A friend of mine who died about twelve and a half years ago is buried in Bristol. It’s a city that used to be my second home, but times move on, people change, and it’s not somewhere that I get to visit so much these days. On the infrequent occasions that I’m there, however, I always make a point of visiting his grave to have a quiet talk with him — he was, after all, a very close friend. And on each and every occasion I go to the cemetery, I stick to tradition and take a bunch of flowers with me.
I don’t know why I do it, though, because after talking to him for a little while I realise that he didn’t really like flowers. He simply wasn’t the flowery type. But he did like plants, and he would often wander round his flat attending to them with a fine water spray. Despite those clear memories, leaving a small ornamental cactus on his grave would just seem so wrong.
There’s an emotional level to this as well. After sharing some of my thoughts with him in the way we used to, plonking a bunch of flowers on top of him also seems wrong: “Well, I’ve poured out my heart to you, but now I’ve got to be going. Here, have these — I bought from the flower stall round the corner”. I wouldn’t have done that if he was alive, so why do it now?
On the last two or three occasions that I have visited his grave, I’ve ended up walking out of the cemetery still carrying my supposed mark of respect. Making my way to the cemetery gates, I’ve looked around the nearby headstones for a name that appealed to me, and then quietly placed the flowers on their plot. It felt like the right thing to do at the time.
For days afterwards, however, I can hear my friend’s distinctive voice in my head, mocking me in that teasing way he had: “You still haven’t left any flowers for me, you heartless bastard!”