Sunday, January 07, 2007

Six Feet Under Revisited

I'm afraid that a vast amount of graveyard humor occasionally pops up in the context of my family's interactions. It's the only possible response to the spectre of death that sometimes seems to lurk everywhere, the consequence of my mother, brother, first stepmother, and aunt all having died at young ages. We are all too familiar with and still expansively unsettled by the reality.

I grossly offended one of my students a few weeks ago by joking about the fact that in the extremely tasteful and well-maintained arboretum-cemetery where I walk, freshly cleared land is marked by "New Development" signs. I'm sorry, but I think they're hysterical. Casket Condos? What are they thinking over there?

The small rural cemetery where many of my family members rest is next door to my father's house. One day Stepmother Number Four asked where Stepmother Number Two was buried. "Over there," I responded. "Over WHERE?" she asked. "Over there. Next to my mom and brother. Haven't you ever walked over there?" "Over WHERE?" "Sort of just out your front door." It turned out that she had thought I was going to say, "Pittsburgh."

Needless to say, there was much humor -- outright guffawing, actually -- in our family in response to the plight of the grandfather, or what used to be the grandfather, in Little Miss Sunshine.

Last night, Serious Husband and Lovely Daughter and I went out to our favorite Italian restaurant, where we engaged, apparently rather loudly, in one of our discussions about our personal desires with respect to our own departures, occasioned by my grandmother's death on New Year's Day. The conversation involved various and strongly worded opinions with respect to cremations, the deposit of our remains (ocean, mountaintop, or both?), the recent sprinkling of our cats' remains, church services, and grave markers. Let's just say that Husband and Daughter are markedly more modest in their desires than Yours Truly, who has ideas about Major Music and who has spent enough time walking in cemeteries to have a firm and extravagant appreciation for the aesthetics of death. The lady at the table next to us was shaking with laughter as she finished her dinner, and got up and said, "I wasn't going to say anything, but you all are too funny!"

One of the cemeteries in which I have spent a long afternoon is located on the hilltop behind the Glasgow Cathedral. I've remarked before on how the experience was a rather exhausting one, as many of the monuments bear testimony, from one side or the other, to the ravages of the Reformation as experienced in Scotland. Celtic crosses abound, and so does the history of John Knox and his followers. The cemetery has been much neglected over the years, and is in the process of being restored, a lengthy and no doubt expensive endeavor.

I don't suppose it's a surprise that I found toppled and ruined monuments as intriguing as those still or newly intact. They bear silent witness to the reality that death is, from this side anyway, an experience of jagged loss.


emmapeelDallas said...

I like those photos, but also, I'm sitting here chuckling over the "New Development" signs in the cemetery. The older I get (I'm 57) the more I look for and enjoy humor, even, and maybe especially, when the alternative is tears.

Good post.

Kathryn said...

I love walking in cemeteries too. Your pics and conversation were perfect given the past week.

Kathleen said...

I Have had a little trouble commenting on certain entries. So, need to back up and say how sorry I am about your grandmother's death. Such a loss and no doubt the catalyst for your vibrant dinner conversation. She's still giving.