The inspiration for Death in the Memorial Garden came from an essay I wrote called, “Ashes, Ashes,” about the many ways we honor and “dispose of” our departed loved ones. In it, I described the grassy courtyard between our downtown Seattle church and its parish hall. The courtyard is called the Memorial Garden, and under it are buried the remains of many former members and their families.
To reserve a spot, you must agree that there will be no urn, and no marker other than your name on a plaque inside the church. You must also not be bothered by the idea that the grass above your resting place will be the scene of Easter Egg hunts, summer concerts, and St. Francis Day animal blessings. The soft green grass will also attract urban campers, as well as flocks of pigeons fed by an eccentric lady from the neighborhood.
After finishing the essay, I wondered, what would stop someone from performing a do-it-yourself burial when no one was watching? What if they didn’t bother to remove the ashes from the urn or other container, but just dug a hole big enough for everything, and carefully replaced the sod on top? And what would happen if this was the same location pre-reserved by someone else, someone whose internment was today? And what if the pigeon lady and her flock decided to attend the service?
So I wrote a mystery to answer those very questions.