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When I was very small, about 4 years old, my grandmother died. She had cancer. I don’t remember her very well, but I still love her to this day. My grandfather, her ex-husband, died almost a year later. They were buried side-by-side in a cemetery in their hometown. These were my dad’s parents. After my grandma died, we moved into her house, and lived there for about 6 years until we moved again. I spent a lot of my crucial growing-up time in that house, in that neighborhood, in that city. I still feel very close to that area, and so does my family.

Before we moved away from my grandmothers’ house, we used to visit the cemetery (which is right across the road from our old neighborhood) about once a month. After our move, though, we stopped visiting so frequently. Before today, in fact, we hadn’t been to that cemetery since 2008. (I know this because that is when my great-grandmother died. She was 99 years old! My grandmother was her daughter.)

Today, though, my family and I found ourselves driving through our old stomping grounds. As the familiar sights filled my eyes, I said, “Let’s go to the cemetery!” So we did.

I may have written this here before, but I am fascinated by cemeteries. I love to wander through them and examine the gravestones, reading names and dates and the quotes that loved ones chose to represent their family members. It’s the recorded-in-marble history of our people, and the people that loved them. Anyway, graveyards are interesting places all ’round.

I know I just said that the last time we visited the cemetery was back in ’08, but I think it must’ve been many more years than that since we visited my grandparents’ graves. I think I must have been 10 or 12 the last time we went together as a family, so at least 10 years had passed.

The reason I think this must be so is because today I read my grandmother’s headstone, and what it  said seemed like new information to me. Like today was the first time I had ever really seen it. I hadn’t remembered it saying anything other than her name.

It read the following: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” 21:4

Of course I realized this was a bible verse, which surprised me since I hadn’t thought she had believed in god.

Me: “Was she religious?”

Dad: “No, your uncle was.”

Then, I stepped to the right and read my grandfather’s stone.

“The most generous and loving father that ever walked on this Earth.”

Yep, that one got me.

I remember my grandpa just enough to know he was that. I’ve heard the stories from my dad and my two uncles, and I remember him bringing us kids grapes and cinnamon gum and reese’s peanut butter cups all the time.

I blinked away the tears that wanted to run free and knelt down at his stone to tear up the grass that had begun to grow over the corners. When the job was done I got up and brushed the dirt and grass from my knees and wandered over to read the headstones that belonged to my grandparents’ “neighbors”. As I walked, I noticed many of the stones were covered by grass as my grandpa’s had been. These dead had been left here. These expensive marble sheets were being retaken by the earth.

Before we left, I suggested we visit my great-grandmothers’ stone, as we had never been to visit her since her funeral. Her site was across the cemetery, in a much older section.

We found her headstone easily even though we hadn’t been to see it before. Both she and her first husband are buried together. He died in 1965, and their headstone has since turned the nice green color that bronze tends to turn when it is left out in the weather.

Again, I wandered nearby and examined the names and dates carved in stone. These dates were much older. One nearby read 1880 – 1955. Another, 1905 – 1989. Another: June, 1908 – February, 1991. My birth year.

Then, I spotted another bronze stone, just like my great-grandmas’. However, this one was almost entirely covered by grass. Only the first half of the last name could be seen. Again, I went to my knees and began uncovering. Who were these people? Why hadn’t anyone kept their stone clean? Were they forgotten?

The sod wasn’t easy to tear, but I managed it. Chunk by chunk, I tore it off and uncovered more of the abandoned stone. The woman had died in 1965. Perhaps this grass had grown over their stone since that day. It sure seemed like 50 years of growth to me as I ripped at those roots with my bare hands.

I wish I had had my camera. They had very unusual names, as it turned out, that pair – husband and wife. I believe the woman’s name was Aluna – her husband’s was much longer, and their last name was a gem. It must have been French. I suppose I could go back and find out.

My dad joined in on my digging as I worked on the other half of the stone – the man. When we had uncovered most of it, I pointed out how the original color of the bronze could still be seen where it had been covered in dirt and grass. Their history must have been covered for a long time.

My mom and younger brother stood nearby watching us. I don’t think they understood why we were doing what we were doing. I don’t think I knew why I was doing it, either. It just felt right.

As I headed across the cemetery to wash the dirt from my hands, I spotted another one. Another almost entirely buried plot. I stopped, again, fell to my knees, and began uncovering it. The only thing that could be seen at first was the date of death. It was a baby’s stone. It was small, and round. As I dug, I discovered the stone was actually in the shape of a heart. It belonged to a baby girl who had died after 7 days of life. 1961 was the year. Fifty years had passed, and the grass had grown. No one knew this story. No one visited this stone.

Cemeteries are our history. Our people are there. Our quotes of love and remembrance. Those dashes between the birth years and the death years that signify lives that were lived.

I don’t know why I tore at that grass with my bare hands. I just had to. It was just wrong. All of those people, all of those stories, all of those lives. There were many hundreds more gravestones that were overgrown with weeds and grass. I can’t imagine how many people have been forgotten. How many wonderful lives that are now lost to memory. How many names and dates and quotes that have faded away with time.

what are we doing? seriously, have you taken a moment recently to look around? look at what we’ve done. look at all the things we’ve built. look at all the animals we’ve made extinct, all the animals we’ve brought back from extinction by taking some old DNA and putting it into a goat. look at all the people we’ve killed. look at all the people we’ve buried in tightly-sealed boxes. look at all the people who want to be buried in tightly-sealed boxes. look at us, pretending we’ll never die, and, at the same time, pretending to live. pretending to live here. what are we doing? why are we doing this? do we even have a four-year plan? where are we going? where are we headed? the future seems vague and never-ending. it seems infinite. it seems like we’ll always be here, building, tearing down, killing, loving, searching, putting dead people in boxes so they can hide from the worms.

So…

Where did all that come from, you might ask? Are you a little bit afraid of me now? Is it not normal to carry on lengthy conversations about burial procedures?
I’ll answer that first question, and we’ll avoid the other two. Ok? Ok.

Today, at my wonderful University (that takes all of my money), … well, ok, I don’t know. These things just come up. If you’re a college student (or ever have been), I’m sure you’ll understand. Getting off-topic is my favorite, because you get to talking about things that people actually want to talk about. (Ok, I’ll admit some of my fellow classmates looked a bit faint-y during the 15 minutes we discussed coffins, cremations, etc… but, still.) Getting off-topic gets to the guts of the conversation. You get to the topics that everyone desperately wants to talk about with each other. You get to the reasons why people want to go to college in the first place (at least, that’s how it seems to me). Connection, right? Understanding. To learn more than you ever could in high school: Not just FACTS, but, KNOWLEDGE.

Once, I heard tell (from somewhere) about these cemetery-type things in Sweden. I heard that they just sort of take you (you, being dead, and all), bundle you up a bit (think: shroud/cloth of Ancient Greece), and plop you in a hole in the ground (Have I made this seem properly romantic?). But, here’s the best part yet (which I’m sort of foggy on): They either plant a tree on top of (you) your burial spot, or they place (not plop! what horrible word usage on my behalf…) you next to a tree, sort of like an additional fertilizer. (Ahh, so romantic! I love it! Yeah?)

Or, if you’d prefer, there’s always the nice option of the tightly-sealed coffin. Personally, I don’t get it. I’d really love for someone (pro-coffin) to explain this to my poor, confused, brain.

Also, here’s another point to argue my point (another point being that I’m not quite sure what point I’m trying to make, here). Actually, I think this fits rather nicely into this flow of consciousness because I learned this at college, too! (See, Mom??!)

I’m pretty sure it was in Sociology class, b.t.w., so there’s that. It must have been one of those off-topic conversations… (And, if you know me, or you’ve just read this far [hi!], you know I love those!)

“Conservation of Energy” Ok, I don’t really remember exactly what that is (It’s been like five semesters since that class, ok?), but I’m pretty sure it’s something like: “There’s a certain amount of energy in the Universe, and the form that the energy takes can change, but the amount of energy in the Universe always stays the same.” (Don’t quote me in any important research papers. Or, do!)

So, your body (look down at it. Do you see it?) has a whole lot of energy in it. No, not that slice of pizza you had for dinner (or, not only that…. pepperoni, was it?), but the total amount of energy that you consist of. (Not your aura, either. This is not that kind of blog.) Like, your cells and everything. Your hair. (You have hair, right? Probably? If not, feel free to use any of the following: your nose, your left big toe, both elbows, your right hip bone…)

You are a mass of energy! Look at you! You can do anything! (Oh, wait, we’re not doing inspirational this time.)

Even after you die (slash pass away, drift off, etc.), you are energy. You’re part of the total amount of energy in the Universe! (whoops. Too inspirational-y? I can’t stop!)

Finally, we get to my point! If we bury people (and their energy) away in the ground, seal ’em up tight, what happens? There must be a huge amount of something just buried away in the ground – sealed up. Hell, maybe that’s what’s causing global warming! (I can have my own theory, right? Also, was that a pun?)

It just seems wrong to me.

Newsflash: You are going to die some day! (In one way or another; whatever you’re beliefs are…. yatta yatta)

Are we somehow less dead if the worms can’t get to us? If the energy from our bodies can stay locked up in some cement box?

Here, let’s go full circle. Follow me, now:

What are we doing? 

That’s a broad question, right? Yeah, I know. It may be one of those questions we go to college to try and answer. Maybe we can’t answer it. Maybe we won’t ever know. Maybe we will!

In any case, shouldn’t we strive for the things that we do to be logical?

If not, Why are we even doing the things that we do?