Monday, April 29, 2013

Cemeteries and thoughts

Writing is my favorite form of self expression, but I've let myself become so busy with other things that I've been slowly letting it slide.  It's been over a month since I last sat down to write and I feel the void. It feels like an old friend that I haven't visited in a while and I miss it.

I need to write, not necessarily for others, but to give a voice to things that so often slip by unnoticed, but that make my life so beautiful and full.

I've learned that for everything new that we put on our plates, something falls off, whether we intend for it to happen or not.  One of the things that has fallen off my plate (among way too many others) has been writing. I hope to make it more of a priority again.

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Luke has been asking for the past several months if we can go to a cemetery so a couple of weeks ago we decided to take the kids to a nearby Catholic cemetery to enjoy a beautiful spring evening.  Of all my kids, Luke has been the one that seems the most curious about death.  So much of this little boy reminds me of myself.  I have a bit of a morbid fascination with death myself.  Not really with actually dying, but particularly by funerals and the raw emotion that surfaces when the someone's light is extinguished.

One of the images that will forever be etched in my memory came from my grandfather's funeral several years ago.  I'll never forget the moment right before his casket was to be closed for the final time and his children were invited to say their last goodbyes.  They huddled together in a hug, the group heaving in a collective sob.  My heart broke at seeing their grief, but felt the almost palpable love and unity they shared at that moment.

Before going into the cemetery with our children, we talked to them about the sanctity of cemeteries.  We encouraged them to show the same respect and reverence that they would show at church.  I explained to them that a cemetery is simply a resting place for the bodies of the deceased, and that their spirits- the real part of who they are- is in heaven.  To me, cemeteries have always felt like some of the most sacred places on earth.

As we walked through the cemetery we admired the beautiful headstones, calculating the age people were when they died, and guessing their ethnicity based on their names.

We came across a grave with fresh dirt over the top, where the sod hadn't yet been laid.  When I read the name I realized it was one of the residents from the nursing home where I used to work.  I had cared  for his frail, pain-ridden body, and had thought many times how much of a welcome respite death would be for this poor man.  And it had come.

Further on we came across a long line of small headstones that were inlaid, flush to the ground.  The plots were small and close to one another.  As we read the names and ages of those buried here, we realized this row must be reserved for small children.  10 days old, 14 months, 4 years old, 2 1/2 years old- all so young.  It took my breath away.  My children's reverence turned to solemnity as they quietly walked by, studying each headstone.

And then I saw another scene unfolding, that just like that of my grandfather's funeral, I know I will always remember.  A young man entered the cemetery through a distant gate and walked to a fresh grave site nearby where we were, still covered with fresh flowers, wreaths, and balloons.  The sun was setting behind him and I saw his silhouette huddled over the grave site, weeping.

It was then that I realized what I believe makes cemeteries so sacred- it's the volumes of tears that have moistened the earth, the vastness of grief, the hearts that have been broken at the sight of a fresh mound of dirt next to a silent casket.  How many prayers begging God to grant them so small relief from their pain have been offered from this very place?

I left that night, not depressed, but deeply sobered by the reality of the ticking clock of life.  The hourglass of our lives neither reverses nor waits for anyone.

This image comes from "Mitchell's Journey"- some of the most profound and touching writing and photography I've ever come across.  This photo was taken of Mitchell's mother, shortly after his death, but the scene reminded me of what I witnessed in the cemetery that day.  If you haven't read "Mitchell's Journey," there are fewer things I would more highly recommend.