My parents took me to cemeteries to clean off the gravestones and leave flowers. We’d walk around and look for the different gravesites. “Here’s Nonna’s family.” “This is where her siblings are buried.” “This is where I’ll be buried.” “That’s a mass grave where all those from the flu were buried.”
We walked around the peaceful place. Statues of saints, lords, Mary, Jesus, Moses, lambs, dogs surrounded us. Big buildings, mausoleums engraved with ancient names I did not recognize. There was a big gate at the entrance, beautiful architecture. Old buildings of large red and light brown stone. Rolling hills, ponds with ducks and geese. It was lovely. Later, I went with a friend to an upstate cemetery where the gravestones incorporated not just stone carving but spray painted scenes of fishermen in canoes out on an Adirondack lake, or duck hunting. Wildlife pictures like museum pieces. Another was along a path towards Watkins Glen Falls, dates long before my own and then some more recent, showing shorter younger lives than mine. One day, I was struck to see a tombstone for a birthday twin. Stunned, I just sat down.
All these records of passing people, ritual of doing and remembering, cleaning and visiting, taking flowers, trowel or lunch. Parks within cities. Quiet spaces of repose.
But that’s changing now. Now some want to be scattered on landscapes, planted in gardens, hung from bridges and lighting cities, seeded with mushroom spores. How will we continue to view our dead? How will we continue to view ourselves?