Driving to Montpellier, the big city, the other day, the in-car conversation between J. and me was mostly about the scattering of funerary ashes. It's a topical subject with us at the moment, and special measures are being taken to carry out our scatteree's wishes.
Luckily the scatteree had been as practical and sensible as we might have expected and hadn't imposed too impossible or unwelcome a load on the next of kin. No last wish, for instance, to have ashes scattered on the outgoing tide at the Cape of Good Hope, or in the Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, or thrown to the four winds from the top of Chimborazo and Cotopaxi, the deceased having once been seduced by a poem with these magical names in it and having been led away by the Grim Reaper before he/she had a chance to alter the will. Or, come to that, on the moon, theoretically possible, but where presumably the scatterers would have the embarrassment of the ashes hanging in mid-air, if there was any air for them to hang amid, in the absence of gravity as we know it.
The most recent issue of The London Review of Books carried a very readable piece about the business of death. We learn, for instance, that cremation ashes are relics of the hard bits, bone mostly, ground up into a kind of grit. Foreign bodies impervious to great heat, the remains of stents, dental implants, ceramic hip-joints, etc, are raked out before the ashes are delivered to the customer. Having that sort of mind, I suspect that the whole business of cremation may be liable to more-or-less honest error, and that what goes on behind the velvet veil may not always be what it seems. I sometimes feel the same about abattoirs.
We learn also that the life of death, so to speak, is 25 years, that's to say about a generation. It's after this period (unless the deceased is someone very notable indeed) that graves become forgotten, physical memorials decay, while memorial funds, always dodgy and the very devil to administer, run out of puff much sooner than that.
When I made a will some years ago I specified exactly where I wanted my ashes scattered. It was the only specific request I made, and I don't know why I made it. It's not appropriate now and it would put my next of kin to fearful trouble. Every other disposition I left to them, to do whatever they felt appropriate. After all, all that dreadful paraphernalia of funerals is for the living, not for the dead, and I can't imagine that ex-I would have the slightest concern about or involvement in the whole wretched business. So I'm going to change it, and leave the scatter venue, if any, up to them. If to aid them in their choice I had to identify the places where I had been truly happy, there would be an awful lot, but two places would be paramount: the playing fields at school (so the scattering would probably have to be done secretly, at dead of night), or in bed.