The Case for a Gravestone
Have you ever wandered through a cemetery reading the engravings on the headstones?
JOHN W. SMITH
JAN. 25, 1876 –
JUL. 3, 1917
A TRUE FRIEND
A life summed up in four short lines. We are born, we live, we die, we leave something behind. All of those souls buried beneath their grave markers contributed in some way to our world. Maybe they performed acts of great social or political significance or perhaps they just lived ordinary lives. Some may have experienced great worldly success, others tragedy and heartache. No matter what their life experience they had an impact somewhere on someone. And the markers holding the dates of their births and deaths are evidence they were here. Like the Inuit, inuksuk (markers of navigation for hunters and fishermen) gravestones are navigation markers of lives lived. When you walk through a cemetery you are travelling through the history of every person buried there.
Many people suggest cemeteries are taking up too much real estate with bodies and ashes and we should all be cremated and sprinkled over a favourite place or used for fertilizer (will that work?). Maybe walls of memory could replace cemeteries and our ashes and remains all collected and returned to the earth in some compostable fashion. That would be okay. I just feel it’s important to acknowledge the life of every individual. We exist, and something somewhere, besides a paper or electronic archive, needs to record that we were here. Gravestones serve that purpose. They are a permanent testimony to our lives.
When my mother died in the 1980s she asked for her ashes to be sprinkled on the golf course where she spent so much time. My stepfather complied, as I believe was his duty. My problem with her choice is the lack of anything to mark her life, her very existence. She lived, she died, she is no more, except in the memories of those who knew and loved her. And memories are important but I have no children of my own so when my generation of cousins is gone there will be no memories left of her; this saddens me. If a grave marker existed people could read her name, her birth date and death. In some small way, her memory would live on.
My case for grave markers came to the fore again last November when my best girlfriend, Joyce, of thirty years suddenly passed away. Unfortunately, she left little behind to cover the cost of her cremation and burial. Her next of kin planned to bury her ashes and plant a tree in her memory. Joyce would have liked that; she loved trees. But there would not be a marker acknowledging her place and time spent on this earth. That was important to me and to her cousin who had the responsibility of making her final arrangements. When I received news of her death, I immediately knew what to do.
At the time of my late husband’s death, I purchased a double gravestone and had my name and birth information inscribed to save the family money when I died. That was four years before I unexpectedly fell in love. Now, in a new relationship, I had decided I would not be using the cemetery plot for my remains. Who better than my friend to take that place? Joyce’s cousin agreed and arrangements are being made now for her burial in April. And the stone is being re-engraved with my friend’s name, birth and death information.
I loved Joyce dearly. I recognize I haven’t really dealt with her death. Losing her still seems surreal. She was too young to die, too full of love and giving. Joyce’s interment will be a sad but satisfying day for me. It will provide some closure, a place I can visit to and lay flowers in her memory, and best of all she will be surrounded by beautiful, mature trees.
If you ever find yourself in Woodlands Cemetery in Hamilton, you might just wander by a small flat stone engraved,
FEB. 13, 1945
NOV. 23, 2011
I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW
If you do, please stop for a minute. Beneath that stone lies the remains of a beautiful woman, a friend to many, who never became famous but whose heart, soul and generous spirit touched the countless lives leaving them richer.
This ends my case for gravestones.
©Wendie Donabie 2012