I have a thing for cemeteries, but only the old ones with upright monuments. For the uninitiated, an upright monument is one that is not flat. You’d think that would go without saying, but if it’s flush to the ground and made of bronze and granite, I’m probably not going to be interested. Not that there’s anything wrong with those, but for some reason they lose their uniqueness when they lose their height.
Probably, my most favoritest (yes, I know that’s not a word or grammatically correct) cemetery that I’ve ever visited is Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord, Massachusetts. Entering the cemetery is like stepping back in time and among the graves I find names familiar from my childhood— Louisa May Alcott and Nathaniel Hawthorne—and names I grew to love later in life—Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. The bones of their families rest with them in graves marked with the simplest of stones to those that rise above the earth. High above the rest of the cemetery, they reside on Authors’ Ridge, nestled among trees more ancient than the graves themselves. Someone exhibiting great wisdom and restraint chose not to clear the grounds and level the hills, but to leave it rolling and natural in its landscape.
Emerson spoke at the cemetery’s dedication in September of 1855, referring to it as the “garden of the living” for it was as much for those who remained as it was to honor those who had died. Our cemeteries today still fulfill that function, giving those left behind a place of remembrance at which they may gather on decoration days or a place of comfort to visit when the ache grows so strong that they can no longer bear to be without those who left far too soon. The monuments bear witness to their lives, some more detailed than others, and give us a glimpse into the person who was but is now only a memory. And, if you pause long enough to quietly reflect upon the surroundings, you will realize that this is the only place on earth where you may not only visit your past, but also see your future. No matter whom we are, no matter how much money we amass or power we wield, someday we will all be equal in the eyes of Death. And whether we are lowered into the cool dampness of the soil, entombed in structures of marble and granite, or lovingly placed on someone’s mantel, we will all share the same fate.
This post was written by Lisa Thomas, manager at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah.