Even before I married my current husband we shared a common interest: graveyards. Luckily he also enjoyed visiting graveyards on our biking trips and vacations abroad. Therefore when we went to the Birkerød church office to fill the necessary papers to book our wedding, we also rented a plot where our ashes would be buried when the time would come.
In fact we had not planned to rent a burial plot in that context, but when we saw an announcement on the church office’s notice board about a vacant plot in the Høsterkøb forest churchyard, we knew it was meant for us. That graveyard is uniquely beautiful with huge old trees in a forest behind the tiny old church.
To keep the churchyard as forest-like as possible, there are many rules that must be observed. For example one can only plant wild plants that are typical to the forest, the gravestones must be natural, only one standing tomb stone per lot is allowed, no hedge around the burial plot etc.
All those rules make the burial plot carefree. When visiting the Danish family grave, I can fully focus on remembering the deceased, not having any guilt feelings for not bringing any flowers. My feelings are almost the opposite when I visit my Finnish relatives’ graves, which are scattered in several places.
One year on my rare visits to my father’s grave in Lahti, I brought a bucket of artificial red roses. It was winter and the grave was covered with a thick layer of white glimmering snow. The red roses against the dark grey stone looked beautiful compared to neighboring frozen and brownish graves that had once been adorned with living flowers.
When I told my mother about the roses, she became upset. “How could you”, she cried out, reminding me that in her Finnish culture you must always bring cut flowers or plant something that is alive. My artificial roses disappeared from the grave after a short time.
Ashes from 16 bodies can be interred in our big Danish burial plot in the forest. No coffins of course, because the tree roots are all over and must not be damaged. So far, after my husband’s paternal grandmother’s burial, his father’s and the father’s only sister’s ashes have been buried there.
Why do I like graveyards? The reason is simple: because they are peaceful places even in the middle of big cities. They tell something of the history and culture of the place and people who have previously lived there. They remind me of the cycle of life, which in turn inspires me to look for even more positive experiences while there is still time. As the English author Quentin Crisp wrote: “Life was a funny thing that happened to me on the way to the grave.”