Mourning is a personal but not always a totally private thing

Among the numerous issues that North Cowichan council has had to deal with recently was the sensitive one of passing a bylaw that limits personal items left beside graves in Mountain View Cemetery, Somenos Road.

Sensitive issue, indeed, as this one drew some very emotional responses to council and letters to the editor of the Citizen.

Speaking as a lifelong cemetery groupie who has visited hundreds of graveyards on the Island and throughout southern B.C., I can truly appreciate the feelings of those who choose to mark their loved ones’ graves with more than, say, flowers.

Just as I can appreciate, albeit to a lesser extent, the concerns of council for the ease and costs of maintenance and, not to be ignored, the safety of workers.

Council finally resolved that “artificial wreaths, or potted plants on the grave plots are permitted from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28…planted shrubs, flowers or use of glass containers are not permitted and all flower/plant arrangements and wreaths may be removed at the discretion of cemetery staff”.

Years ago, an up-Island city council wanted to cut the costs of cutting the grass by flattening all standing headstones and monuments in the public cemetery to ground-level so that city workers could finish in less time and at less expense. This would have meant, literally, burying beautiful works of the stonemasons’ and monument-makers’ art, many of the markers being inscribed on all sides.

Fortunately, this proposal was met with such an outcry that council had to back down, and this cemetery remains as it’s meant to be, an oasis of peace and respect for its occupants, and an intriguing walk through history for visitors. City workers still cut the grass, of course, one man on a ride-around mower. I’ve watched him move quickly and efficiently, an artist in his own right, amid the small forest of headstones with their poignant inscriptions and decorative touches.

I’ve also seen countless expressions of the love of bereaved parents, siblings and spouses in my cemetery travels, some of them so touching that they tug at the hearts of strangers. My all-time favourite, in St. Ann’s, Tzouhalem cemetery, is a plain headstone, of concrete. It’s that of a boy identified only as David – his name spelled out in marbles.

Another grave for a boy, this one in Chemainus Cemetery, is also one-of-akind. The surface of the grave, of poured concrete, looks very much like bedcovers and pillow. A bronze sculpture in the St. Andrew’s, Cowichan Station, cemetery is the most outstanding I’ve seen to date. The grave of well-known Cowichan Bay farmer Nigel Kingscote shows two hands clenching a staff. The bronze is so realistic, I swear I can see the pores and wrinkles! My first impression was, with its Matterhorn-shaped stone backdrop, he was a mountain climber, although I recognized the name. Then it struck me. After a lifetime of labour, Nigel Kingscote is finally resting – on his shovel.

My point is, you can be truly creative with your remembrances of loved ones in a public cemetery, and not necessarily at great expense, judging by my observations.

Mourning, remembrance, however we term it, is a very personal thing, unique to each and every one of us, and unique to the relationship between the deceased and the griever. We express ourselves in different ways, not always visible to others. For those who chose to remember in stone, the result has been a public statement that speaks to us down through the ages.