Friday, November 25, 2011

Final Resting Spots

The view from my Parents' plot in Washington, CT
I just spent the day on an expedition to put plants on the graves of my grandparents, aunt, and father.  They are buried in Washington, CT in a lovely cemetery just before you hit the Washington, Depot.  Their graves  look out over the rolling hills of Litchfield county and it's a quiet spot to lay one's weary head after a life well-lived.

It's always a little jarring to see my father's headstone.  For three reasons.  First, my mother -- ever the thrifty one -- had her name and birth date engraved on the headstone when it was carved for my father.  But there she was, sitting in the front seat of the big Dodge SUV that I had rented, alive and kicking.  The second reason is that on the back of the headstone she engraved the names of the kids that they had brought into this world.  There we are -- my sister Mary, my brothers JT and Peter, and me Nancy.  And then, at the very top of the list is Baby Boy -- my still born older brother.  I know she put us in birth order but it does seem odd to me that he would have top billing.

And then there is the third reason --- I could be buried in this same cemetery if I so desire.  Given that my father was cremated and my mother likely will be what was planned a grave for two can now easily accommodate three.  My mother, planning ahead as it were, has gotten a letter from the cemetery managers that states that yes, three people can be buried there.  I have a copy someplace even if I'm not really sure this is what I want.  It's a little morbid to think about where I might want to spend eternity but every time I visit, that is what I do.  I check out the view, I think about eternity in close proximity to my mother and father, and I contemplate alternative scenarios.  Ones that don't involve marble headstones and long drives to bring flowers.

I am late in life to this responsibility for the graves and I share it with my brother JT these days.  My sister Mary and niece Julia were always the ones who went to take care of the graves each time the seasons changed.  They would go with my father and my mother and visit not only this cemetery but also the one where my father's parents are buried in Warren, CT.  That cemetery, unlike this one, is a scary place my sister used to say.  Kind of dark and creepy with overgrown trees..  I've never been.
Recoleta (Argentina)

Cemeteries in the US are generally quiet places and today was no different.  Aside from some workers spreading dirt and a woman who blew in after us and rolled further down the hill, we were alone.  The flags were still waving marking the graves of the veterans but otherwise the monuments were pretty sparse when it came to flowers or other decorations.

I remember very well my first foray into a cemetery in a country other than my own.  It was on my second trip to Italy -- the one focused solely on getting to know Venice.  I had set out to visit Murano and the cemetery island of San Michele that day.  On Murano, after enduring the obligatory glass blowing demonstration, I wandered further inland down a tidy little lane.  Congratulating myself for escaping the stores, restaurants, and glass-blowing factories that ring the docks.  I remember walking and thinking how peaceful it was on this island.  And then I came to the cemetery -- obviously loved and functioning almost like a town square might.  Almost every grave had fresh flowers.  It was clear that people gathered here as friends greeted each other and families said hello to their departed loved ones.  I never did make it to Isola San Michele -- the oft-visited cemetery island of Venice which houses Ezra Pound and Igor Stravinsky among other long-departed Venetians.  It just didn't seem necessary after having visited this quiet gathering place on a sunny late fall afternoon.
One of the most beautiful cemeteries that I've visited has to be Recoleta in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  It's a well known stop on the tourist circuit as folks make their way to visit Eva Peron's (Evita) grave.  It is usually decorated with roses and perpetually surrounded by a small crowd snapping photos.  Recoleta is a big cemetery and one can easily get lost among the mausoleums that were built to honor the dead.  Perhaps the saddest are those for the babies and children where tiny coffins can be seen through Plexiglas windows.  Like that cemetery that I wandered so many years ago, there is a local life here that goes beyond us tourists wandering with our cameras as once again families are visiting with their dead.

Municipal Cemetery
Punta Arenas, Chile
At the end of the South America -- in Chile's Punta Arenas -- the Municipal Cemetery is a walled off sanctuary for the living and the dead.  Wandering the neatly tended rows one is likely to come upon a picnicking family purchased on the edge of a raised grave and enjoying a laugh with a long lost relative.  What is striking about the graves here is that most have shadow boxes with photos and mementos of  loved ones who have passed on.  Like Recoleta, there are walls of stacked crypts towering above the rest of the cemetery.

Its hard to believe but in NYC, up on Riverside Drive, the grave of five-year old St. Claire Pollock is marked by a monument to the Amiable Child.  His is one of the few private graves on public property -- a small child who is said to have died from a fall from the cliffs overlooking the Hudson River.  Located at 123rd Street and Riverside Drive, it's a small testimony to our collective desire to create a permanent resting spot for those who have died.  It is said that that neighbors still leave flowers on the anniversary of St. Claire's death even though it's been two centuries since he died.

And therein lies the rub about this offer of a final resting spot in Washington, CT.  It's a beautiful cemetery, lovely views as I remarked to my mother today.  It's just may not be the place for me.  You see, I've always thought it would be kind of nice to be scattered at sea so that my ashes could continue to travel to new places and maybe visit some old favorites as well.

I suppose I should make up my mind one of these days but that seems so final, so permanent -- like death itself.  So, I'll just continue to consider the views from that pristine little cemetery outside the Depot.  No need to make any hasty decisions on this one.

Traveling the World on Ocean Tides?
(Easter Island)


  1. Very moving, Nancy. Hopy you had a good Thanksgiving.

  2. thanks Chris -- it's an interesting question to grapple with at this time in my life. T-day was good -- sometimes a really small gathering (3) is the easiest route to go.