Dear Death Writer

*The Death Writer is a blogger and a friend of mine who specializes is writing about, well, death.*

Dear Death Writer,

I am not sure why I thought a trip to the cemetery would be so spiritual, so innerly motivating.  I suppose I thought we would be there longer, have flowers and stones, perhaps tell a story or two.  Instead we saw the graves and left.

My parents and I drove out there and met my uncle who I hadn’t seen in about twelve years since my grandmother’s funeral.  My dad hadn’t seen him for around eight years.  Somehow their parents’ gravesite was the perfect uniting ground.

I did notice that the tree was gone.  Back at my grandmother’s funeral we had mentioned how she would have liked that spot because it was so close to the tree with its large branches reaching over everyone.  Close enough for some shade on a hot day.  It’s gone now.  In its place is a dip in the ground, some disembodied roots at the edges and a couple of concrete cylinders with some sort of engraving on them.  The roots made me think the tree was torn out during one of the tornado-like storms recently run through the city, but the cement made my mom believe they were digging something up.  Digging what?

The Jewish section of the cemetery is small and none of the gravestones are very fancy.  Its tradition to put a rock or stone on the marker to show that somebody had been there, but we forgot to bring some along.  Just across the path you can see Muslim graves.  I’ll let any symbolism there speak for itself.  We had to get into our car and drive to find my great-grandmother.  She was born Christian and wanted to be buried with her sister.  I never understood separating religions in the graveyard.  It’s all the same earth we sink into in the end, isn’t it?

My great-great aunt passed away in the 1960’s and was buried in the Christian section of the cemetery.  After my great-grandmother died when I was three years old, her cremated remains were put in the same spot and a new headstone was made.  I asked my parents if the two sisters had planned it that way, to be buried together.  It was my great grandmother’s sole decision, her sister had no idea.  That was when I got the willies.  Sisters or not, close or not, how do you make the decision to disrupt somebody’s grave without having their permission in advance?  Regardless, it always takes a decent amount of scavenging to find them.  They aren’t surrounded by any other family and they aren’t near any significant landmarks.

And that was it.  We left for an early dinner at some barbecue joint that had been featured on TV and happened to have a portobella sandwich on the menu.

There was no tingle down my spine, no feeling of connecting with the past or some other plane of being.  There wasn’t even a stone to show I had been there.

I’ve been thinking a lot about life in the past few days since the visit.  The lives of the deceased, the lives of the past.  I’ve been thinking about celebrating lives, how times change, how close we get to death every day.  But mostly life.  The way I learned about the mourning process in religious school is that we don’t mourn somebody’s death, but we celebrate his or her life.  That has stuck with me more than nearly any other lesson on my religion.

And so I will leave you with that.  Let us all go forth and celebrate life.

Yours truly,

J

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3 thoughts on “Dear Death Writer

  1. Hi Jill:
    I just happened to see this post on facebook. I have been talking a lot about end of life wishes with my husband over the past few days due to my blog and the challenge I’m doing. We talked about the importance of a marker of some sort since we both want to be cremated. We ended up agreeing that it isn’t necessary. My mom wants to be buried in Arlington, but once she dies, I doubt I’d every make the trip to the cemetery. Her memory will exist in my mind, not in a place, especially a place that is foreign to me and that holds no memory of her life. But, she’s not dead, so why am I saying this?
    Yes, celebrate life. I’ve been to three funerals now and I have to say that that is the way to go.

    • I have so much I could say about why I don’t want to be cremated and end of life wishes, but that would be a whole separate post. I’ll just say that according to Judaism, you’re not supposed to be cremated and I like the idea that my body will decompose back into the earth as naturally as possible (no fancy schmancy casket for me, a plain easily decaying one, please!). I think the idea of being able to visit a burial spot is very much in my culture, too. I don’t personally believe the soul is in the grave, but it’s nice to have a place to go.

      • I understand and respect the wishes of those who desire cremation, but I’m with Jill on the burial. Call it culture or my religious upbringing, but deep down it just feel like the right option for me. Perhaps I’ll change my mind, but for now that’s how it stands.

        Also, I’m in the odd (some might say fortunate?) position of already knowing my final resting place. About a century ago, one of my great-grandfathers purchased several plots for his immediate family, not knowing that one of his sons would end up relocating his family to NY. The ownership of these plots eventually passed to my mom. There are more than enough vacancies for my parents–who, I’m sure (but I will ask!) want to be buried together–myself, and, a spouse if I ever marry.

        In a morbid sort of way, it pleases me to know that we’ll have at least four generations of my family together in that cemetery…even if the familial connection isn’t readily apparent from our surnames, one of which is Chinese, and the other is Scotch-Irish. Of course, the story goes that my great-grandparents didn’t wholly approve of their Presbyterian-reared son marrying my Irish Catholic grandmother…I’m thinking the introduction of Chinese blood will disturb their eternal rest. Hehehe.

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