So as soon as I accepted that we were on the worst path, I looked up the situation with regard to funerals etc (though I held off from doing anything prematurely).
Just by reading the stuff on the Croydon Council website, I realised early on that I would be faced with a horrible decision.
There was no new grave space in the Croydon cemeteries. The only option was reclaimed graves. It seems that this is a situation which only applies to certain London boroughs – in other parts of the country, you are not allowed to disturb existing graves, but Croydon is one of the places where they have had to reclaim graves because of lack of space.
Other than this, to get a new grave, you had to use a place called Greenlawns, which is a sort of memorial park, several miles out to the south. You are not allowed to have upright gravestones there, just flat ones on the ground.
I drove there a couple of times to have a look. I think maybe we went there together once a long time ago, but I didn’t really remember what we’d thought or concluded.
I really didn’t like it. I thought it was plain and boring, no central pretty feature or anything, it just looked like a random bit of dog walking park or something. And even there, you were limited as to where you could get a new space, because it was quite full already. The new spaces looked like they were on a sort of verge next to a hedge and some benches – I just really didn’t think it was a nice place. And personally, I had always been more in favour of a proper upright stone, to at least mark someone’s presence on the planet in a traditional fashion.
So I became aware of this horrible choice – either a reclaimed grave in the better, local cemetery, or a new grave, with no proper tombstone, in the out of town field.
The local cemetery, Mitcham Road, was so much preferable because it was at least somewhere you knew – we had walked there, and in fact you had worked at the Council offices there for a year and a half. I had dropped you off sometimes and you had told me about all the wildlife – foxes and newts and woodpeckers – and I know you had sat on benches in your lunch hours and generally found it a calm and comforting place.
Now I know that you were aware of the reclaimed graves situation, John, because you had mentioned it with respect to your work, but I didn’t remember you ever commenting on how you would feel about it personally.
So I found myself in this horrible situation where, despite saying to people we were so close and had talked about so many things over 29 years, we had in fact never talked this through, and so I didn’t know which option you would have preferred.
I could imagine you saying you were okay with the reclaimed thing and didn’t mind (probably you wouldn’t have, because of your generally compassionate nature). But on the other hand, you might have said, no go for the new grave the nice quiet countryside place.
So I was troubled for a long time about what to decide on your behalf.
There was also the option of investigating other cemeteries, the idea of Woodland Burial, and even taking you to be buried on the Isle of Wight, in the same cemetery as your parents. I investigated this and it was possible (and cheap, a plot was only about six hundred pounds instead of three or four thousand in Croydon). But then if I wanted to be buried with you, the Isle of Wight doesn’t really have such significance to me, and it would be much more awkward to organise a funeral down there, and for me to have to go all that way if I wanted to visit the grave.
There was also the option that I could have you cremated and scatter your ashes somewhere on the Isle of Wight, at your parents’ grave or on the seafront. In the Croydon cemetery, even the spaces for ashes are now reclaimed.
Well those were my deliberations when the issue first came up. What really happened was that when I went to see the people at the cemetery – a nice friendly man who had known you and worked with you – I told him about my dilemma and about the fact I didn’t know what you would have wanted, and asked him if perhaps there was one single new grave available anywhere in the Mitcham Road cemetery.
Well, I hadn’t expected this to yield anything, but he did actually come back to me and say he had found two spaces, one where someone had bought a space but then given it up, and another where there had been an exhumation. I didn’t fancy the latter, but the first one seemed like an option.
Once you had actually passed away, he drove me round and showed me the actual options available – those two ‘new’ ones, and about three different reclaimed options.
At this point I was faced with another decision – the one new grave, even though it was sort of in a corner near the busy main road, or one of the reclaimed spaces, which were more in the pretty, quiet areas where we used to walk, and which were more peaceful.
Well I ended up walking round that cemetery every day for about a week (often in horrible rain and hail), trying to decide between the two options. Would you have preferred to be in the nicer, quieter place, which was nearer the place we’d walked and watched woodpeckers together, but was actually a plot on top of some other poor gentleman who was buried there seventy or eighty years ago? Or should I go for the one space that your colleague had found me that was virtually the only remaining new grave in the whole place, but which was noisy by the road and not as pretty, being close to houses and a car showroom nearby?
I asked various people their opinion about this, and everyone seemed to indicate that everyone would really want their own space, rather than being buried on top of someone else. So after a long and painful deliberation process, I opted for the new grave, and I have to say I think that was the right decision – because when I’ve stood beside it after the event, I’m glad to think it’s just you, and not that there’s someone else underneath you, like bunk beds.
It’s my space too, John. It’s not a nice experience to know where you’re going to be buried, to stand there and think, one day my own bones will be in there with you.
But at least then we’ll be reunited, and I’ll be keeping you company – if not for eternity (because even the new grave is only for 50 years), then for a while.