Gina Davidson: Cemeteries need rules even if grief has none

Mourners at Blaeberry Cemetery in Whitburn can no longer put borders around gravesites. Picture: Toby Williams
Mourners at Blaeberry Cemetery in Whitburn can no longer put borders around gravesites. Picture: Toby Williams
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IT may be morbid but I’ve occasionally wondered how often I would visit the grave, the final resting place, of a loved one. Once a week? A month? Or just on the anniversary of the death?

Not having any headstones at which to lay flowers or other sentimental mementoes – us being a cremation kind of a family – I’ll admit to, at times, feeling envious of those who can make that pilgrimage; who have a “place” where they can be with their memories, where they find comfort. For nothing says a person was once absolutely, firmly, made-a-mark-on-people’s-lives here, like a solid slab of polished, carved granite.

Given that we take the minimalist approach already, I can’t imagine, say, my mum’s grave being crowded with gifts or messages, or being roped off in any way from the rest of the graveyard – she was more the sort to knock down fences than put them up.

But I don’t know for sure. Grief is a strange fruit after all. Not easily segmented and shared like an orange it’s more a pomegranate; hard and soft in equal measure and once you break it open no-one really knows how to handle it.

Which is why it’s so difficult to lay down rules about how graveyards should “look”. One person’s dignified is another’s dishonorable; one person’s tacky, another’s tasteful.

Certainly they can’t possibly be sterile, sanctified rows of white crosses in the way those of the war dead in France are for instance. The massed ranks of those graves – many to unknown soldiers – is a vivid testament to the enormity of the losses during war.

But ordinary cemeteries, where death is a daily business, are a more personal affair. The emotional messages etched on headstones to mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents are proof of that.

For some though, that’s not enough – they need lights, bouquets, photos at the graveside to help them through their grief. They may even need fencing, gravel, railings – anything to mark out their loved one’s lair from all the rest.

Each to their own perhaps? Well West Lothian Council says not. From next month new rules will mean kerbing, cornerstones, railings and fencing will all be banned from new plots – and if they are put in place they will be removed.

The delicate issue was also raised in Edinburgh back in 2008 when parents who had lost children were asked if they could reduce the number of toys being left at graves. Some parents felt the tranquility of Mortonhall’s rose garden had disappeared beneath the amount of mementoes and ornaments being left behind. Of course other parents were just as upset at the idea they couldn’t place whatever they liked on their child’s resting

place.

The issue has rumbled along since then, and just at the start of the year the consultation into improvements to the rose garden was closed. What happens next will involve a lot of careful treading.

There are those who believe that tending a loved one’s grave is not just about fresh flowers, that it should include wind chimes or lanterns or anything they choose. That their grief is personal and so is the grave at which they mourn. There are those who believe the opposite: that graveyards are public spaces and certain standards should be kept so as not to intrude on others’ grief. A happy medium has to be met.

All I know is when I read the words of George Kempik of Whitburn, who lost his 18-year-old daughter, Deborah, in a car crash eight years ago, I can’t argue with him: “When you know as a father, you are not going to walk your daughter down a church aisle one day, you are in fact about to lower her, in a box, down a deep, dark, cold, wet hole in the ground, I will tell you, you do wonder, ‘have I done the right thing?’. Even in the days after, you think about your daughter. Aye, for years you think about your daughter and you have horrible dreams.

“But what little comfort we get is from the fact that we have made our daughter’s resting place into the loveliest place on earth. To us.

“I have no idea where we would be, had we not been allowed to care for our daughter after her death.”

No rest for Hillsborough families

RELIEF, even happiness, may well have been the immediate emotions of the families who campaigned for 27 years for justice for the 96 people who died in the Hillsborough tragedy at this year’s outcome from the inquest.

But in the coming weeks, when the adrenalin has gone, when they no longer have to keep fighting tooth and nail for answers, then grief will no doubt rise to the surface once more.

It’s inevitable. I know I can barely read the accounts of what happened that day without tears in my eyes, and a sick feeling in my stomach at the cover-up which followed. I don’t think there are words to describe how those caught up in the tragedy feel.

Hillsborough changed football for the better for fans, then and now. All-seater stadiums, vastly improved safety standards and no doubt many lives saved is the legacy of that horrific day.

I just hope the families continue to get all the support they need.

Time up for ESP as school survey D-Day arrives

TOMORROW is D-Day for the private consortium which built and maintains the 16 currently closed schools. Closed, let’s remember, because of construction failures.

Last Friday the Edinburgh Schools Partnership said it would take another week for all surveys to be complete – and I’m sure no-one would want them to do it in a hurry and make mistakes – so tomorrow is the deadline.

ESP can’t afford to keep parents or the council waiting any longer. Answers are needed now.

Provost looks in good shape

LORD Provost Donald Wilson is a shadow of his former self. I’m sure there was a time he had to get his ceremonial kilt taken out, but after three years of training for marathons, running for the One City Trust, he’s not only getting faster, he’s getting that kilt taken in again.