Daniel Whalen’s backyard has a flower bed, surrounded by a wall of flat stone laid by a mason. It’s filled with a profusion of tulips in dazzling colors, but there’s no headstone to mark his wife’s grave.
The view is of Narragansett Bay. The sound of a bell buoy clangs a blue note over the water and carries to his sloping backyard on tiny Prudence Island.
“I think this is a beautiful spot to be laid to rest for eternity,” Whalen said. “This is where my wife is buried, and I’ll be planted next to her--not anytime soon.”
Whalen drew raised eyebrows, and disapproval from some relatives, when he disclosed he wanted to bury his beloved Anke, his wife of 48 years, in the backyard of their island home. She died of cancer Oct. 28.
But the 70-year-old retired quality-control engineer won a fight with town officials for the right to walk up his steep lawn, say a prayer and talk to her.
“I knew some people would think I’m morbid, but I’ve never been quite concerned about what some people think,” he said when stating his case before the zoning board.
The board chairwoman got choked up when she heard his plea.
“It was evident that it was strong love for his wife,” said Wanda Coderre, whose voice still cracks with emotion when she thinks of Whalen’s presentation last December.
“Mr. Whalen and his wife were a very close couple. He was very emotional,” Coderre said.
After requiring that the burial be supervised by a funeral director, the board unanimously gave Whalen permission for him and his wife to be buried there, where they had spent half their married life.
Just 138 residents live on the seven-mile-long island, originally a community of summer cottages in Narragansett Bay. Over the years, owners including the Whalens enlarged their homes so they could live there year-round, timing their trips to the mainland with the schedule of the Prudence Ferry.
Wooded and remote, the island is a place where neighbors know each other well, but can hold them at arm’s length when necessary, Whalen said. The residents, who must possess a certain amount of independence to live on an island where the only commercial enterprise is a convenience store at the dock, rallied around him when he said he wanted to bury his wife on his property.
None of Whalen’s 22 nearest neighbors objected.
“Everyone on the island agreed with him,” said Fran Vada, a year-round resident. “We need a cemetery,” she said, by way of explanation.
Whalen met Anke, a nurse who had emigrated from Maastricht, the Netherlands, in Woonsocket soon after World War II. Whalen, newly home from the Navy, met her on a double date with his brother.
Nine months later they were married in his hometown of Millville, Mass. The couple traveled often, touring Europe and Anke’s homeland.
Their only son died nine days after birth.
The Whalens bought the island cottage in 1972 and Anke kept the yard full of flowers.
When she died, Whalen was devastated.
“He had a nice turnout at the funeral,” island resident Arlene Goulet said. “The whole island was invited. He put a sign on the dock.” More than 100 people came.
“She was a very nice lady; she loved her flowers,” Vada recalled.
Whalen has willed the property to his nephew, and should the family no longer want it, the parcel would go to the Prudence Island Conservancy.
But for now, he is content tending a garden for Anke.