The people of Bangor Erris bury their dead on a hillside, on rising ground that looks out westward towards the sea, the Atlantic Ocean. Below the road is blanket bog that stretches out towards Blacksod Bay, where shiny water can be seen, and the low-lying Mullet peninsula and the height of Slievemore on Achill Island. It is a fine view they have on that height of ground and it always gives me an expectation that the dead are going to rise up any moment.
It’s a ‘get up’ kind of place.
My mammy thought of being buried there beside her home place and beside her mother and siblings, but in the end we decided on Westport, and Aughaval cemetery, under the shadow of Croagh Patrick. It is good to be buried where people can come and visit and my sisters and mammy’s grandsons live nearby.
My father is buried in the town where he was born, Tyldesley, near Manchester, and he is in good company there, surrounded by his family members, parents and siblings, and by all the people he knew in life. We carried his name over to Ireland, to the town of Westport, where his father came from, and the name is inscribed on our mammy’s gravestone.
A cemetery I remember well is in Monte Cassino in Italy. I went there one summer day and visited the Allied cemetery, one of three – the other two being the Polish and the German cemeteries. They are beautiful places and beautifully kept but they recall the most horrendous of battles that took place in 1944.
The other cemetery that must now be mentioned is here in Stirling and is where my wife, Margaret is buried. She died in 2012 at the age of 47 years. The place is beautiful, on rising ground that looks west and north-west towards the hills of the Highland Line. It is a faraway horizon that is conducive to long meditations on life and on the hereafter.
I used to visit this cemetery every few days at first, so great was my sorrow at losing Margaret, but gradually I eased off as life moves back in where death has been, and asks you kindly to live it. We cannot stay in the graveyard. It will not do.
These thoughts come to me today as we read the Gospel story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb on Easter morning. She is worn down in grief, not only at the death of the Lord, but now at the stealing of his body. Can things get any worse? She hears a voice and then she recognises it. Life is here again. Death has done its worst and has not triumphed. Mary becomes a witness to the risen Lord, a witness to life, and a witness for us.
We will overcome all the darkness that threatens to destroy us, and the last of those enemies to be destroyed is death itself. When our time comes, we can imitate the Lord who entrusted himself into the hands of God, and God did not fail him.
Those graves in Bangor face towards the evening and the beauty of the setting sun. But the sun also rises.
19 April 2022