My tongue is in my hand…

Graveyards and weddings

Posted on: October 16, 2008

There’s this old graveyard I like to go to sometimes, off of a country road.  There are only a few epitaphs I can make out completely and this one is my favorite:

The strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory of life is won.  The song of triumph has begun!

It’s so focused on the good part of death.  I wonder what the woman’s life was like.  Her name was Julia Pinyan.  She was 28 at the time of her death.  Many of the gravestones have broken or sunk into the ground, many of them are just too weathered to be read.  There are a few old ones replaced by new ones.  One of these has a folded flag held in place by a rock sitting at the top.  Another has a bouquet of fake flowers.  There’s a small, old stone, what I would think to be a child’s with a small tree growing right by it, the only one in the whole graveyard.  Did someone plant it?  I wonder who else goes to that graveyard and why.  There was a water bottle used as a spit bottle for dip and a mikes hard lemonade by the little bench.  The graveyard is surrounded by a small stone wall (maybe up to my knees), flanked by fields on 3 sides and on the fourth side, the entryway, a wooden sign with the name, some large trees, room to park maybe 4 cars, strategically, a brief gravel drive, and then the two lane country road, with fields on the other side.  On the far back wall of the graveyard is a flagpole flying the American flag and a small plaque stating who dedicated the cemetery and when.  The flag is the only reason I ever saw the graveyard in the first place.  The oldest birth date I’ve seen there is 1769.  The most recent death date was in the 1950’s, I think.

It makes me want to visit my grandparent’s graves, and Leslie’s.  I visited Leslie a few times on the way to school, before the interstate was finished and I took the back roads.  I know I went before I got married, I thought about her a lot then, what part she would have been playing in my life at the time.  I told her I was tying a blue ribbon inside my bouquet, for her.  I visited my grandparents too.  My paternal grandmother and grandfather, and all those other relatives in the church cemetery.  I told Paw Paw I was passing out smarties, like he did, and getting married on his birthday.  I told Maw Maw I was setting one of her cameos in my bouquet.  I told them about the shadowbox I make of their wedding, the newspaper article, pictures, the garter.  And I visited my maternal grandmother, at her church graveyard.  She loved church, but of course, they all did.  I told her how I was using the cake topper from her wedding cake, and the shadowbox I did of her wedding with the newspaper article, pictures, and gloves.  I told her I loved her because she’s the one I most felt I didn’t show that enough.  She’s the one I understand the most, now that she is gone.  Of course, I have her journals.

I don’t think I have to sit at a gravestone to be connected with the deceased, I think I carry them with me everyday.  Besides the physical reminders; pictures, pottery, an apple juice bottle with a note in it, the Buick emblem  that I put on the Christmas tree, notes in yearbooks.  But sometimes, there’s something about a cemetery.   I think they’re peaceful.  And like Julia Pinyan’s epitaph states, the grave can be triumphant, as it has been triumphed over.  I don’t really think it matters, for the dead, how they are buried, where, or who they are buried with, what their gravestone looks like or any of that.  I think there is beauty in cremation or in green cemeteries, where there is no headstone and a pine box casket.  Even in those cases, I think people attach something to place they place the body.  I think having a tangible place to acknowledge can be helpful.  I like the history you get from graveyards though.  The names and dates and epitaphs.  The wives and children and ages.  It’s interesting.

I don’t really think people die.  I think this; bodies die, souls rest- waiting for a day to all be reunited and in resting have peace and understanding of God, silent communion, and then the rest of a person- their energy, their thoughts, their passion, their life, it moves in us and through us and around us, it is ceaseless.  Our lives are marked and moved by people when their bodies are gone as much as they are before.  Sometimes more.  The opportunity to touch or talk to someone is gone, but the opportunity to live with them is always present.  As long as you are willing to carry them with you, or leave open doors within you for them to enter, open eyes to see their essence in the things around you.  But grief, grief is still heavy and wrenching.  Grief is still an ocean; at times the calming rock of waves and at times a dark tidal pull.  Grief is still.  It is not eradicated by hope, because death is still loss, even if it is gain.

But back to cemeteries.  I think, outside of a sanctuary, they are one of the most holy places.  The prayers and mini sermons…The strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory of life is won.  The song of triumph has begun!

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3 Responses to "Graveyards and weddings"

That has occurred to me. A couple of years ago I spent more time that I’d’ve ever thought I’d spend in a graveyard. I would picture caskets and their occupants.

What of graveyards without a marker or sign to suggest there are corpses submerged in the loam right under our tread? I wonder, if a sense of its holiness will somehow leak through the strata of earthworms and roots guzzling nutrient rich soil…

And… what are your thoughts on a wedding in a graveyard?

I wonder if you get notified when I reply to this, because it’s months old, but it’s funny, I’ve thought about this comment several times, sometimes wondering why you spent so much time in a graveyard, and if you will tell me if I ask and sometimes deciding what I think of a graveyard wedding. I guess it’s not a bad place at all, symbolically, it’s thought of as a creepy place, but with all the praying and blessing and such, it should be thought of as a sanctified place, and the gist of marriage is till death due us part and many couples are buried side by side, so I mean, if you’d already bought your plot, you could just have the wedding right there…

Well, in my bad old days I smoked dope there. I meant no disrespect. It was just a quiet place where people kept their distance. My thoughts were free to run wild over the gravestones, to root into the sepulchral loam. I was conscious of the sea of skulls and all those teeth and things shrunken and mummified in tuxedos and dresses, gravity greasing gold rings down bony, dusted up fingers.

I liked sitting by a particular century and half old gravestone, made from bitter marble (as a child I had a miniature John Adams figurine I had found by a dumpster behind a flea market, and I tasted it, as children are wont to, and it was a bitter scald on my tongue. Helpless to resist I tasted again… the gravestone had the same texture, the same smell of the stone John Adams was made from, some kind of bitter marble) with faded, almost undecipherable engravings encrusted with limpid lichen and tattooed by rain. She died a long time ago.

I sat under the old evergreen and wondered what it was like to be buried in that day, in one of the first graves in that small plot that had bigger ambitions than it imagined. Who knew the city would grow, to pave the roads of memory, the slabs of fleshly lumber tumbling into that ever growing patch of ground.

I used to be afraid of death. But I’m not now. At least that I tell myself these days when I ponder mortality. I imagine I would be singing a different tune when approached with its imminentness.

As for a wedding in a graveyard… what better congregation than that of death, on the antechamber of a new life? They hold the ground they stand on, and cheer with a dry rattle the happy couple doesn’t hear amid their own joy.

If you bought the plot… sure why not? but you’d probably have to rent the nearby plots to make room for the guests. 😀

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