Charles Cowling

I spent a joyous day on Friday at the National Funeral Exhibition, an expo dedicated wholly to the merchandise and service providers of death. How much fun can that be? A lot, let me tell you. A great occasion for dismal traders (any colour so long as it’s black or green). Surreal—and sublime.

But you don’t want to know about new generation hearses or the man holding masterclasses in reconstructing smashed up heads. Me neither. We are much more interested in lovely people doing life-enhancing things, aren’t we?

People like Paul Sinclair, the motorcycle funeral man. He’s a national treasure. At the end of the day he gave me a ride in his sidecar and then, knowing I’d once had one, let me drive it. Woo-hoo stuff. I’m still thrilling.

For me, two stand outs. The first was Sarah Walton’s memorial ware.

The urge to commemorate our dead with a vertical physical marker (flat won’t do) is as old as humankind. It’s an urge that’s not going to be educated out of us, for all that we can see that conventional cemeteries decay, their older graves testaments to amnesia. The natural burial movement has yet to address this to the emotional and spiritual satisfaction of their clients, most of whom find it hard to curb the urge to mark the spot.

As Thomas Friese has it, “As presently conceived, green burial forbids or strictly limits enduring grave markers to favor ecological factors. This is a short-sighted aspect of its conception, which forgets that a cemetery is not merely a place to dispose of dead bodies but to memorialize and honor human lives. A majority of society will not accept no memorialization; widespread acceptance will thus be impaired.”

I don’t have the answer. But I have a belief that a physical marker does not, for many, need to be over the spot where the body lies—or the ashes. And that’s why I am a believer in the garden memorial. It’s close. It beautifies where you live. You can take it with you when you move.

Sarah’s bird baths and doves are sculptural rather than utilitarian. They are as beautiful as anything I have ever seen. Technically, they are astonishing. They are hollow, you can keep ashes in them, but you don’t have to. No photo does justice to them.

I’m going to talk her up wherever and whenever I can. Get used to it. Check out her website. Not only is she an artist, she is also, you will want to know, one of the very warmest, nicest people in the world.

Cremation urn for a cat by Sarah Walton
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