Yesterday’s post made me think of urns and cemeteries.
When I was little, cemeteries terrified me. I would hold my breath when we drove by and pray, peeking out the corner of my eye wishing it away. The thought of bones, blood, and bodies from soulless humans connected me only to movies like Poltergeist. I pictured the eyeless skeletons floating in the muddy pool hole while Craig T Nelson tried to save his family.
Later in life, my dad and I would visit cemeteries around Easthampton, MA, and look at the old stones, some moss-covered, others grand and clean which displayed the family’s wealth. They were like standing history books, telling just so much of the story to make up your own. Some stones were very difficult to read, the words like daughter and great-grandfather gone with the wind and weather, fluttering away.
My dad and I would drive slowly, respectfully, down the dirt paths in the cemeteries, the ones that had hopeful grass blades down the center of the tire marks. We sought out the old stones and markers, and we would use what we read to try to learn about the deceased. We noticed their ages and realized there were many babies buried in the older cemeteries over a century ago, and that the families usually had their own section. Now, people and families are different, mine included.
Like I mentioned in yesterday’s post, in order for Roger to have a marker at the veterans cemetery, at least some of his remains, or as the funeral director said, “a handful,” had to be actually placed into their own little urn. The rest of the ashes we have in a wooden box in Roger’s display case, snuggled up to our other urns that our pets’ ashes, Zoeeee, Annie, Yankee, China, and Gracie, are in. I’ve never actually seen any of the ashes, so I trust that strangers were truthful with me.
I feel comforted having the urns in my living room, and I can’t imagine putting them in the ground. When does that change, the fear of the departed’s remains? It’s not instant. The weirdness people feel is a direct societal gift that is fed by movies and stories from before any of us can remember. Visions of dead people are coupled with gore and creepiness, which is unfair to the vessel that used to house our loved ones’ souls.
Of course nobody wants to experience death, and no one wants to see the empty soul house, but we should at least respect it and stop fearing it. There is beauty, true, historical beauty in cemeteries, and instead of the depressing aura that floats around, why not place a couple picnic tables and swing sets on the perfectly manicured, too-green grass? Get rid of the plastic flowers and plant real ones. Tape ripped-out coloring book pages to the front of the stones, ones that their small child may have colored.
Don’t you think our family members and friends would like to hang around there more if it was a sweet place to be? Yes, we mourn them, but does that mean we can never celebrate them, make then more comfortable in the place that some believe their bodies will remain forever?