Winston Churchill had nothing to do at the time so he gave great thought to planning his funeral, but I think it's a waste of time, especially since (in my case) they're going to use that screwed-up prayer book anyway, no matter what I say. And frankly, my dear, I won't give a damn.
Still, when you discover (as I have just done) some of the things people are likely to carve on your headstone it gives you pause. I'd just as soon it not be a want ad:
"Sacred to the Memory of Mr. Jared Bates who Died Aug. the 6th 1800. His Widow aged 24 who mourns as one who can be comforted lives at 7 Elm Street this village and possesses every qualification for a good wife."
A book called "Grave Matters" (Ballantine) appeared on my desk this week. Remarkable speed, as it was published this year on the eve of All Saints (Oct. 31). Assuming it dealt with Dan Quayle or too many people who don't know about birth control or some other symptom of an imperiled planet, I began to browse.
To my astonishment it deals with nothing serious at all, but is a collection of inscriptions set over graves in churchyards. As we know, those are commonly composed by optimists or worse and usually have little pertinence to the poor bones beneath.
But far be it from us to start up an inquiry into truth.
Anyway, once I started on this collection of epitaphs gathered by E.R. Shushan I found them like peanuts and couldn't stop.
Needless to say there are beautiful epitaphs known to all, but scarcely any of them are in this book except Boatswain's. Boatswain was, of course, Lord Byron's great dog "who possessed beauty without vanity, strength without insolence, courage without ferocity, and all the virtues of man without his vices" and so on until even the cats begin to cry.
But back to our first point, that if you leave it to others there's no telling what gets carved on the rock:
"Old Clerk Wallace wanted a wife and the Devil he sent him Anna. 1770."
"Here lies my wife, here lies she. Hallelujah. Hallelujee. 1750."
"Charity, wife of Gideon Bligh
Underneath this stone doth lie
Naught was she e'er known to do
That her husband told her to. 1650."
Now a certain number make no sense, or not the sense that was probably intended:
Unmarried as yet."
"To the memory of
Major James Brush
Who was killed by the accidental discharge of a pistol by his orderly 14 April 1831
good and faithful servant."
Sometimes the wording is ambiguous, as in this one:
"Here rest the remains of John Collins a serjeant of the royal marines
He was one of England's Gallant Sons
Before Sebastopol was blown to smithereens."
So how much of him actually rests there? Here's another puzzler:
"Here lies the body of James Vernon, Esq., only surviving son of Admiral Vernon."
And poor John McFarlane "drowned in the Watter of Leith By a few affectionate friends."
Some inscriptions express resignation or doubt:
"Phineas G. Wright
Going, But Know Not Where."
Some of them portray the deceased more clearly than was intended:
"Here lies the body of Lady O'Looney, great niece of Burke, commonly called the Sublime, She was Bland, passionate & deeply religious, Also painted in watercolours, And sent several pictures to the Exhibition. She was first cousin to Lady Jones. And of such is the Kingdom of Heaven."
Factual accounts rarely go wrong:
"Sacred to the Memory of Betsy Harris
Who died suddenly while contemplating on the beauties of the moon ..."
One senses a good steady fellow here:
"After having spent a very Chearfull evening at Balfour House with Mr. Bethune and his Family, the Reverend John Pinkerton was found in the morning in his bedroom sitting in a Chair by the Fireplace with one stocking in his hand Quite Dead."
Equally sound appears Rebecca Freeland:
"She drank good ale, good punch and wine
And lived to the age of 99."
One imagines Williston Winchester had sense:
"Uncle Wid, One of nature's noblemen, a quaint old Fashioned, honest and reliable man. An ideal companion for men and boys. Delighted in hunting foxes and lining bees."
It doesn't become a man, once he's dead, to start whining about raw deals, though a surprising number are keen to get in a jab or two. Far better is the sentiment of Dr. J.J. Subers, clearly a fine fellow:
Had a Good Time."
Ruth S. Kibbe sounds somewhat guarded, but no doubt accurate:
"The Lord Don't Make Any Mistakes."