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In Memory Of

posted 2 Jul 2012, 12:32 by I.D. Est
I often think about death when out walking on the heath. Not because it's such a depressing place, but because of all the  park benches dedicated to people who have passed away. 

I think they are called memorial or commemorative benches. Most of them have inscriptions starting with "In Memory of...", followed by a name, maybe a quote and a short sentence about who they were and when they died. It's so moving to get this tiny glimpse into the life of a stranger, who by the way feels strangely close when you're having a little rest at their bench. 

Some of the benches are placed right next to the busy main paths. Hoards of families, walkers, runners and countless dogs pass them by every single day. Other benches are placed in more secluded areas of the heath, in quiet contemplative surroundings. 
I adore coming across one of these hidden benches. If the inscriptions have started to fade away,I run my fingers across each letter, trying to decipher the meaning. One word at a time, I learn who the bench is dedicated to, and when they died. 

I secretly want to be remembered on one of these benches, so much better than being tucked away at a cemetery.  

Having said that, some people are a bit concerned that our parks are being overcrowded with benches, plaques and inscriptions. It's a parkland after all, and should therefore be all about nature and the living. If people want to remember their beloved, they could plant a tree or something. I like that idea, but I think there should be room for  different options. We should be able to choose how we remember our loved ones. 

I was only three years old when my grandfather passes away. Death was such a confusing concept, and it didn't help that I was told that he was in heaven, and  that he was buried in the ground. The first time I went to his grave I knocked on this headstone, expecting him to answer. What did I know?

Looking back, having a bench out in nature dedicated to his memory, would perhaps have made more sense to me. 

Last year the short film "Benches" was released. It's a really cute story about two park rangers who upkeep the benches on Hampstead Heath. One ranger gets lost in the inscriptions on each bench, the other ranger is more practical and just wants to get the work done. 

I'm more like the first ranger, but I'm forever grateful for all the rangers who make sure the benches are cleaned and preserved for years to come.