Written on June 26, 2013 – 6:10 am | by Malcolm Burrows
With spring in late bloom, my mind turns to non-technical estate related matters – cemeteries and epitaphs.
Cemeteries compel due to the lives that linger in the landscape, but the iconography of the gravesite has traditionally been shaped more by ritual than individual experience. Graves express culture and faith rather than the personal, although this is changing in our increasingly secular and individualistic society.
Epitaphs on graves are especially poignant, often for the density of formalized emotions they capture, and also sometimes for the frankness. On beautiful spring evenings, I occasionally visit Park Lawn Cemetery in the west end of Toronto, an early 20th century memorial park rich with detail. A couple of years ago, I shot a short video, At Rest (with puppy), which contains some of my favourites historical epitaphs and scenes of a perfect late spring evening.
The ritualistic epitaphs include:
- Mother or Father (bare and unadorned)
- At Rest
- Gone but not forgotten
- In silence we remember
- Love endureth all things
- There shall be no more pain for the former things have passed away
- Absent from the body present with the Lord
Conventional words can derive unexpected power from the adjoining dates. A gravestone of a seven-year-old reads: “God’s finger touched him and he slept.”
The rise of the secular individual is expressed by my favourite stone in Park Lawn, which dates from the 1930s. Husband John Godfrey’s epitaph is a Tennyson fragment that was originally borrowed from a Latin epitaph: “Truest friend and noblest foe”. Daughter, Constance, is remembered by the deliciously profane words: “A gorgeous woman”. Together John and Constance almost made me give up the idea of being cremated.