Strolling through a cemetery is a surreal endeavor for me. My visits embrace daylight, not moonlight. And sunny, summer cemetery journeys with a cool breeze outweigh rainy days. Do you find cemeteries to be friendly places or frightening places?
Graveyards serve a purpose for the living — a sacred place to honor the dead with tears, flowers and memories. “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living,” surmised Marcus Tullius Cicero.
Each tombstone tells a story. Each grave is home to a person’s body — the spirit has passed into another realm. Each plot is a sacred place because that’s where a loved one is buried.
Country cemeteries on the side of a hill and near a church are my favorites. Imagining the preacher saying a prayer over the casket before dismissing family and friends seems familiar.
Memorials in stone belong to former soldiers of past wars. History, etched on grave markers, lives on in cemeteries. Holidays prompt us to honor the fighters of freedom.
Other dates on tombstones tell stories of untimely deaths. Premature death is a reality, and we think we are exempt. But we are reminded to be grateful that we are still above ground.
Seeing square areas of turned over soil, waiting on a headstone, signifies a recent burial. I know these families are grieving. So I hold on to serenity, lest it fly away.
Tranquility walks with me until I come across a child’s grave. Statues of angels, teddy bears and various items decorate these resting places. Thinking about the family left behind is too sorrowful, so I do not tarry.
Perceptions of Death
As a child, I heard the death, burial and resurrection story of Jesus myriad times. And I would imagine the huge stone as an angel rolled it away. But children’s concept of death is different from adults.
During a high school trip to Washington, D.C., we visited Arlington National Cemetery. As I looked over the sea of white, square headstones, I felt small, solemn and mystified. But teens perceive immortality for themselves.
Every person is a story and has a story; narratives composed of happenings in seconds, minutes, hours, weeks, months, years, decades or more. What happens between birth and death is my unique story, and yours as well.
Physical death to spiritual life, the end of a beginning and the beginning of an end. Death is unknown territory, the final frontier. Throughout the history of civilization, people have created an afterlife.
Religious groups find life and meaning beyond the grave. As flesh and bone return to earthly elements, another dimension opens as the ashes blow away. Most cannot fathom death as the end of existence.
I, too, find the belief in Heaven reassuring. I do not fear death at this point in my aging life, but the leaving behind of loved ones induces an indescribable feeling.
Death is a topic that it is often the focus of books, songs, theater productions, movies and poetry.
“Next Door to the Dead” is a book of poems by Kathleen Driskell (Kentucky Voices, University Press of Kentucky, 2015). Driskell grew up next to a graveyard in Kentucky. Angels, tombstones, caskets and epitaphs intersperse the themes. In one of her grave-shaped poems, the actual grave speaks to readers, motioning us to “stop here, lean in, put your ear near. Nearer, nearer still and I’ll tell all.” We are guided to ponder our own mortality in-between the lines.
“Driving With the Dead: Poems” by poet, teacher and quilter Jane Hicks (Kentucky Voices, University Press of Kentucky 2014) is about rural cemeteries and rituals. Her award-winning poetry addresses the themes of loss, grief, and death along with the grace and resiliency of Appalachian people. Her poems mourn men lost in war and a child killed by a boulder from an illegal strip mine, among others in the collection.
Nonetheless, human beings die sooner or later on planet Earth. The body goes to the cemetery, while the spirit goes to paradise.
Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.