While visiting Westerveld cemetery in Driehuis, the Netherlands, I stumbled upon a peculiar gravestone. A Dutch poem was engraved on it that made me smile, but after reading it I noticed another intriguing fact. The gravestone had a birthdate, but no death date. This person was still alive!
Pre-purchasing a burial plot is often done with family graves, but not so often for a single person. As soon as I got home I googled his name, Dick Verkijk. Born in 1929, which makes him 90 years old on the day of the interview, Dick worked as a journalist and reported about the civil war in Yugoslavia. He lived in Utah when I tracked him down. I got in touch with him and asked him about his reasoning behind reserving his own burial plot before his death.
When did you decide to buy a cemetery plot and erect a gravestone for yourself, and what was your motivation for doing so?
Dick: I decided that about five years ago. The motivation is told in the poem on the grave stone. A close translation could be:
“To throw things away I never learned
That’s why I’m for burying and against being burned.”
Why did you pick Westerveld cemetery? Does the distance not make it inconvenient now that you live in the US?
I was born in The Hague but grew up in Haarlem. While I lived in Haarlem, Westerveld was the only cemetery nearby where you could buy a grave for all eternity. On top of that: all my kids and grandkids live in Haarlem.
How often have you visited your own gravesite since you reserved it for yourself?
What are your beliefs about death and the afterlife? What does death mean to you?
I’m non-religious and don’t believe in an afterlife. I see death as a natural happening.
Why does having a grave for all eternity especially appeal to you, if you are non-religious? Is it a romantic thought related to matter itself and the consumer society?
When I am in my hometown Haarlem and visit the St.-Bavo church, I walk over the gravestones of people who died in the 16th or 17th century. The past is overtaking the present. I like history and these gravestones bring the past back to the present. I hope that people hundreds of years after my death, will watch my gravestone with the same feelings I experience when I walk in the St.-Bavo church, and have fun with my poem.
Does the thought of dying frighten you?
Not at all.
How did your loved ones react to the fact you have reserved your own grave? Or are they unaware of it?
They are aware of it and I even consulted them, also about the poem, before my decision. They liked my poem.