Why the Cemetery

Many of you who follow my blog came to me through Jon Katz. As readers of his, you know that he now walks at our local cemetery, Woodlands Cemetery. (for non-followers he is at http://www.bedlamfarm.com) Today he wrote about the tombstone of James and Roxanna.
Quoting Jon, “Seeing this tombstone though, made me feel a little differently. I thought for the first time that it might be nice to lie in this cemetery side by side, in a loving clasp for all time. Maria could design something quite wonderful and strange to go on the tombstone, she could sketch us walking together or holding hands, which we often do. Maria laughed, and said she loved the idea of both of us ending up as ashes, dust to dust, being scattered here and there. “
I would like to share with Jon and Maria and all of you out there, that you can have it both ways. If you choose cremation as the final disposition of your human body, have your ashes scattered where ever it is that you want them and save a little to put in a permanent place-a place called a Cemetery
I don’t know why, but I have always loved cemeteries. In my hometown of Mullens, West Virginia, there is no cemetery. The nearest ones are at least 30 miles away. If you want to visit the grave of an old friend or a beloved teacher, you don’t even know where to go. I think I felt, even as a young person, that something was missing.
What is it about cemeteries that I love? There are many things, starting with the peace and quiet. There is not a great noise level present except on mowing days. There always seems to be a feeling of a quiet hush even when I am engaging in conservation with a friend while walking in the cemetery.
I have heard it said that cemeteries are a waste of land. I feel that cemeteries are wonderful way to conserve land. They are often an oasis in the middle of urban and suburban sprawl. The “Rural Cemetery” movement, which began in the 1830s, created final resting places that were also attractive parks that provided a place for the general public to enjoy refined outdoor recreation amidst art and sculpture previously available only for the wealthy. They are their own kind of land conservancy where there can never be a busy highway or shopping plaza built.
Every tombstone aka headstone, marks a life lived down through the generations and will be there for the generations to come. Every name on a headstone is still a name in the universe. There is a record that that person lived here on earth. Today we may have no knowledge of the persons lying under the ground but we still know the names of James and Roxanne Bennett. They are gone but in some way they are not forgotten. This is a tribute to their time here on earth.
Cemeteries are as much about Life about Death. Yet they help us face that Death is inevitable and by facing this, we can live Life more fully. They are a place to remember those who have gone before us and to reflect on those who will come after us. They help us understand that every life is of importance.
I hope it is many years before Jon and Maria have need of a tombstone but I also hope that they reconsider having one. And perhaps you, my reader, will also give some thought before saying, “Just scatter my ashes.”
P.S. I want written on my tombstone—Here lies Elizabeth, buried amongst those she buried.

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5 Responses to Why the Cemetery

  1. Catherine says:

    A lovely explanation. Thank you.

  2. Hi, I am responding to a post you gave a few days back. It jogged my memory to a fairly recent session with my daughter in a pre-planning funeral home We were approaching clothing for the deceased and my daughter informed me that she did in no way want to view me in my coffin. I was shocked (she thinks cremation is the way to go). I said, well then do the embalming and preparation of my body for viewing since I know my sister would want to see me. We were discussing such plans since her father is now in residential care living, having had a rough passage the past few years. I will address this again with her and relay your idea that this is a form of respect, of which I truly believe. When I was a child, open caskets were usually done for departing community members; also, I was taken to each funeral and had to pass by the coffin.
    I’ll admit, it was a frightening thing, but I am glad I was exposed to the death reality like that.
    I don’t expect either of my children to view my/our remains–perhaps my son will–he is a deputy
    police officer and has seen much in the way of tragedy. Happy to have your slant on things.

  3. enicholsross says:

    I am so glad that you are discussing your wishes with your family. That is so important. I just don’t understand why people don’t want to see people in coffins. It is that last opportunity to be with the body of a person you love. It is respectful and can give peace to those left behind. Maybe your daughter will change her mind when the time comes. At least you are giving her the opportunity to do so.

  4. Ardene says:

    My brother has said he doesn’t like seeing the body – prefers to remember them as they were alive. I, on the other hand, find it gives me some closure – makes the death real for me. (We both grew up with open casket funerals.)

    I wonder sometimes what will happen with cemetaries over time. I live so far away from much of my family, and so many other people do as well. I remember making the rounds before memorial day with my mother to put flowers on relatives graves, but my generation doesn’t do that.

    There is a historical cemetery (http://www.oaklandcemetery.com/) where I live that gives tours during various times of the year, and I enjoyed the one I went on.

    • enicholsross says:

      I think that cemeteries will always be important even if it is to remind us that life and death is part of every generation. As I walk in the cemetery I look at name and think of that name as a life lived. I do not like to imagine a world where we completely disappear at the time of our death.

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