Can I rant about German law for a minute? So I have written about my parents before. Both are deceased, my dad passed in 1982, and my mom followed him in 1998, 20 years back. Which is why I just got mail from the cemetery management of the small town where my parents‘ burial place is located, saying that I have until the end of the year to have the tomb removed. Apparently, in German cemeteries, you only rent the gravesite, for a limited period of time, and my parents‘ has expired 20 years after my mom passed away, no extensions permissible. Am I the only one to find that macabre? I mean, the whole ritual that we do with with the funeral, and the speeches, and the flowers is designed to find closure, and it works a charm of course. But for a lot of people (me included) it doesn’t really stop there. They go and visit the graves of their loved ones, just to go see them, talk to them, connect with them, bring them flowers – whatever. I don’t know how many times I’ve read that topos in a book or seen it in a movie. I have certainly done it myself.
Since I live hundreds of miles away from that place, I don’t get to go there often. But I do feel a connection to that cemetery, and I especially love my parents‘ headstone. It’s a simple, undressed stone, and the epitaph simply says their names and the respective birthdays and days of death. The last time I was there, I saw that some moss had started growing in the crevices of the rough surface, and it made me smile, and think: Look, life goes on, even in a cemetery. So I don’t go a lot, but were I to live closer, I’m quite certain I would. It had (until I received the letter from the authorities) a certain permanence if you will, it was a place I knew would always be there. It was, after all, my parents‘ final place of rest.
Not all that final, evidently. Granted, I wasn’t the person to make the arrangements. That was my mom, when my dad passed away. She must have been told about the legal situation, not that she was probably listening, grief-stricken and in shock as she was at the time. And it never came up when she died and was buried in the same place 16 years later (well before the 20 years mark), and the management probably thought I knew. Well, I didn’t.
And now, I’m supposed to renounce this place I had wrongly assumed was mine, to make room for other dead people, and for their bereft. I guess it makes sense in a way, what with the overpopulated, aging society we live in. If you’re aware of these things in advance, you’d be well advised to not put any deep emotional roots down there, to spare yourself additional grief.
But as a migrant who has no ties to her place of birth, no childhood home I could return to and (duh!) no parents left, I can’t help but feel, once again, discarded. Also, whacked over the head, once again, with the realization that nothing in this life last forever, evidently not even a f…ing grave.
Educating myself on the web, I found it’s common procedure to either recycle the headstones (stonemasons who are contracted to remove the tombstones either remove the epitaphs from the stones and give them away to poorer families for free, or smash it to gravel that is frequently used for road-building (in which case you get a discount on their fee for removing the whole shebang) … I mean, WTF, that is just appaling, right?
Nope, not going to allow my parents‘ memory to become a piece of turnpike. I can see myself standing on some autobahn bridge or other, staring at a strip of road … I always wondered what it was people were doing who stand up there, and hoped they weren’t going to jump; maybe they weren’t crazy, but simply paying their respects to Aunt Edna or Uncle Joseph?
I’m not saying this country hasn’t, all things considered, been good to my family. In fact, most of the time, I’m happy enough in Germany. A stable democracy is nothing you can take for granted in this day and age, and I appreciate many, many things about living here. I married a German man, I have two beautiful kids, and I adore my friends.
But right now, my inner child can’t help feeling betrayed and cheated out of a thing I held very dear. Mad world …