Filey is a place where strangers come to leave their memories. The parks are full of darkly stained benches bearing name plaques, dates and short tributes. There are trees and bushes bearing markers celebrating someone who once walked where I walk and who would still recognise a place that changes only slowly and reluctantly. Often they are a memorial to someone who was not a local. They commemorate someone who was either a regular visitor or who arrived to spend their final years in a place that they had always longed to spend more time in. They are likely to have had some of their happiest times in the town or out walking the beach and foreshore. They were perhaps never completely accepted here, in a place like Filey you rarely are unless you were born here, but they have finally found a way to stake their claim to being a part of the place now that they are gone. They have left their mark. The benches are solid and dependable, built to last and they are sometimes visited by those who remember a living person and not just a name affixed to some nicely carpentered planks of wood. A living, breathing person is recognised, someone who is unknown to most of those who walk past, even if they bother to read the plaque, but who is still loved and missed. They have two simple messages. I was loved and I loved this place.
The benches receive visitors graciously. Their pilgrims leave cards or bunches of flowers wrapped in cellophane tied to the end of the bench which stay there as they slowly wither and die, their message of love dampened by rain and buffeted by the wind. For those who see them days or weeks later it seems like a second death, but for those who leave them it is an expression of enduring emotion. It is a way of being able to come back to a place which holds happy but now painful memories and still have a sense that the person who once shared those memories with you is still there, waiting for you to return.
Somewhere to go to remember,
A place to return and take stock.
A space that accepts your pain and your grief
And finds no need to talk back.
A beacon of hope and defiance,
A solid replacement for loss.
A place to retrace the steps of a life
And find the courage to look back.
There are regular pop up memorials too which appear and disappear on the cliff top. They may be cryptic bunches of flowers in the sea, a cultivated primula among the wild flowers or short epitaphs handwritten on bits of stone. They rarely survive more than a few days. Of course the benches will also be replaced one day, but for now their visitors can sit on them, leave their tribute and comfort themselves with thoughts of immortality. For the rest of us walking among solid manifestations of grief left by strangers to honour people we never knew is a daily memento mori.