What is the most beautiful memorial in the world? Many people think it's a perfectly proportioned building of white marble on the banks of the Yamna river in India: the Taj Mahal. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan raised it in memory of his dead wife Mumtaz Mahal. The story goes that he next wanted to raise an identical building across the river, but in black marble, not white. The first Taj Mahal would have symbolized the joy that his wife had brought while she was alive, the second the grief that came after her death.
Today even a billionaire would struggle to afford a memorial like the Taj Mahal. Material and labour would be hugely expensive. So would a site to build on. No, even the very rich have to be content with something more modest nowadays. But there is a treasure that any of us can use for our memorial. It's a very old treasure but also a very new one. And though it's the most valuable thing that human beings possess, we can have it for free if we want it.
What is it? It's words. If we choose the right words for our memorial, we can move people far into the future. Sometimes we might want to choose a single simple line, but poetry has always been a popular choice for tombstones and other memorials. In the past, death came more often and more obviously, so poets have addressed the topic in many poems. Often they wrote about making the most of life because it quickly passes:
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today,
Tomorrow will be dying.
That was written more than three hundred years ago by the English poet Robert Herrick. But it remains good advice and many people have chosen it as an epitaph, which literally means something written "on a tomb". This is something more modern:
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start.
That would be a good message for grieving friends and relations. It was written by the poet W.H. Auden, who saw a lot of death and suffering because he lived through the Second World War. But even before that war he was very aware of the quickness with which life passes. In the 1920s and 1930s it would have been impossible for an English-speaking poet to forget this truth, because so many important poets died during the First World War. And they died very young. Usually when you look at a famous person's birth-year and death-year, there's a big space between the two. But not for Rupert Brooke, who was born in 1887 and died in 1915, still only in his twenties.
One of the poems that made Rupert Brooke famous begins like this:
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
Like nearly everyone who goes to fight in a war, Brooke faced the possibility that he would die in it. In everyday life, young people find death an easy thing to forget about. But it comes to us all in the end. We know that, so we can plan for it. And making preparations for it can be a burden off the mind both for ourselves and our loved ones.
A funeral plan can be a great help both psychologically and financially. We choose now, with a clear mind, and know that all the arrangements are made for our passing. If we want a memorial and some lines to accompany it, we can find out all we need to know and make the best possible choice. Whether we like the idea of something simple or elaborate, a funeral plan can cover it and make sure that we say goodbye exactly as we want and are remembered exactly as we want to be.