Big Red Rock – Choosing Mum a Beautiful Memorial

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earlston kirk church yard gravestones

When my Mum died in January, I was given a brochure of gravestones as part of my “bereavement pack,” this sent me into a tail spin as modern mass-produced gravestones, like many things “manufactured” these days, are frankly not very nice.  I was determined to try and get something more in keeping with our families’ penchant for “lovely old things” and more in keeping with the old part of the church yard my Mum was lucky enough to get a spot in. Here’s the view from her “little corner of a Scottish field that will be forever England.”

view of black hill from earlston church yard

This is just a wee story about how I came to make my choices and hopefully it will help others in a similar situation – the point of the story is really this – you don’t have to buy a soul-less gravestone from a brochure, you can take your time and commission a beautiful piece of art – it won’t necessarily cost you any more money. If you can, buy handmade and support local crafts people!

I cast about to find a local stone carver and it turned out that a lovely woman I used to play tennis with is a stone carver  – I never actually knew what she did when we played tennis – and we were recently reacquainted at the school gates – fate I tell you.  She agreed to carve a beautiful stone for us.  Given that I could have anything I wanted, how to choose? Here a couple of examples of Natasha’s wonderful work.  Working with her has also made the whole process a lot easier than it might have been otherwise – thanks Natasha.

natasha smith stone carver scottish borders

hand carved raised lettering on red sandstone

Our church is made from local red sandstone and shines bright like Ayers rock up on the hill behind my house, so I wanted my Mum’s “rock” to be made from a similar stone – not shiny black granite with gold writing.  I wanted her stone to look like it belonged in the church yard.  Gravestones here are now restricted in size to 30cm wide so it couldn’t be too big.  I wanted a rock that I could sit on so that when I go and “visit” so I don’t have to stand awkwardly; also, I do occasionally take a cup of tea up there when the sun is shining so I thought It would be pleasant to be able to sit on the rock and have a cup of tea with my Mum.

We visited a local quarry near Berwick-upon-Tweed to choose a piece of local Red Sandstone and it turned out they had giant pieces of Red Sandstone salvaged from the Historic and World Renowned Scottish School of Textiles Building in Galashiels which was sadly demolished a few years ago and replaced with a giant and hideous Tesco Supermarket.  We chose a lovely upcycled stone – so I don’t even have to feel bad about the energy and landscape destruction involved in quarrying.  The quarry cut the face off so that it was only 30cm thick and to provide a smooth surface for Natasha to carve.

salvaged red sandstone destined to become a memorial stone

Having chosen the stone, the wording was a problem, how do you sum up someone’s life in a few words?  At first, I felt I couldn’t possibly sum my Mum up in a few words so I considered having no words at all other than her name and dates – but this didn’t feel right.  I looked at other stones in the church yard and most seemed to say things like – loving wife of, mother of etc etc.  I wasn’t happy with summing up her life in terms of relationships to others as this implies she wasn’t a person in her own right and also leaves out anyone who is not listed. My Mum was a very inclusive person who meant a lot to a lot of people so I wanted the wording to reflect this.

I resisted the temptation to put “just bleedin’ knackered!”on her stone though – although I know she would be amused because she always wanted to reply “bloody awful” when shop keepers asked her how she was – she liked to tell it how it was – obviously she didn’t feel bloody awful everyday but she thought it daft that we Brits always reply “fine, thank you” even when we’re not.

After a great deal of deliberation and tears I came up with wording I like very much…

SXXXX XXXXX

born XXXXXXXX

1941 – 2012

Gave us Life, Love and laughter

I feel this includes everyone in the “US” – anyone who knew her and who might be reading it; but, it also refers specifically to me and my twin.   Since she died, a lot of people have told me how much she made them laugh so I wanted her stone to remind everyone of the fun times.  Also, since any flowers I might put on the grave will die, I am having two cowslips carved into the side of the rock, “growing” out of the surrounding grass – she loved wild flowers especially cowslips.

The “big red rock” has now been delivered to Natasha’s workshop here in the Scottish Borders near Ancrum and the design has been finalized; and work is underway.  It is a strange feeling but at least I feel I have chosen something beautiful.

red sandstone rock ready for carving mum's memorial headstone

In two days, it would have been her 71st Birthday and this stone will be the last gift we can give her.  Last November, when she turned 70, I asked her if she wanted me to organise a tea party with some of her pals and she said “No, I don’t want to be 70” –  she was worried about getting old – and not afraid to say it.  We had a lovely family tea party at home.  She was “fine, thank you” and looking forward to Christmas; but, out of the blue in early January, she died from a brain hemorrhage – I was with her holding her hand while she stopped breathing.  I sang her the special song she used to sing to “US” – the same song her dad sang to her.  So, on her Birthday on Sunday, I am going to celebrate her not being 71 – she will remain, in the words of Bob Dylan – “Forever Young”.

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