Monday, August 24, 2009
My Love of Headstones
I used to be afraid of cemeteries. Well, not exactly afraid, but I thought they were creepy. Walking around a place that held lots of dead bodies made me nervous. I would step gingerly around the headstones, being careful not to tread anywhere I thought a person might be laid to rest, and wondering how far out I needed to step to avoid the entire plot. Any sudden noise startled me, and I couldn't wait to get out of there. Then Phil died.
The self transformation that has occurred since becoming a widow never ceases to amaze me. In many ways I am the same old Michele, and in just as many ways I am nothing like the girl who used to bear my name. My current fascination with headstones speaks to this conversion.
Since Phil's death I have become transfixed by the words people choose to honor their deceased loved ones. While I was in Australia, Michael and I wandered a small town cemetery (pictured above) and witnessed the lives of those who were loved, lost, and laid to rest in a neatly kept, shady, flower covered grove. These names meant something to me. I knelt in front of the headstones to read what their families chose to engrave in stone in tribute. I found one marker that said only one word, "Mate." One grave looked like a queen sized bed...with a headboard and everything. I won't share with you the visions that danced in my head over that particular plot.
What struck me most, as I wandered aimlessly under the lovely trees, was the love that was evident in the air. I couldn't feel it before because I was too caught up in the fact that so many people were dead. Looking back now I wonder how I ever felt afraid when surrounded by such devotion. When I read the dates on headstones my heart aches for the ones left behind. I no longer mourn only for the person who died, and I am not fearful of what they may have experienced to arrive in their new resting place; instead I envision a family standing around a dirt plot trying to comprehend the fact that someone isn't coming home. I know that feeling all too well.
My new self has discovered that hope and death can co-exist, that death is not the end of love, and that the burial of a beloved person is only the first step in grieving their loss. My old self really had no idea. Some days I miss that naivety, but most days I am grateful for the new eyes that see so much more than the old ones could ever imagine.