Friday, 27 June 2014

Disposing of Dead Bodies, Part II

In England cremation is now the usual way of doing things. Relatives must then decide what to do with the ashes, which would fit in a shoebox. Very often they are scattered in the grounds of the crematorium; that is what my sisters did recently with our mother’s. Her sister, however, said shortly before she died some years ago (well she would hardly have said it afterwards) that she would like them scattered in the garden of the French painter Claude Monet, which are large and beautiful and open to the public: that is where he painted the huge water-lily pictures that are among the finest or at least most impressive things in London’s National Gallery.

Ashes are of course legally still a corpse, and so there are regulations about what one may do with them. Taking them home is all right, but taking them out of the country needs all sorts of permissions and papers. As for scattering them in someone else’s garden, that would certainly need special permission, and in the case of Claude Monet’s garden this permission proved impossible to get. (Incidentally it is typical of my aunt that even after death one of her whims should cause others difficulties.)

My uncle got round the problems with the directness of a Yorkshireman raised in a poor part of Hull. He tipped the ashes out of the fancy container in which he had been given them at the crematorium to take home, and into a supermarket carrier bag. Then he drove down to Dover and took the car ferry to France, drove to Monet’s garden, paid his few francs entry and, carrying his innocent-looking plastic bag, found a nice spot, looked round to make sure he wasn’t being watched, and emptied the bag into a flower bed. Job done.

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