thomas' funeral at this church and then we processed out the door to his burial site. It was very beautiful. There are paddocks surrounding the cemetery with horses looking over the fence: a very peaceful place, ideal for stopping and thinking and praying.

      Like you, I don't like the ordered standardized cemeteries. I like graves at odd angles, a variety of headstones, statues and balloons and flowers of all descriptions... Every grave tells a story of people who were all very different.

      "I like the thought of being buried next to an Italian "nonno" (Granddad) with flowers, holy water stones, hearts hanging in the trees and so on, and surely a prayer spoken for my soul, as I now pray for him, pleases my unruly heart." Uglemor, I love the sound of that too!

      God bless!

  8. "My grave will be the book cover of my life." Nancy isn't the only one struck by this phrase I was too! I loved the quote Nancy found - it fits in very well with yours.

    You paint a beautiful picture of heaven in your post. I think of both you and Vicky as artists who "paint" pictures - the tools you use are different but you both paint beautiful pictures of life with your gifts.

    1. Mary,

      I like the thought that Vicky and I can do similar things with different tools. Thank you!

      Heaven... I think we are going to be so amazed at its beauty, unimaginable and indescribable!

      God bless!


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