Staying Alive

The other day, while out walking with a friend, we took a detour on our way home and found ourselves in an old cemetery.

It was, as she put it, the sort of place Tom Riddle might show up to challenge you to a wand duel. The ground, bulging with overgrown roots, was uneven and covered over with long blades of grass that soaked us to the ankles. Most of the engravings on the oldest headstones were illegible; the inscriptions had been gently buffed to smoothness by the passing of time. Speckled with lichen and pushed by either weather or slowly shifting soil, the stones leaned drunkenly at different angles. We wandered between them, calling out unusual names to each other or pointing out particularly old dates. Some went back to the 1800’s.

We found a few sad ones; children, siblings, husbands who died in their thirties with wives who died in their seventies. We found a few interesting ones; a headstone marked the passing of a man named Lemon Booth who had died in 1910 (I pictured him as a kindly eccentric with a penchant for wearing yellow). We also found a slab of what we assume is a family crypt dug into the foundations of what used to be a church.

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Some people strongly dislike graveyards. They find them creepy, or depressing, or taboo in a way that makes their skin crawl. The thought of dead people underfoot gives them the heebiejeebies. Some people feel it’s almost sacrilegious to walk through a cemetery full of people you have no connection to, propelled by nothing but curiosity. Some think that cemeteries should only be for the broken-hearted. Some think that it should only ever be a private place for grieving and goodbyes.

I actually quite like them.

Not – obviously – during burials, when my heart feels like it’s being finely grated into ribbons of despair and deposited straight into the ground with the coffin… but after. Later. I find comfort in the fact that so it has been and so it will always be; humans losing loved ones and creating rituals to say goodbye, with something tangible to mark the passing of generally unremarkable people. That’s you, and me, and most people. We, the Wikipedia-entry-less.ย  We, the people who live important lives but on a private scale. We, the remarkable unremarkable. We live full, busy lives of friendships, and stories, and memories. We have favourite activities, and things we are most proud of, and quirks that are unique to us. We laugh and cry and develop habits and grieve and love and then, at some point, we die and leave it all behind.

Honestly, I hate the idea as much as the next person. Saying goodbye to loved ones has always been so hard, and although my grief stems from not wanting them to ever leave my life, a small part of it also comes from the sadness that comes with the thought of leavingย my life. I grieve for myself, but I also grieve on their behalf, for their having to say goodbye to everything. I love this world, the colours in it, the smell of petrichor, the taste of freshly baked bread, the feeling of a badly-needed hug, the sound of a loved one laughing. I love this world, even with the really rubbish bits. Even with the tragedies. Even with the dangers. Even with the Trumps.

I like my unremarkable life. I like being alive.

They say you die twice. Once when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time. I always think of this as I read the names on headstones, shaping the consonants beneath my breath, taking a moment to wonder about the person behind the name, and the life that person left behind.

It comforts me to think that over a hundred years from now, someone might find the marker of my unremarkable life and say my name aloud, wondering about me…

Keeping me alive a little longer.

 

 

32 comments
  1. Another lovely piece. Maybe that’s what we’re writing for – trying to stay alive a little longer!

    1. Thanks, maybe that is what it’s all about? Whispering into the future…

  2. Sometimes I wish WordPress had a LOVE button!
    This was beautiful and thought provoking!! I had a strange feeling at a graveyard a few months ago – it was my grandmothers funeral so obviously I was heartbroken but also relieved that she was now painfree – however after the burial I walked back to the car with my sisters and our other halves, we made a little visit to other family members graves, some of whom the boys hadn’t had the chance to meet – I felt like they were alive again in some way and as we told stories of them it was like we were introducing them for the first time. I’d always just felt overpowering sadness at graveyards until that day.

    1. That is lovely. It’s so nice when you can bring people back like that just for a short time. I think if you’re only ever at graveyards when you’re sick with sadness maybe that’s what you associate them with so it’s nice to sometimes try to turn it around. Easier said than done though, I know!

  3. I’ve always loved graveyards – they’re interesting places. Although in the older ones with the proper tumble down stones I’m always concerned I’m stepping on some poor randoms grave, it just feels disrespectful somehow. It always makes me sad when parts of graveyards are abandoned because nobody ever goes to that bit anymore as everyone they know is dead. After all my grandmother used to take flowers to her own and my grandfather’s family graves – parents, grandparents etc and now that she’s gone that doesn’t happen anymore.

    Names live on in a surprising number of ways I think. Especially in stories. And stories so often get passed down – like the time my grandfather had to use the tractor to dig Father Christmas out of the snow one Christmas. That’s a story that’ll be repeated to all the kids in our family come Christmas for ever and ever probably! It’s far too good a story to go to waste!

    1. I worry about stepping on people and abandoned parts also make me sad, but I think that’s why I like to make the concerted effort to read those ones in particular. It feels like it’s a small kindness to pay special attention to a long neglected person.

      Your grandfather dug Santa out of the snow? Have you posted this (amazing sounding) story on your blog?! Did I miss it??

  4. I don’t find cemeteries at all spooky or scary and I’ve often wandered round one and wondered about the people behind some of the names on the stones. This is a beautiful, poignant and thought provoking piece which brought tears to my eyes, but not in a sad way.

  5. This is beautiful. Next to my mother’s grave is a marker for Jeffrey Weeks: a preteen who died around the same time my mother did. I think about him all the time. He would be in his forties now, with children of his own and a life that is satisfying or not satisfying. married or divorced. Seeing chiidren’s graves reminds me of unfulfilled promise. My father is still alive, about to celebrate his 2nd 25th anniversary. I mourn for the life my mother never got to live.

  6. I love cemeteries too. Very cool for photos and the stories ones mind can concoct from dates and names is infinite. ๐Ÿ˜Š

  7. I just loved this post. Cemetaries and graveyards are as much for the living as wakes and funerals. To remember those we need to remember and to recognize those we never knew. How beautiful that you can connect.

  8. I can’t believe so many Irish women killed their husbands when they were in their 30’s. Tough crew, those ladies.

    This entry really got to me. In solidarity I’ll be stopping at my local pub later for a few stiff ones of my own.

    1. Maybe they were all at the poitin day and night and the wives couldn’t get a thing done without listening to maudlin songs being bellowed at all hours so they set up a small club and just got to work. I mean, needs must.

      The village that houses that particular grave yard has a population of 1000 and no less than five pubs. Six if you count the hotel (I use the word loosely) bar.

  9. Such a lovely, thoughtful post! And so very, very well written. Your words are the first thing I read this morning, and Iโ€™m so glad they were.

    1. Oh thank you Marilyn, that’s lovely to read!

  10. Cranberries lead singer Dolores O’Riordan dies suddenly.

    1. She did and all. Horribly young age to go.

  11. Very well said. ๐Ÿ™‚
    When I’m in a reflective mood I sometimes walk thru the cemetery by the church in my village… to see the variety of ages on the headstones (from teens to over 100) is a sobering reminder of the unpredictability of lives — and also an illuminating reminder of life, love, passion, pain and everything in-between. Every moment is precious.
    Hopefully we can all enjoy our time in the light as best we can. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. It really is, that’s a good point. It’s amazing the multitude of stories that are amassed in one small graveyard. Sometimes I wish there was something on each grave to read further about a person. I’m sure in the future there will be such a thing!

      1. Oh, definitely… an online ‘graveyard database’ section in each graveyard sounds like a good step forward — people will be remembered in a very modern way!

  12. There are so many untold stories in cemeteries. Fascinating places to visit and reflect on the stories behind the tombstone’s echoing words

    1. Yes. I wonder in the future will each gravestone have a QR code you can scan to access a mini biography of the person’s life?

      1. That would be intriguing!

  13. What about a hundred years from now when someone comes across one of your blogposts accidentally while trying to …..I don’t know,….watch the 2118 World Cup of Soccer….or something.
    I know we don’t think it can happen, but you never know.

    1. That would be something! I wonder what they would make of it. I think the internet will have become another beast by then though!

      1. Either they will have to wade through a lot to find it, though luck may play a part, or people will have abandoned the internet for something else entirely….

  14. I get graveyards being spooky… but I’ve never found them depressing. The whole point is to give those who’ve passed a place where they will be remembered. I think there is a power in recognizing people we never knew, and as you say, keeping them alive a little bit longer.

    1. I think so too. I think it’s easy to get stuck on how sad they can be, but the truth is the vast majority are testaments of love etched in stone. I mean, it is sad that they’re gone but I think it’s important to recognise that they were once here, and they were loved.

  15. I love graveyards. Wherever I live, wherever I travel I always seek out graveyards and cemeteries – they give such an understanding of the lives and culture of the people around them. I find them places for reflection and thought. A little spooky at night though which I never really understand…I mean why would ghostly things only happen at night? Surely a little bit of sunlight wouldn’t stop some good old-fashioned haunting.

    1. RIGHT? Unless it’s just that it’s harder to see ghosts during the day so their haunting is more effective in the night-time? Hmmm…

      1. Hmmm indeed. Darkness would probably make them more dramatically visible. Maybe they could invest in some ghost day-glo to give them more daytime opportunities?

  16. Thank you. This inspired some death/graveyard writing of my own.

  17. I love cemeteries too. All those tokens to prove that we mattered. We lived. The world is forever tangibly slightly different because we were here for a moment in time, in all our humanity.

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