From The Inside Looking Out – Memorials and More

From The Inside Looking Out

One of the first things I do as I arrive at my workplace is to make myself a cup of coffee before I start my day.  The kitchen window looks out over part of the cemetery.  When I first started there, I used to see an old gentleman every week visiting a grave, tenderly changing the flowers and I could see him talking as he knelt, carefully wiping the headstone keeping it in tip-top pristine condition. Over time, I got to know him and learnt some of the stories about his wife and the things they did together.

Now on that very same lawn, there are memorials that I have helped to create and I see a daughter visiting her mum each week.  We chat and share stories and I can see that visiting the memorial is very comforting to her.

Remembering The Families I Serve, Paying Respects

Another memorial on that lawn belongs to a family living many miles away and I take photographs of it as the seasons change and email them to the family.  It’s important to me that they know someone remembers and is paying their respects.  Basically, I’ve found that somewhere along the line I’ve become very much involved with all the families I serve.

An Emotional Job?

People say to me “I couldn’t do your job; how do you cope with all the sadness…what about when a child dies?  I couldn’t do that.”  I must admit, when I saw the post advertised, I thought and wondered the same thing.  The reality is that yes – it is hard and emotionally draining at times, but it is also incredibly rewarding.

When someone dies, whether it was expected or not, those left behind are thrown into the melee of arrangements and paperwork that they need to tackle. Endless choices they must make, sometimes wondering if what they are choosing is what their loved ones would have wanted – because the reality is very few of us talk about what should happen when we die.

A good funeral director will direct you through all the decisions you must make.  A great one will hold your hand, whilst gently and sensitively leading and guiding you. Next thoughts turn to the creation of a suitable memorial and this is where I come in.

That First Call

It can be a hard call to make, to speak to a stranger and tell them that you’ve lost someone dear to you and you need to arrange a memorial.  I understand that. Often during that first call people struggle to get the words out, afraid that they may breakdown and voicing that someone has died it becomes once again a harsh reality.  At this point, there are some delicate questions we need to ask, and I find there is no easy way to ask them: was it a cremated remains burial or a full coffin? Do we need to leave room on the memorial for any further inscriptions? Where is the memorial to be fitted?  Cemetery, Churchyard, home or perhaps a natural burial ground.  Sometimes there is no physical grave but there is still a need to create a memorial, to acknowledge and celebrate a life well-lived.

Looking After Those On Their Own

Losing a loved one is never easy but during the recent pandemic, it has been especially tough on the older generation who often struggle with the absence of close family members around them to support them. One gentleman I’ve been helping recently is 94, he lost his wife of 73 years just a few days before their wedding anniversary and her 93rd birthday, which fell on the same day. Unfortunately, his closest family are not able to be with him as much as they would like and I worry about him dealing with his overwhelming grief, on his own for the first time in 73 years. Thankfully, we have organisations and charities we can call upon when we feel there is a need for their involvement, or we are concerned.

Creating a memorial with him for his wife has been a labour of love for him and what we have designed is a simply beautiful memorial with heartfelt, genuine, and original words of love for the wife, mum, grandma and great-grandma no longer with us. I am humbled to play a small part in this process, to be entrusted with the memories the family have shared with me and the freedom they have given me to make suggestions of what I think would be a fitting way to remember her.

When A Child Dies

When a baby or child passes away it leaves their family distraught and anguished. Whilst the memorial is important it should never be a rush to finalise the details or put it into place. As time passes and the days become weeks, the weeks months the rawness of the grief changes and words the family may have chosen in the early days to remember their child often change.

I find that often people do not know how to talk to the parents, siblings or grandparents of a child who has died in a way that doesn’t sound churlish or inadequate?  Even using the word “lost” in this context seems so wrong: they haven’t “lost” that child.  The child has gone but will never be “lost” to them, rather they will always be there with reminders everywhere of the life they are missing. It’s important to listen. Share those memories of the child or baby, learn about the dreams they had and the struggles they faced because if the family want to talk about it, they need to know that someone cares enough to listen.

There often comes a point where grieving people, not only those who have lost a child, will feel that they must be a burden to their friends and relatives, always being so sad and wanting to talk about their loved one.  Time has passed, and they feel that somehow, they should be doing better.  A little kindness goes a long way at this point and the memorial becomes very important.  It is a place where they can go and it’s ok to smile as a sweet reverie disturbs their thoughts, shed a tear of longing for the company of their loved one or even to feel angry that they’ve gone. It’s also a place that they can continue to care and tend for them, placing flowers, cutting the grass, tidying the grave.

Who knows, it may even be a place that someone is looking at from their kitchen window as they make a cup of coffee before they start their day.

© Sharon Malone 2021

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