Momento mori

An angel of the sea with a broken anchor
An angel of the sea with a broken anchor

I’ve always loved graveyards. I remember being six and going to the graveyard overlooking Bonners Ferry, and thinking how lovely it was. I am particularly fond of older graveyards. I have taken many a happy walk through graveyards. In fact, I walked through graveyards during labor with both my sons (different graveyards). I love the quiet and peace of a cemetary. I enjoy reading the headstones and wondering about the relationship and lives of the remembered. I’m particularly fond of gravestones that hold some message for those left behind to read.

In the oldest New England graveyards, in New London, for example, the messages can be downright depressing – about how the inhabitant of the grave is in hell and if you aren’t more careful you will be too. One of my favorite classes in college was “Death, Dying and the Dead”, in which I learned that the whole purpose of the “pastoral graveyard” (of which Mt. Auburn in Cambridge is a prime example, and Arlington National Cemetery another) was to invite the living to remember the temporary status of their condition.

Anyway, with bright and fair weather, I took a walk to our local graveyard. It is no Mt. Auburn, granted. It sits high on a hill overlooking a Dunkin’ Donuts and used sports equipment store. It is the second oldest graveyard in town. The town was founded in 1725, so we have had significant history to bury. The oldest graveyard is next to the YMCA childcare center, but we aren’t permitted to wander there because it is (apparently) unsafe. (I imagine falling through an unstable burial chamber, and complain only a little.) This cemetery – Lindenwood – is also not the Catholic Cemetery. That’s further down the road. Lindenwood dates back to the early 1800s. A small stream runs picturesquely through, in a wooded glade at the bottom of the hill. The hallowed ground holds the remains two young brothers, whose mother updates their shared tombstone regularly. There’s a congressional medal of honor winner (WWII, by the dates). One of the last heroes of the now-nearly-forgotten Spanish American war lies there. In a few places, rings of white marble with initials surround large and imposing monuments, marking the final resting place of families. Sometimes this dignified white marble is marked with “Mom” and “Dad” – no names.

In this recent trip, I found quite possibly the creepiest tombstone EVER. Usually, as I tell myself stories about the people lying here (and perhaps more interestingly, the people who stood at their funerals), I can imagine what they were thinking when they made the choices they made. They decorate grandma’s grave with Christmas ornaments because she always went overboard at Christmas. The 30 year old who died in the 80s, but whose tombstone shows an infant going to God? Perhaps he was severely Downs Syndrome and his parents never saw him as a grown man. But I cannot for the life of me fathom what was going through the mind of the relations who placed this marble monument:

At the bottom it says, "Watching and waiting"
At the bottom it says, "Watching and waiting"

I can’t think of a single non-creepy interpretation of that one. It’s straight out of a Stephen King novel.

So how about you? Avoid cemeteries at all costs? Like to wander them? Find it morbid? What’s the creepiest you’ve ever seen? And what possible non-freaky interpretation could there be of Cora’s tomb?

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2 thoughts on “Momento mori

  1. Nice to see that others share our facination with headstones. We used to have an impressive collections of rubbings, lost during the move from California to Iowa years back. Our favorite to date was Lexington, KY. People must ahve thought we were doing research, running here and there with our crayons and paper…..come to think of it, it was kinda morbid. No wonder my dates didn’t find a date at the cemetary to be a cool thing.

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