Memento Mori

I’m writing this in The Drift In Surf Cafe in The Witterings. Two ladies sit in the window corner looking out at the rain discussing the celebrities that have died recently…

            ‘You don’t know when you might be struck down’

            ‘Mmm – you’ve got to make the best of what’s happening now.’

January 2011 seems to be haunted by death – the news and real life seem to be full of it. We heard of Gerry Rafferty and Mick Karn – notable for moments of musical fame that gave pleasure to many – and Pete Postlethwaite who left a remarkable body of work in a relatively short life.

As a children’s writer, it was Dick King-Smith that really caught my attention. So many people tweeted and commented with regret at his passing: parents who loved reading ‘The Hodgeheg’ out loud, children who remember ‘The Queen’s Nose’ with great affection, and my old teacher colleagues who used his life story to enthuse young writers. He was an inspiration for late starters like me too – though sadly I never told him. But I do not grieve for him.

Instead I delight in the lovely books he left behind, ‘Babe’ the popular film inspired by his ‘Sheep Pig’ and the happy memories of so many people. I feel the same about L.M. Boston: she had saved the Manor at Hemingford Grey, brought comfort to pilots in WWII with the wind-up gramophone and entertained, scared and thrilled many children with the ‘Green Knowe’ books. I treasure a letter I have from her written in her 90s. My only sadness is not visiting the Manor while she was alive – the moral is: write to your favourite authors sooner rather than later!

Dick King Smith was an atheist, I learnt, which made me think about all sorts of alternative burials. I am much moved by the effort loving families make to create a special event; including music that really means something, sending the body off with hand-picked mementoes, and well chosen readings. Celebration lives alongside grief.

It’s an odd thing to write – but I like handmade willow coffins and beautifully printed card ones as well as the traditional wooden ones. I like woodland eco burials – and six foot high weeping angels. I enjoy a good graveyard and obituaries are a great read: Radio 4’s Last Word is well worth a listen. It is the sense of lives well lived that matters.

The writers of ‘The Archers’ tapped into that theme with the momentous 60th Anniversary episode: Nigel Pargetter was a character who loved life. Fictional deaths move us when they resonate with our sense of what life is.

As a person of faith, I believe there is more, but that’s no excuse for wasting this one. Carpe Diem works well whatever your beliefs.

6 thoughts on “Memento Mori

  1. this is a moving post, philippa – i used to think cremation was the way out but walking through highgate cemetery while procrastinating, i am rather tempted to go for burial, with something cool on the headstone like my motto – “why not do it all? we’re already tired anyway.”

  2. A good funeral: a celebration of a life, graduation, thanksgiving, memories and taking up the baton
    And thought of some more after twitting: completion, wholeness and a time for those left to stretch into the space the whole person as given
    Some people need years others seconds – whole lives

    I think a lot

  3. A good send off is so healing for the family – funerals can be beautiful and personal and wonderful. I do think it helps the family if they know what you want – you might have to make a decision about those coffins! xxx

  4. Kathryn, I wrote this for you. I wanted to put more about the effort you made but thought I had better ask first. Love and respect .

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