|Allison Nailor, Jr|
1836 - 1908
He was tired and lay down to rest
Two weekends ago, on Saturday and again on Sunday, I walked through Rock Creek Church Yard, a cemetery dating back to 1719, and wandered into the bits of story that its markers highlight. In the unfolding horror of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters in Japan, a graveyard on a sunny day in early spring ended up being strangely comforting.
|Grass, shadows, trees, gravestones.|
Once you get beyond the long historical view, however, death is personal.
Aged 26 days
Those buried were individuals part of a web of people, family and friend, and when that string is broken, the whole framework changes, shifts and trembles as weights are carried differently by those left behind.
Our rituals surrounding death, like any other societal, cultural tradition, reflect out own take on the world. The pretentious in life may very well be gaudy in death. The simple may opt for plain speak in death. And there is no way of knowing if someone's aunt Martha chose some strange angel because her dead nephew loved angels, hated them, laughed at them, or because she chose something to her own liking or budget without considering the deceased view on how his eternity would be labeled.
|An era of mausoleum design.|
Undoubtedly, some of the dead saw Martha's work and rolled over in their graves so they didn't have to look (not photographed - I only shot that which I found appealing). And some rejoiced that their loved ones chose something so apt or so lovely or so unusual. Obviously, rolling or not, they're not talking.
|Angel with book|
And that homage to grief shows up on graveyards. Some markers have benches, the suggestion being, sit and stay a while, tell the departed what you want to say even if they're no longer there to hear. In a way, sitting with grief helps carry us through to the other side, a point clearly illustrated by the Kaufman Memorial. Also known as Seven Ages of Memory, the artwork was created by William Ordway Partridge.
There are not a lot of places where crying in public is acceptable. A graveyard makes that list. In a cemetery, you get quiet sympathetic looks; in Kmart, you get folks shuffling away, with nervous backward looks as they ponder your mental and physical health.
|The Mystery of the Hereafter and The |
Peace of God that Passeth Understanding
Henry Adams never spoke his wife's name again after her death and omitted her from his book The Eduction of Henry Adams, details that tug at me.
While wandering the graves, I came across a gravestone on which someone had left Mardi Gras beads.
|Dalrymple and Mautner grave markers|
The story there -- Who left the beads? Had they gone to Mardi Gras together? Had they always talked about it but never gone? Was it some private joke about the inappropriateness of plastic as daywear? -- I have no way of knowing.
I can tell you, courtesy of google, that Helen W. Dalrymple was a researcher at the Library of Congress for most of her career and co-authored several books.
Buried next to her is Mary-Helen Mautner. After her death, her partner started a nonprofit to support lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals and their families when dealing with life threatening illness. An activist in life, Mautner's death also promoted a cause.
In personal and public ways, the deaths of Clover Adams, Helen Dalrymple, Mary-Helen Mautner and the many other people buried at Rock Creek Church Yard changed people and changed society. A nonprofit helps other people suffering. A statue at a grave marker adds to our cultural understanding and provides solace in its beauty. I'm sitting here writing about women I never met and the universals and particulars of mourning. And someone went to Mardi Gras.
|Family tree, roots running through graves.|