Last Sunday I visited the Kensal Green Cemetery it is located in North West London and is one of the oldest (opened in 1833) and most distinguished public burial grounds. I went to visit Mary Seacole’s grave and joined a cemetery tour that runs on a Sunday afternoon at 2pm. The tour takes two and a half hours, you visit a small section of the 72 acres of grounds. An unusual thing to do you are probably thinking, well the tour guide was a lady and on the tour was me and four other men. Interesting gender observation of the higher ratio of men. Not something you think to do on a weekend, take a tour around a cemetery. I love London, as there are endless places to go, “…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” (Samuel Johnson, 1777)
Walking around the cemetery it was like going back in time, there was hardly anyone there, so it was peaceful, you could hear the birds and during some moments feel the strong wind. Walking past so many lives, stories, achievements, failures. You see the graves that have been looked after and the graves that have been deserted. During the tour some of the lives of the people in the graves came to life, with the stories that the guide told us. There are 700 notable people buried there from the children of George III to the servants of Queen Victoria. Engineers and artists, politicians and preachers, scientists and sportsmen, writers and actors, doctors and lawyers, financiers and philanthropists and explorers. I asked the tour guide if she knew where Mary Seacole’s grave was and she was not sure, so I did not find what I was looking for, I have contacted the Mary Seacole society to find out where her grave is. I will be going back to see if I can find her grave next time.
Death is something we do not really discuss in society, until we are confronted by death and have no choice. This leaves us shocked, confused and unprepared for when it does happen. When I was studying counselling I came across the grief cycle by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, 1969. This is a model that goes through the stages of grief from her book ‘On Death & Dying’, published in 1969, in which she explained her now classically regarded ‘five stages of grief’. This model is often referred to when working in change management with people in organisations. Change is happening all the time, if we notice what is happening and are present we can see this. If we are somewhere else, living in the past or the future, we are shocked when we are brought to reality with our relationships at home or work.
Another famous book called ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’ by Sogal Rinpoche (1992) encourages us to reflect on life and death and being prepared, and aware that death will come:
“when we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings.”
Questions to ask yourself-
– Are you swept away by an ‘active laziness’? It consists of cramming our lives with compulsive activity, so that there is no time at all to confront the real issues? (Sogyal Rinpoche)
– Do you use death as a guide to help you with your work? (“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.” Steve Job’s)
– Have you thought about your last moment and how you want it to be, will you accept it and smile or resist it and frown? (Sogyal Rinpoche)
– Do you have a legacy? Do you want one? What will it be?
How to find Mary Seacole’s Grave-
Here are some tips: Mary is buried in St Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, 679-681 Harrow Road, Kensal Green, London NW10 5NY. Nearest Tube Station is Kensal Green. Tel: 020 8969 1145. Office open 9-4.30pm – they have a fact sheet on Mary and are happy to direct to the grave. Mary Seacole’s grave number is 6830. To find her grave once at the main Cemetery, turn right into the Catholic Cemetery, carry on until you reach the chapel (on the right), turn left at the chapel and follow the path to the first crossroad, then turn right and walk a small way (look for graves numbered around 6829) and Mary’s grave is over to the right – it stands out from many of the others as it has a renovated headstone.