Monday, August 20, 2007

Gravestones

Yesterday, Ell and I passed an old graveyard on the way home. One of the taller, bleached-white, headstones had broken from old age and the top had been leaned up against the bottom by the faithful grounds keeper. (This wasn't the cemetery the local papers had reported vandalism by young fools. This was just weather and time creeping up on old stone.) I wasn't sure I wanted to write about this today, because I'm not really in a morbid mood and I think I may have posted a similar thought some other time. Oh well.

I've been fascinated by graveyards and tombstones since I was a kid. Reading the ages of the people... seeing husbands next to wives... siblings next to siblings... war honors placed by the soldiers... so much history and stories held into a tiny dash between two dates.

A few years back, when I first started doing the Youth leader thing, I took the teens to the local cemetery. I had them do gravestone rubbings on paper with crayons. Then we went back to the church where I asked them questions about what we'd done. One of the questions was, "Do you think anyone remembers the person under that gravestone?" This was a canned question I'd found in the same lesson guide I found the idea for the rubbings. I thought it was silly, but used it anyway to spark conversation. The reason I thought it was silly: who could actually forget someone they loved? But it's not actually that silly is it?

When was the last time you visited your great-grandfather's site? We're not talking about far removed people, only your parent's grandparents. For most of us our grandparents were big parts of our lives, as they were to our parents. So why don't we visit them? Time and memory are the usual, and honest, answers.

I'll one up this thought and make it really personal. Ell and I aren't having kids. My entire family lives at least 3 hours away. If we died tomorrow, they'd be at the funeral, and may even visit for a few years on the anniversary of our demise. But the visits may end there. I'm not attacking my family at all, I'm being practical. Besides my family, who else would visit? Our friends? If they're not visiting their own flesh and blood, what would make them remember old acquaintances? After five years or so, I bet our gravesides would never again be visited. Kind of a sad thought, but it's reality. Our time on earth is short enough, and our memory is even shorter.

9 Comments:

Blogger Kimmy said...

Eh, I kinda like graveyards too. There is so much history and so many stories there.

I also am one who tries very hard to visit the graves of dearly departed relatives on a regular basis. There is something I find comforting about it, and I hate it when someone chooses to be cremated and there is no where to go to "visit" them. (That's probably another topic entirely.) But, I do visit as often as I can.

So, if you and Laura kick the bucket, plan on my visits.

Wow, that's morbid, and I almost added a smiley face to the above sentence.

Must end this now. Living to do!

4:48 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

You're right, kind of a morbid topic. But interesting to think about it isn't it. And thanks for the visits.

6:26 PM  
Blogger Faye Pekas said...

Sam, we have totally different views of death and graves. I don't see the graves as where my loved ones are. Those are just places where the bodies they shed are buried.

I think holding the memories in our hearts is much more important than visiting the graves that hold the ramains.

When I die I will be cremated and my ashes buried under a tree by a creek. I don't expect anyone to ever visit that tree but I hope that people will remember me occasionally and will say I was a good and kind person.

And I don't think death is morbid. I see it as a new beginning.

That being said, I too like to visit graveyards. I like to read the tombstone and imagine what the people were like and how they died. Interesting stuff huh?

12:10 AM  
Blogger Stephen said...

I share your fascination for graveyards. There is a nice old one across the street from where I live. It's a lovely green place and I often enjoy walking there.

Who will remember us? Probably no one, so live your life for you!

-smith

12:37 AM  
Blogger Adrienne said...

As usual, I have two cents squeaking away a comment! I'm not into cremation, 'cause, well, it just creeps me out. But, I do agree with faye about the whole place part of it.

3:04 AM  
Blogger Lil' Kiddz said...

I had a very dear friend in high school who would go walking with me every day at Columbiana's cemetary. We loved looking at all the different headstones and imagining what life was like for the older generations. It was very interesting. That being said, my husband works for a very, very large graveyard where many (sadly) of our family and even friends are buried. I am there quite often and it is usually to see him and not the loved ones buried there. I have sdaly become desensitized (sp?) to what it is because it is his work place. I have however taken my son to a few relatives so that he understands it is not a place to be afraid of. I could go on, but I'll stop there. I have my two cents about cremation as well but I think I'll leave that for another time. Good topic though.

8:44 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Wierd topic Sam, but one that I have heard you talk about before. I disagree that people will forget us and only remember us by going to the cemetary to visit. Personally I think that earthly reminents of me aren't really going to matter anyways. I actually am all for cremation for myself, because what we were on earth is only the shell of who we will be in Heaven. Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust as the saying goes.

11:40 AM  
Blogger kimw said...

Seeing the graves of babies always makes me sad.

6:19 PM  
Blogger Zooomabooma said...

I like the cremation idea. I personally think memories are what's most important, not having somewhere to visit someone's buried remains. But that's just me.

As for old graveyards, I remember one time seeing one up on a hilltop along the side of an interstate highway in West Virginia... this was almost the middle of nowhere so I felt it would be cool to go up there. Got off at the first exit and found my way up to a small dirt road up the hill to the old iron gateway. No one had been buried in decades and some graves went back to the mid 1800's if i remember correctly. While I don't care to ever be one of those people someone's looking at in 100 or 150 years, it's weirdly neat to check out those folks.

2 more -- St. Simons Island, Georgia has a very cool way old graveyard. Way old! Oh, 3 more now -- New Orleans has interesting ones, where people aren't always buried, you walk through rows of above ground crypts.

And this memory sucks, it's in Illinois somewhere when I lived for awhile kinda near Chicago... stopped in while riding my bike, looked around at these old graves, maybe around 120-150 or so... something like that. I remember there was the remnants of an old wooden church a few feet away in the woods, old and crumbling and forgotten maybe for the past century! Anyway... later that same evening or maybe right around that time when I was looking around in the graveyard, a plane crashed into corn fields in northwest Indiana, killing about 120-150 on board. I don't believe in any supernatural connection here but it was just a little creepy.

And yeah, in those old graveyards, lots of children who only lived a day or a week, many many many children who died very young in those days. Says somethin' about modern medicine!

7:55 AM  

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