Imagine, there is a stone that will sit in a museum. People will walk by and look at it 100 years after you’re gone. You can choose an image to represent what you loved most. You can choose a few words that capture what you valued in life. What would yours look like?
I’m not a fan of cemeteries and funerals, and yet I can appreciate how they tell a story.
I know it sounds a little weird, but it is interesting to think that centuries later, someone out there can look at a headstone and learn something about your life.
And yet, I am not one for visiting a cemetery. It’s weird. I never know where to walk. And it’s not like they’re still there, so why visit?
My family grieves loss in a different way.
We don’t do funerals and graveside services for others. We don’t visit plots regularly with flowers. Most of our loved ones have been cremated, with ashes scattered in meaningful places to them. Clearwater Lake. Trout Lake. On the trapline. There are few headstones or markers. Maybe our grieving process explains a lot. That’s a whole story in itself.
Anyways, on my drive to Grandma Ina’s farm, I decided to pull over and stop at the Emo Cemetery along the way. I knew that Grandma and Grandpa Johnson had been buried there (Dad’s parents). The last time I was there I was a kid.
I think the stones were down near the road. Down this way. There they are.
William and Beatrice Johnson.
I took some pictures of their stone so I could add it to the kids’ book. Maybe someday they will want to know where their great grandparents are buried.
But after taking a few pictures, I wasn’t ready to leave yet. And I wasn’t about to sit down and have a chat with a gravestone, so I decided to wander around.
One thing about living in a small town, is that when in a cemetery, you instantly see last names you know. Grennier. I wonder if that’s a relative of Todd’s (we went to elementary school together). Ogden. I wonder if they are related to Stacey (another childhood friend). McComb. I remember a Buzz and Louise McComb. I think they used to live up by Fairway (the grocery store in town back in the day). We would go there trick-or-treating. See what I mean. Small town.
And then the older stones caught my attention. Stay with me here, this is going somewhere.
This stone was from 1909. It was for a baby boy who died at 8 months, 15 days. First, a person is struck by how sad it would be for parents to lose a child so young. Second, it makes a person start to wonder what happened. And third, to know the exact number of days that your child lived is heartbreaking. 8 months and 15 days.
Stones tell stories.
I saw family plots where a large stone represented the family name, with every mother, father, brother and sister labelled. It was like seeing a family tree right before you.
There were stones with images etched of places or things that they once loved.
After some wandering around, I came back to Grandma and Grandpa’s stone. After reading the lines on other stones, I finally noticed the one on theirs: Great Loves Live On. I thought it was really sweet, until I realized that I read the same line on many of the stones. The funeral home or headstone place must offer a bank of generic statements that you can choose from.
And it all made me think about the stones themselves. I know it may sound dark, but that’s why I asked you, what would you put on yours? They are a representation of us, of our lives.
These pieces of stone can tell our stories centuries later. But with cremations and some opting not to have stones, where is the tangible record of family stories? How will people share their lineage and does it matter?
I think so. For me, I just plan to do it in another way.