Les gens qui ne rient jamais ne sont pas des gens sérieux

Be who you are and say what you mean, those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind

Thursday, November 02, 2006

All Saints and Souls

We spent All Saints Day the traditional Polish way, visiting graves and standing around talking to family members in graveyards. Coming from a place where people more often than not choose to be cremated, this day is particularly interesting and, to be honest, weird for me.

I stand back as people approach the graves of their deceased parents, grandparents, even children. Signs of the cross are made and lips move in silent prayer, as I witness their tradition, trying not to get in the way. Once the praying is over, conversations are generally jolly, even lively. People catch up with family members they only ever see on special days, hopping from foot to foot to keep warm.

As per usual, various members of Marek's extended family asked me if we have the same festival in the UK, so I explained about Halloween, and the fact that where I'm from, there aren't so many graveyeards... or so much Catholicism.

Marek and I took a stroll, to escape the inevitable winks and wedding enquiries, past people huddled in groups around graves. We talked about death, about burials and cremations, but it wasn't depressing.

I know that in Poland especially, it's important to be able to show your respects to dead family members. Visiting a grave is a way of doing that, as well as giving yourself time for prayer and reflection. My mother's parents were both cremated though, and I don't feel I'm missing out because I can't visit their graves. They're dead, and have been for some time, but I think of them a lot. I wouldn't think of them any more often if I had a grave to visit.

Different people want different things for after their deaths. One old aunt and uncle of Marek's for example, have already paid for and installed their gravestones, which I found obscene to begin with. After thinking about it though, I can see that for them it is important that they have a proper final resting place, and that by organising it themselves, they can put their minds at rest. Still, it's the kind of thing that makes me uneasy.

Marek pointed out that most of the graves were from the last hundred years or so. What happened to the previous occupants? Replaced by corpses whose relatives still remember them and will visit them? I think I'd rather be burned.

The only thing that nearly changed my mind was being at Marek's brothers' grave, and seeing all those graves for 3, 15, 27 year olds. If your child dies, I imagine the need to have a material memorial would somehow be stronger. I can't really explain it, but older people who have lived full lives, are not expected to live forever. Children though, they have so much ahead of them that their deaths are excruciatingly sad. Keeping that child's memory very much alive may seem vital, especially to their parents.

I guess that's what it all boils down to in my mind, although I know it's not logical. Having a grave is somehow keeping the departed in this world. It is keeping a link to someone who is no longer around. Cremation seems more accepting of the fact that the person is gone. They stay alive in the minds of others, but not in a public place, somewhere to fill with flowers and pray before.

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Anonymous szwed said...

Wonderful post, is all I can say.

11:07 am  
Blogger Aaron Fowles said...

Very sorry to hear about the loss in Marek's family. Losing children is the hardest thing for a family.

12:32 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

5:14 pm  

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