Where do you go to grieve when there’s no memorial with which to remember them?
I can’t recall exactly when I first spotted the floral tribute in a jam jar placed on a ledge of the Howard monument in West Norwood Cemetery. The memorial is near the columbarium and over the last 2 or 3 years I began to make a habit of looking to see what flowers would be in the jam jar this time. There were never any accompanying cards or identification, just the flowers and sometimes a tea light. They were always fresh.
The bright colours of the flowers always stood out against the pale plaster on the monument behind them and often provided a wonderful photo opportunity.
The Howard monument is a handsome and large one with two magnificent downturned torches on each of its four sides and a fulsome epitaph above the flowers.
But who put them there? A mysterious mourner like the black clad visitor to Edgar Allan Poe’s grave? A descendant of the family marking a special day?
It was at the West Norwood Open Day in July 2018 I finally met the mystery mourner. As I walked past on my way to the columbarium, she was arranging a new bunch of flowers in their jam jar and we got chatting.
She was a local woman, let’s call her Mary, and was nothing to do with the Howards at all. Instead her flowers and tea lights commemorated a loved one who’d been cremated a long way away. We talked about where do you go to grieve if you have no permanent memorial or your deceased loved one is too faraway to visit.
She mentioned the mourning process and said that she used to come everyday but now it was less often. ‘It doesn’t mean that you don’t think about them but it’s not quite so raw. You start to move on.’ she said and added ‘You can get caught up in it.’ I mentioned Queen Victoria’s extended mourning period after Prince Albert died. At some point, at which only the mourning would know, they will become a cherished memory and the outward mourning begins to fade. I didn’t ask her why she’d chosen that particular monument but maybe she had her own reasons.
When my father unexpectedly died, it had been difficult for me to grieve as I had nowhere tangible to go and so, like Mary, I did adopt an angel in a nearby Victorian cemetery as my mourning place. There was something about being in a place where the outpouring of grief was unashamed and open with the need to have a permanent memorial that said I was here. It felt more appropriate that the neatly trimmed municipal cemeteries. I felt drawn to it although he’d never been there.
But the old cliché is true in that time is a great healer, life does go on and the dead live in our hearts in the ways in which we choose to remember them. With me I became a blood donor in my father’s memory as he had also been one.
One day Mary may no longer feel the need to leave a floral tribute to her departed friend and it will have served its purpose. I will miss passing the Howard monument to see what flowers are in the jamjar this time.
RIP Mary’s friend whoever and wherever you were. I hope you know that Mary always remembered you and that you were not forgotten.
©Text and photos Carole Tyrrell