Dead Centre

by Rick Johansen

When passing a graveyard, I find it hard to avoid referring to it as the dead centre of wherever it is situated. It may even have been funny the first time I heard it, it almost certainly isn’t funny now but that never stops me wheeling it out time after time. I’m sorry if you are offended by my jocular references to burial grounds because, and here I may offend you still more, I just see them and think, “What a waste of space. Literally.” Nearly eight billion people inhabit the world these days, but that figure is dwarfed by the number, believed to be around 108 billion people, who have previously shuffled off their mortal coils. Every one of the eight billion people alive today will die so the increasingly difficult question is this: where do we put them all?

South Bristol Cemetery and Crematorium is experiencing exactly this problem right now, as it runs out of space in which to bury dead people, to the extent that they want to expand their operation onto the adjoining Yew Tree Farm, which is species rich and could potentially destroying the business if the meadows could not be used for grazing. Bristol City Council has a legal duty to provide sufficient burial grounds. Could not we, the people, assist them in their efforts to save space when we die, too?

When I die, I want as little fuss as possible. I do not expect to survive my death with my spirit ascending to heaven or descending to hell on the say so of a celestial dictator. A simple, preferably cheap cremation will do me fine, thank you very much. I certainly don’t want my decaying bones to clog up another ecosystem.

I appreciate that some religious folk insist on being buried and therein lies a problem. Their faith dictates they must be buried and turned into worm food. Some don’t like the idea of their loved-ones corpses being cremated. That I can understand neither preference doesn’t mean I don’t have some sympathy. If you have been brought up to believe that you will require your body to enjoy everlasting life, someone like me attempting to persuade people that it’s actually a load of superstitious nonsense will not have the desired effect.

Maybe it’s easier for me because I accept the finality of life. The last thing I want to do is die, not least because to me it’s better than not living. If one does not accept the finality of life and hopes and expects to “got to a better place”, maybe the fear of death isn’t quite so bad.  But as we, at least in the UK, become less religious, hopefully attitudes towards what happens after death – spoiler alert: nothing – becomes the logical and prevailing way of thinking.

When I organised my mum and then step dad’s funerals, I never thought beyond the service. It genuinely didn’t occur to me that I might want to keep their ashes as some kind of reminder. And I am glad I didn’t. What purpose would it have served? To say hello to an urn every morning that never replied? Ashes literally don’t do anything. I certainly never returned to South Bristol Cemetery and Crematorium to pay my respects, or whatever people do when they visit graves, plots and the like, not that there was a grave or plot, but I hope you get the drift. I am not saying there’s anything wrong with tending to a grave because, let’s face it, florists have to earn a crust somehow, but who are we doing it for? Plainly ourselves.

I hope that the need to dig up Yew Tree Farm in order to place more dead people doesn’t happen. It’s such a lovely area and apart from feeding people’s grief – and maybe you think that’s sufficient reason to do it – I honestly think it’s the wrong thing to do.

Essentially, I am not a fan of graveyards, burial plots and the like. You may have noticed that from this blog. I’m not sure we will have any kind of debate about it, but I wish we would, or that perhaps people accept that dead means dead. Not easy, I know, when you lose someone you love but I don’t feel any different about my mum and all my other relatives and friends who have died and were cremated. I don’t wish their remains were six feet under. Respect the dead, for sure, but life is for the living, isn’t it?

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