I love a good list don’t you? To-do lists, shopping lists, lists of lists… I have so many lists on the go at any one time that I invariably never tick everything off, but at least I always have a handy reminder nearby of what I’m supposed to be doing in my life. And we’re all busy people right? So busy living, becoming better people, making more time for friends, drinking hot water with slices of lemon in, taking pictures of the hot water with slices of lemon in for Instagram…. All that ‘Carpe Diem’ stuff. But once you’ve Carpe’d all your Diems – what then? I don’t mean to go all morbid on you or anything, but somewhere in between Chanel handbag on my shopping list and Bikini wax on my to-do list, I suddenly felt like I needed to choose my own burial plot. So I did: I went out and I bought my own grave.
They’re hardly comparable are they – a Chanel bag and a grave? I mean I can’t even keep anything in it until I pop my clogs, and it might look a bit strange if I try and show it off in all my selfies…
Why I bought my own grave
Now, I’m not old and I’m not young. I’m not exactly a prime specimen but I’m in fairly good nick health-wise. It makes no odds anyway: we are all going to die. Stating the gloomy obvious there, I know, and I won’t pretend that the very thought of it doesn’t make my eyes brim with sadness and utter dread at the thought of the inevitable. But what I think we are all guilty of – unless there is some sort of bleak diagnosis on the horizon in our families – is to presume we will die conveniently in our own homes in old age, preferably peacefully in our sleep, to die one at a time, and that we will outlive our parents and our children will outlive us.
Of course what happens occasionally (but all too often) in real life is things like car accidents with multiple tragedies, parents surviving their own children, swift illnesses or deaths abroad that create a whirlwind of unforeseen paperwork on top of the family’s grief, financial pressures, and difficult and miserable administrative tasks.
With that in mind, I decided I didn’t want to leave any of my loved ones with the added burden of guessing where and how I’d like to be laid to rest, whether it happens in the near future or in the 2070’s (how weird does that sound saying 2070’s?).
How do you buy a grave?
I first decided where I wanted to be buried, which isn’t always straightforward if you’ve moved around or are uncertain of what the future holds. But for anyone with a location in mind, it’s worth making sure that the cemetery or burial space you’ve got your heart set on will have room for you. Some beautiful Victorian cemeteries are now closed for new plots and many London cemeteries are expected to be completely full in the next fifteen years, so don’t assume that you will be able to waltz in (or be carried in) to your dream resting place just like that.
I contacted my local authority and arranged a meeting with one of their officials who showed me round my chosen cemetery and talked me through the options. Your local official will tell you about what’s available in cemeteries near you, such as having ashes interred, being buried in specific faith sections, rules about how many graves are permitted in each plot, as well as any restrictions on memorials and headstones.
How do you choose?
Well, in my case I was more or less given a section that I’d have to choose from, which is based on things like their current capacity and which order they plan to fill up the sections. After that, it’s more or less personal preference. I stood and looked around the cemetery, and decided on a spot near a path so that people would hopefully still visit my grave even on rainy and muddy days without ruining their shoes, and far enough away from a neighbouring electricity substation because I just couldn’t bear the thought of spending all eternity laid to rest near an irritating humming sound!
It was as simple as that really. My relatives came and chose graves either side and we paid our money and got our paperwork. The paperwork in question is the Grant (or Deed) of Exclusive Right of Burial – sometimes called Grave Deed – and means that only you (and the people you want to be buried in that plot – usually your immediate family or whoever you’ve chosen) will be buried in that grave. The rights last usually up to 100 years and there’s the option to pay extra and extend the rights and also to transfer them to a relative so that they can be handed down through the generations especially if there’s space left for future family funerals (but it’s worth making sure you have very clear instructions for your family/solicitor in this respect).
It wasn’t the prettiest thing I’ve bought. It wasn’t glamourous nor is it fashionable. But for someone so terrified of death, someone who can be reduced to sobs within seconds at the mere thought of saying goodbye to a loved one forever, it brought me a surprising amount of comfort.
It’s taken some of the dread away, not just from the prospect of my own demise but saying goodbye to my family when the time comes. There’s something horrible I always think about walking away from the grave after a burial; leaving them there, on their own. Especially in unfamiliar surroundings. Being able to visualise where we will all end up together as a family has taken the sting out of it to a certain extent.
So in the toss up between Chanel leather goods and my final resting place, the hole in the ground won. I might not get my money’s worth for a long time yet, but maybe it brought me more solace in the long run. After all, as they say: you can’t take it with you.[Note to self: have written into will “to be buried with Chanel handbags“]