SPIRITS IN THE AIR

GREEN380THE E-BOOK OF DEPARTURES TO SPIRITUAL REALM
THOUGHTS, MEMORIES AND SILENT SENTIMENTS

                      BROMPTON CEMETERY CONSERVATION PROJECT

 

 

This is a collection of written personal stories, experiences, beliefs or just thoughts, from people who wished to address the issue of life and death. This summer, The Royal Parks initiated a community project with Brompton cemetery aiming to develop it in more community friendly area. Pro Art participated with the idea to create an e-book and to collect the input from people who pass through Brompton Cemetery, local community and those who whish to contribute with their thoughts, regardless on their background or whether members of their family or friends are buried there.  These stories and memories may provide some comfort and inspire people to reflect on their own lives and those surrounding them. Visitors and contributors would be inspired to treat the cemetery as another home where departured souls “live” , unable to tell us in words or show us how much they appreciate continuous care, affection and “communication” through people’s actions. It could help many people who are unable to open up their mind to the concept of passing away and to see Brompton cemetery as a relaxing and spiritual place also closely connected with the nature.

Layout 1We would like you to give us your sincere response to the question of life and death and which memories preoccupied you about those who you cared for. Your personal encounters with memories and your inner silent thoughts may be expressed through religious or spiritual concepts, memories on departed souls, or you may be inspired by the art in cemeteries, sculptures, stone carving, traditional and cultural differences in burial and customs related to passing away of those who made differences in our lives or just to reflect on role of nature in life and death.

These are anonymous inputs, your names are not signed or made public, all information stored will be managed in accordance with the Data Protection Act. We still accept contributions in form of letters, poems, short stories or just a doodle on paper. Please send us your contributions by post  at the following address  Pro Art & Co, 319 Plaza, 535 Kings Road, London SW10 0SZ

This project is partly funded by the Community Chest small grant scheme, as part of the Brompton Cemetery Conservation Project.

 

E-BOOK 

No 1

don’t say farewell

Now is the time people say
They wish they could have said goodbye.
A familiar sentiment,
But it’s just to disguise why they cry:
Pretty words express regret
While their trembling hearts cower in fear
As yet another person
Selfishly dies, despite being held dear.
Now they’re gone, leaving behind
An emptiness, once filled with love,
Now infected with terror.
Some withdraw within, some look above,
Question what has no answer,
Then put it aside to hide their pain,
First from themselves, then others,
Until it all just happen again.
So they’ll build grand monuments,
Since they couldn’t bring themselves to say
What couldn’t even be thought
Before their last chance had slipped away.
That’s no mistake! Don’t ever
Wind down before they’re done and can tell!
Just love in the here and now:
Don’t change a thing and don’t say farewell.

Autumn 2015

No 2

Most of the Time

Most of the time, I am fine;
Going about my day,
Passing the time.

But sometimes – not all the time –
A thought creeps in.

What do I wear to my mother’s funeral?
Sitting beside a really old person
– How long do they have left?
Ever thought about someone dying
And then they’ve actually gone and died?
Why is it so expensive to die?
There is obviously no after life,
– How bloody boring.
What is it like to know that you are dying?
– No – I don’t like that one.
Why do people say sorry?
– They didn’t do anything wrong.
Apparently people are more afraid of public speaking than death,
– So much for eulogies.
I wonder what my funeral would be like
– If only I could see it.
Some people want attention,
– It’s so obvious.
I wonder how long I have left after writing this.

For now I think I’ll carry on passing the time,
That’s fine, most of the time.

No 3

Mother’s Poem

I come to your house
I pass the field where my son walked the big walk across the field with his Nana for Nana to collect her pension
It looks so small now

Quiet sunlight in the mind oscillates time, beach hut friends are all gone now, where have they gone, I shall cut free – reality dying fetters my heart

I shall cut free and take the coast road to where time turns back on itself, I can live in the exile of these live people living in the past in the mantle of memory.

Some soft presence ‘ I would love to say more to you, but I have found it better to say less’.

Why, you are not in your house and you say ‘you have left me here and I don’t know where I am’
For I am mourning for the person that you used to be, for those times which have gone now and for the person that I used to be I lament
what are we but days.

No you are not in your house and you are not in your proper place.

how will it be when there is nowhere that I can go to find you?
What when you are profoundly completely gone and I cannot find you, too indescribably completely gone

I look again at these things that lock the sky to the ground – talking stories, stories in our minds that map out who we really really are

My dearest dear you say ‘but you are looking death in the face’
and ‘you will feel like an orphan when you are parentless’

I say ‘ no you are not in your house and you are not in your proper place’
I say ‘forgive me I am not in my proper place’.

No 4

Brompton Cemetery

They stand there, listening,
Transmitting our messages,
Via Cerberus, to the other world.

Like the Police Box in Dr. Who.
Who would imagine a red phone box
Could serve this important purpose.

Perhaps the messages just go through the railings,
To address the sarcophagi. Perhaps further.

Contrasting red metal with grey stone,
They stand on guard, outside the gates.

No 5

My experience at Brompton Cemetery

Although I have lived in Fulham for number of years I have never visited Brompton Cemetery until this year. I was a bit apprehensive to start with as I was going to spend several hours there and I generally do not like cemeteries as I find them sad and depressing.
However, on entering I was surprised because it felt like being in a park – plenty of trees, greenery and tranquility. In fact I passed many times by never realizing it was a cemetery.
During whole afternoon spent there I have seen many people with children and dogs coming there for a walk and because of that the whole place resembled normal life, not death.
I realized that my dislike of other cemeteries had to do with depressing feeling of finality and death which is very difficult to accept.

As a result of my visit to Brompton Cemetery I decided I would like to be buried there when my time comes.

No 6

Spiritual Candles

I lit the candle yesterday
For all the souls of my loved ones
Who are not with me today.

I lit the candle today
For all the people I love
And they are around me.

I’ll Light the candle tomorrow
For all the souls who need
The light to find the way to eternity

And I do this every day
As tomorrow once will be yesterday.

No 7

Going with no return

Where are those who are not among us any more?
When someone who we loved had gone forever, and with no return, something strange happens in our hearts. Why we should pretend that it’s normal and it makes no impact on us?
I feel good that I managed to say “Good buy” and “I love you” to those who were part of my life – and it helps… indeed helps.

But I wonder where they are now? I believe that they are in our mind. I shall always feel upset and it will be hard feeling in my heart that I cannot see these people who had gone, that I cannot touch them, embrace them… But, in my mind, I can summon them up whenever I like. It is sufficient to think about them and they will be in my mind. As long as I remember them they will be with me in my heart and I shall “enjoy” their esoteric company; we can “chat” and I shall feel their “presence” – it will be good sensation even that it’s only in my mind.

My gone family and friends had enriched my life when they lived in this world and I am happy that I have known them and loved them.

Therefore, I ask again, where they have gone, those who are not among us anymore?
I believe that they are at the best and the nicest place on Earth – they are in our hearts, FOREVER.

No 8

I don’t have home anymore, neither parents or close relatives, only graveyards scattered around the country, which are there for centuries. There are my family, and I visit them always carefully choosing the flowers to adorn the graveyard stones. I like talking to my departed family in the same way as I talk to my plants. My plants grow and bring forth flowers all year around, answering to me in their special way, thankful that someone understands the ‘language’ of this silent beauty and growth. And I am grateful to see how my plants respond to my loving words and to this meaningful communication.

I always wondered why we bring flowers to cemeteries or when people die? It took me so long to understand that once, millenniums ago, because we had no other way to communicate with those who departed, we brought flowers as our silent partners conveying our messages. Spirits thrive on beauty and aroma of flowers, on their colours and the secret meaning of their properties. It is simple science – exchange of energy and matter – a fluid in the air, which is invisible, untouchable, unfathomable and incomprehensible. But, we know that this fluid exists. We feel it and somewhere deep in our heart tell us more than any spoken word. This energy works beyond human concept of love or interaction with other living beings. We feel presence of our loving family and we know that they are around us. This is also a sign of God who dwells inside us and who is patient, compassionate, non-sentimental but loving and clear about role of living and those who left this realm.

I believe that God asked humans, flowers, trees and plants to create a silent language, which will help them to communicate throughout the universe, and the teachers of that language are trees, plants and flowers, which we more often see as some beautiful additions to our lives and not as transitional communication between two universes, one of the living and one of the departed.

No 9

Brompton Cemetery Reflections

Although neighbouring, we decided not to patronise the Brompton, fearing it would be due to be ploughed up to make way for the usual property developers. Fortunately, this has not happened yet, and, the cemetery has remained my favourite visiting site, at least until I was still able to walk. The far, South, Fulham Road side, with the mausoleum, always closed, the two semi circular subterranean burial sites, and the few graves of not christened children, at far exit, has its point, but for me, the North side has all the interesting tombs. Richard Tauber, “deinist mein ganzes Herz” is never without flower tributes. I always visited the obelisk tomb of the unfortunate young Japanese student, of noble family, thinking dying during his studies, thinking him long forgotten, when I came across an article of him and his burial, in the London Japan Society periodical publication. I was amused to see Russian and Polish Londoners buried side by side, even the crosses differentiating them. Three Serbian tombs, side by side, one of an archbishop since transported back to Serbia, and another of a general, or was it his brother, I helped to carry the coffin. The wind having thrown down and smashed one of the heavy stone THe Cemetery, I took a lot of trouble to glue, raise and photograph same, only to see it down in pieces, after a number of years.

One of the charms of Brompton constituted the animal inhabitants. While I never cared for pigeons, I admires the few stately ravens. But all the fun came from the feeding peanuts to the squirrels. From the young one, shy ones, to the cheeky ones climbing up ones trouser legs, to an extremely clever one, able to grab two peanuts at once. Long ago, a curator told me that they would introduce red squirrels, with smaller box entrances against they grey ones, up on trees, rather then on ground, but I never saw any.

Last but not least, I near missed to admire the toms buildings, some apparently decayed and abandoned, and though that, for anybody with money to spare, there was a purchase. An exceptional high one, near the East wall, evoked, I do not know why, something of Germanic legend, the Teutoburg forest, just like the original Battersea power station (now new Tate gallery).

Be that as it may, if you have never been there, it is well worth a visit; burt do not forget to take a pocketful of peanuts. You may even feed the pigeons, but if not, chase them away, to give my squirrels a chance.

No 10

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No 11

Three Men in my life

“I have three men in my life – two are in their late twenties and one is just two years old.
I love all of them passionately, but differently. One can’t say “equally” as there is no such thing as ” equality” pace all the political parties who would have us believe it is achievable.
The two in their twenties are my grandsons, born shortly after my husband’s death . They were miracle workers in maintaining my sanity in my terrible grief.
As little ones we played games together, took country walks together and went to feed the ducks.
When they became school boys there was help with homework, learning musical instruments, and of course the school run and many out of school activities. The list is very long, and we did all of them often and with much love.
Then they grew up and ” discovered” girls, but still were always there for me.
They drove me around and escorted me to galleries and concerts; came to do odd jobs for me and made meals for me when I was not well. They took care of this ” old lady” with a gentleness and affection that reached down to the bottom of my heart.
My two- year – old is not a blood relative. He is the only son of dear friends. His parents put him into my arms when he was ten days old, and I fell in love with him from that moment. Whether it is because he reminds me so much of my two grown men when they were his age I don’t know.
What I do know is that when I see him my heart fills with joy.
He comes to their front door as his mother opens it, and as soon as he sees me he throws himself into my arms and truly like the psalmist “my cup runneth over”!
How blessed I am! ”

 

A PERSONAL MATTER-Mira POPOVIĆ
Mira Popović

A PERSONAL MATTER

I’m not sure myself. I’m going to die, that there’s no doubt about, but is now the time for me to think about it? Judging by the emails I’m getting, now is definitely the time. To think about not death, but what follows. The funeral. Admittedly, these emails never mention death, at least not in so many words, that would be too indelicate; they usually refer to “the future”, which is logical enough. But how can one skirt death when talking about a funeral? Should one abstract it? No, I’m not sure. All sorts of thoughts are running through my mind as I ponder whether to save or destroy the latest email that’s arrived on the subject of my funeral. I’m about to go to the hairdresser’s to get my hair dyed. Since turning grey at the tender age of thirty-five, I’ve been dying my hair a colour that approximates my natural auburn. I am not old, I even look much younger than I am; nobody has ever called me an old lady and I don’t feel old.
I’ll think about it in the peace and quiet of Jacques’ place, I tell myself, quickly closing my computer. My hairdresser is only a few metro stops from my house, but I have to rush because I don’t want to be late. At Jacques’ they’ve long had me pegged as a quiet person so nobody will disturb me while I try and think this through. What shall we do today, Jacques will ask, and I will say, the usual, meaning tint and cut, actually a trim, just a centimetre or two to keep it looking the same. And that will be the extent of our conversation. Jacques gave me this cut several years ago. Now he just maintains it. My soft and fluffy hair is medium length; my fringe is a bit shorter, it doesn’t come down to my eyebrows. Nothing spectacular but it suits me. The fringe especially. I’ve always had a fringe, even when I was a child.
*
I was fifty-five when I received the first letter. It arrived around my birthday and gave me a start. It was from the bank, so I wasn’t too worried; otherwise it would have looked like a bad joke. But banks don’t joke. They try to take your money any way they can. They keep inventing new programmes. This new programme, new to me at least, is called Funeral Insurance. Before that they bombarded me with their Life Insurance programme. I studied it carefully but decided against it because of the clause about “life expectancy”. I hate calculating with life. So I tore up and threw away all those bank and insurance company offers of life insurance. It’s been years since I received any more. I suppose they realized that I’m not interested. Or else they simply moved me from their life insurance to their follow-up programme. My suspicions proved right when I received a letter from the bank, politely advising me to invest my money in funeral insurance. I tore it up into tiny little pieces. If I don’t calculate with life, I am certainly not about to do it with death. Although the two seem to boil down to the same thing.
*
I know, not everybody finds the computation difficult. I remember once long ago reading a story by MJV in a Belgrade literary magazine; it was called “Mum and Other Expenses”. I was very young at the time and MJV was a young writer. The story was about all the acrobatics the young man had to perform as he tried to cope with the unexpected funeral costs incurred by his mother’s sudden death. There was no sentimentality, no pathos, nothing unseemly in the story, even though his mother was ultimately reduced to an expense. The young man was simply performing his first mathematical gymnastics as an individual, and doing it with a good deal of humour. That, at least, is how I remember the story.
I met MJV in Belgrade a few years ago and mentioned the story “Mum and Other Expenses”, but he didn’t remember writing it. I wish I had written it, it sounds good, he said, stroking his long greying beard. There was no point asking him if the story was autobiographical, or what had inspired him to write it.
But what if MJV (I am still convinced he’s the author of the story) anticipated the whole thing? It has been known to happen in literature. Maybe I am the narrator’s mother who failed to insure her burial in time? All those letters and emails are right: we should protect our loved ones from our funeral expenses. It’s not other people’s business, it’s a personal matter. Again, I’m not sure.
*
What shall we do today, Jacques asks. The usual, I say as usual. I sit myself down in a vacant red chair by the wall, opposite the black chairs where women young and old, wearing red and black capes, their hair already being worked on, are sitting in front of silver-framed mirrors. Hovering over their heads, like birds of prey, are Jacques, clad in black, and his assistants, wielding scissors, brushes and hairdryers. His scissors quickly snipping away, Jacques is cutting the hair of a young woman who, considering that her head is barely visible from the back of the chair, must be short; tapping his foot to the beat of the rock music coming out of the speakers, every so often he lifts a wet strand of hair like a trophy, showing it in the mirror to the woman. The black strand of hair is long, oh my, very long, as if it has been yanked from the wet tail of a horse; the young woman must have opted to radically change her look. The woman is smiling and when Jacques theatrically tosses the long strand of hair on the floor, she laughs out loud. Jacques laughs with her, and so do his assistants. The atmosphere in the place is cheerful, in keeping with the holiday spirit.
I deliberately made my appointment for today. I’m not going anywhere for the holiday. It’s a tradition I’ve maintained ever since the children grew up and left home, and Jovan departed for the Other World. But like most people, I want to look good for the occasion. Unlike the young woman happily chirping away to the backdrop of Jacques’ snipping scissors, I do not want to change my look, I do not want to change anything in my life. Perhaps even the decision to start paying in for my funeral wouldn’t really change anything. Who knows? I’m not sure.
*
Have you thought about who will pay for your funeral expenses, the latest email from the insurance company asks. The question is followed by an appeal: Protect your loved ones! I know the email by heart; like all the others it calls on recipients to pay into the funeral fund and protect our loved ones from spending their money on what is a personal matter. As if this, not grief for the late dearly departed, is what would shroud us in mourning.
*
Jacques turns and gives me an apologetic look. The young woman’s haircut is taking longer than envisaged. I have to wait.
*
Okay, let’s take it one by one. First, who are my loved ones and what am I to protect them from. I have two sons. I haven’t seen the eldest in seven years, ever since I refused to finance his shenanigans. He quickly used up his third of the money that Jovan left, and then started taking money from me for drink, weed, trips, all of which smelled of alcohol and smoke. I suspect he also took money from his younger brother, at least until his brother got married. And I suspect that he had something to do with the mysterious disappearance of the string of pearls that Jovan gave me for our twenty-fifth anniversary. I told him I’m not giving you another euro until you shape up. He was angry. He stormed out and I haven’t seen him since. I don’t see my younger son often, especially since he got married and moved out of Paris. He’s over-sensitive, the complete opposite of his older brother, and of his wife, that cold glamour-puss who separated him from everybody. And so now I’m supposed to protect them? From what? I remember, one email said: Protect your loved ones from the dangers threatening you. There’s no logic in protecting others from something that threatens us… unless those others are unwilling to pay for our funeral. But who ever heard of leaving the deceased unburied? There are such things as modest funerals, and collective graves. Didn’t Mozart finish up in just such a grave?
*
Jacques puts down the scissors, takes a black towel to dry the young woman’s hair and then the fan and brush to stylize. He again turns to me as if to apologize. I smile and nod that it’s ok. Even though I arrived on time, I’ll patiently wait. I’d never in a million years let one of his assistants cut my hair; I’ve had that pleasure a few times when Jacques was away and I had to fight for every strand of hair on my head. Jacques knows what it means when I say “The usual” and accepts it. That’s why he’s my best friend. When I die I’d like him to do my hair, the way Alexandre did Grace Kelly’s when she died. Of course, I’m not the Princess of Monaco, but then again Jacques isn’t Alexandre. Anyway, I may outlive Jacques, who knows? It wouldn’t be fair, of course, he’s younger than me, but you can never tell about the future. Which is why I try to live in the present.
*
The emails (nobody writes letters anymore, everybody has switched to electronic mail) often say: Enjoy peace of mind when thinking about the future! For only five euros a month you can have peace of mind. But I have already thought about these things. When Jovan died I put some money aside and opened a separate bank account that I never touch. Just like my grandma who kept the money for her funeral in a blue envelop in the wardrobe, under the clean, ironed, lavender-scented linen. With time, grandma’s money lost in value but that didn’t make anybody mad at her. My money can’t lose in value in the bank. My sons will inherit it. Probate won’t be until after the funeral, of course, so they will have to bury me at their own expense and then get reimbursed later. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing, maybe that’s the right occasion for my elder son to do something for me. Along with my younger son’s wife; that would really make me happy. I’m sure my younger son will mourn me but he won’t be able to do a thing about the funeral without his wife. She controls their money, incoming and outgoing. But maybe, it’s also now occurred to me, maybe my elder son won’t show up in time for me to be buried and so my younger son will have to bear all the costs. Isn’t it better that I insure myself against such worries? I’m just not sure.
*
Jacques leans over and carefully pulls the chair with the young woman towards him. With another theatrical flourish he pulls the red cape off her shoulders like a royal mantle and casually tosses it over his left arm. She gets up and stands next to him. I was right, she is short, she barely comes up to his shoulder. The long hair must have positively swallowed her up. Her hair is now short, the cut asymmetrical: on one side it comes to just above her ear, then long strands of hair stretch over her head and down to her other ear. A single strand cupping the side of her face points to just beneath her chin. Her hair isn’t black, as I thought when it was wet, it’s naturally auburn. I can see that even from here.
The woman starts twirling like a spinning top. She’s laughing. She likes it. She now has the “look osé”, that daring look. She dared to do it. I don’t dare to change anything.
Jacques points to the chair at the back of the room where my hair will be washed and dyed. It’s now my turn. One day, I think to myself, one day I’ll muster the courage and choose a different, unusual hairdo. I’ll surprise Jacques, I’ll surprise myself and everybody who knows me. But for now let it be the usual.
*
Maybe the holiday isn’t the best time for me to be thinking about these things, but then am I really celebrating this holiday? Or am I doing my best to make it look as if I am, and then I’m sitting at home alone, all nicely dressed and coifed? Maybe I should use such a formal occasion to make a formal decision. Say, to decide about my funeral. I have to take care of it on my own, I tell myself, and walk over to the computer to take another look at the folder I’ve opened for the various offers I’ve received. Before I delete them all or eventually choose one.
Plan ahead and organize the funeral you want it, says an insurance company’s email in bold letters, advertising the best terms the market has to offer. And the price? I have no idea how much a funeral costs in France. Jovan wanted to be buried in the family grave in Serbia so that’s what we did. But this is where I will grow old, this is where I will be buried. I’m really curious about the cost, and want to check if the money I’ve put aside for my funeral is enough; maybe it will spark my memory of the story “Mum and Other Expenses”. It’s a good story, it really is.
Reading on, I see with a frown that in France a funeral can cost over 6,000 euros. There’s no way that the protagonist of MJV’s story would have been able to cover that kind of expense in communist Yugoslavia. What about me? Even after learning of the cost, I’m still not sure. Although, the more I read these emails, the more it feels as if I’m getting closer to deciding.
*
The most attractive is the insurance company that offers free registration with no medical questionnaire, you just have to enter your personal details online which requires “exactly two minutes”. There’s even a little alarm clock on the side. Gazing at the clock – there to remind me that two minutes is nothing compared to the peace of mind I will have on my way to eternity – I still hesitate.
If the mother in MJV’s story had paid in for her funeral insurance, I think to myself, he would not have written the story.
And if I were sure about what to do, I would not have written this one.

Translated from Serbian by Christina P. Zoric
 

 

Brompton Cemetery

It was also time to focus on writing something for the Brompton Cemetery Collection. I thought of words to describe this beautiful garden cemetery. Tranquil, peaceful, serene, reverent, ethereal, unworldly and blissful. But I concluded that choosing prose to express my feelings of this glorious resting place was insufficient. Sentences could only state the obvious, would seem inadequate, border on the awkward. I needed the allusive, the lyrical to express how I felt and what the experience here has meant to me.
I need to do something I’ve never done, something I have fearfully avoided.

I need to write poetry.
I lifted my pen and awaited the sword.
In this brier of Peace and Sleep
Rests easily, side by side
The marble manifestations of Man
With the living marvels of Nature.
Here I’ve found my place to pass.
A clearing between bramble and stone
Where Time trips unhurried to its beat
And boundless Space calms any angst.
Here in Brompton Garden Cemetery.
Where the life song of bird and wind trill
Among headstones of granite and lime
And where someone called Me hears
Ancient muses chanting history.
I wonder who pens these inept verses.
Is it I, a speck of dust landed by chance
In this refuge of the living and the dead
Here in Brompton Garden Cemetery.
Now at Peace with my internal voices.
Fearing not that final call of Sleep.
Consenting to who and what I’ve been.
Could it be I’ve found my home at last?
Here in the Brompton Cemetery

Bill Grimes