Editorial: More for the living than the dead

Talk has started, once again, about a new public cemetery. Most recently, the minister of health, Molwyn Joseph, announced that his ministry will host a public consultation to get feedback on plans for the long-delayed public cemetery. We love public consultations, and we would love to see a new cemetery, so, at this point, we will congratulate the minister for kick-stating things and beginning the discussion in the right way. At least, we appear to be getting somewhere (again).

There is no getting around the fact that we need a new cemetery, and there is no getting around the fact that most people do not want a cemetery in close proximity to their homes and communities. We understand the whole ‘jumby’ thing, but we haven’t heard complaints from the current cemetery’s neighbours.  Of course, there are more serious issues than jumbies.

For too long, the St. John’s Public Cemetery has been “overcrowded” and poorly managed. People visiting this sacred ground are forced to stand on graves and headstones, and many people have a problem with that. Let’s face it. The St. John’s Public Cemetery was not designed for 21st century St. John’s. Over 200 years ago, it was meant to accommodate a population a fraction of the size of greater St. John’s today.

If we were to guess, it is the chaos and unsightliness of the current cemetery that offends most people. We say that because there are many cemeteries, the world over, that do not offend. In fact, many are considered places of serenity because of their park-like appearance and atmosphere. In some places, people utilise them for recreational activities like running and yoga. We don’t expect that level of comfort from fellow Antiguans and Barbudans, but we hope that in time, when they are exposed to an expertly manicured cemetery, they will change their ways of thinking. Remember, this is a place that houses our loved ones, not a rogues gallery of criminal jumbies.

This brings us to the opportunity that is standing before us. With a blank slate, we can create a truly serene park that could one day attract people rather than repel them. Like everything else, it needs planning and commitment. A clear vision, supported by these two things, could produce a public cemetery that would be second to none in the region. We admit, it would be a strange thing to boast about, but, in time, we feel that we will all be able to acknowledge the benefits of that badge.

The general location has already been chosen, and Tomlinson is the winner. Yes, it is easy for anyone outside of Tomlinson to support the location, but if all concerns are addressed, then Tomlinson could be a true winner in all of this. We know that realisation would not happen in the early days, but eventually it will if the vision, planning and commitment materialise and when the superstitious nature of people subsides.

If we are allowed, we would like to recommend that we adopt a simple, easy- to-maintain design that allows for a beautiful cemetery that is affordable as well. We will not go as far as to say in the vein of a military cemetery with all of its uniformity, but, at the same time, it is worth noting that military cemeteries are considered some of the most beautiful and serene in the world.

As we have stated before, a plan for a cemetery should not be one that spans mere years or decades. From the onset, it should be one that can span centuries; it will be, after all, the final resting spot for our loved ones. It will also be an important place that will form part of the historical record of our society. So, let’s make sure we do it right from day one.

Cemeteries are nothing new so we do not need to reinvent the wheel. We can look at many examples around the world for inspiration and pick one that, with a few tweaks, can be perfect for out bit of paradise. The one thing that we must not do is to pick a plan that will ultimately create another St. John’s Cemetery in a couple hundred years, where people are forced to trample on graves, and there is no other incentive to visit besides attending funerals.

Maybe all of this ghoulish talk of cemeteries and the thought of death are too depressing for some so it is a good time to think about how you live life. For a bit of inspiration on living life to its full potential, we turn to motivational speaker and author Steve Maraboli, author of Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience, who said, “Cemeteries are full of unfulfilled dreams … countless echoes of ‘could have’ and ‘should have’… countless books unwritten … countless songs unsung … I want to live my life in such a way that when my body is laid to rest, it will be a well needed rest from a life well lived, a song well sung, a book well written, opportunities well explored, and a love well expressed.”

So, let’s hope that when we have lived that full life, there will be a new cemetery where we will be able to rest in peace in a place of well-manicured tranquility.

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