A Fitting Memorial?

20/07/09 | Posted by Poppy

Watching the news pictures of coffins being carried by soldiers with all due ceremony down the ramp of a cargo plane just back from Afghanistan made me think hard about how we remember our dead. I walk past a graveyard everyday on my way to work and there are all sorts of gravestones and flowers and ornaments. How should we remember our dead, especially when they are so young?


Of course one fitting memorial might be the appropriate equipment to do the job, but however good the equipment, and however many helicopters the army have, war-zones are dangerous places and soldiers will be killed.

As I walk past the graveyard in the morning I’ve been thinking about my Uncle Bill who died right at the end of World War II. His Lancaster Bomber was shot down over Southern Germany and he, and all the rest of the very young crew of the plane were killed. If he was lucky he died instantly, but it is more likely that he knew what was going to happen as his plane fell out of the sky, probably in flames. When his possessions were returned to the family there was a photo of his cousin that had been kept very carefully with his things. We will never know if he was in love with her and whether, if he had lived, he would have married her and had children and grandchildren and a happy life. From everything I’ve heard he was a good man. But he died at aged 24, a life cut short.

Bill’s grave is in Germany and it is a very long way to go to lay flowers there. As a family we have had to find another way to remember him and I’ve made sure that my children know about the great uncle they never had. We talk about him and how he died doing something that he thought was right. That was of course fighting against the Nazi regime in the 1940s. He knew it was risky, it was 1945 and not the beginning of the war, but he volunteered nevertheless. He was a brave man. I named my eldest child after him.

But is talking about someone enough? Of course it isn’t. It would be better if he had lived, but he didn’t, and we have tried in our imperfect way to keep his memory alive.

It is very easy in today’s world where death is the last taboo to ignore those who are grieving because it touches our own fear of our mortality or to expect to get over grief in a few weeks as if it was a touch of the flu.

It might be a strange way to look at the topic of memorials but the reason that we know about Jesus today is that people talked about him. They talked about him so much that the life of a Jewish carpenter was eventually written down in four gospels and I’ve linked to them at the top of this piece. Jesus is remembered for what he did and what he said and the impact that he had on people’s lives.

So maybe if you know someone who has been bereaved recently then perhaps have the courage to listen to them and give them the space to talk and remember their loved ones.




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