Saturday, August 08, 2009

Grave Expectations

I went to the cemetery a couple of days ago with the family of the elderly man who died last Sunday. I didn't do the comittal but I was invited to join them. It was a beautiful day so folk lingered in conversation after my colleague from the Reform church was finished. A young great-grandson, a member of St. Paul's, let go with a big yawn which declared that he was bored with adult chitchat, so I invited him to look at gravestones with me.

We discovered that technology and money have allowed those left behind to become much more imaginative with what I would call grave art. On one stone there was a transport truck, no doubt the occupation of the deceased. On another there was a racing sulky pulled by a horse, and on yet another a guitar. There were several farms scenes etched on the markers and one person will be fishing in perpetuity. There were even photos of those who had died, recessed into the stone. I'm told that companies in the States offer small LCD screens in the markers with video of the dearly departed!

On modern markers angels and crosses, not to mention grisly death's heads, were in short supply. The sense is that today's gravestones are going to celebrate what the individual enjoyed in this life rather than a promise of the life to come.
I don't really have much of an opinion on the subject one way or another, although I can imagine some people's tastes running toward tacky without much encouragement. What I do know is that we all have to deal with our own mortality. We all die and we must all ask the questions about what is to come. Gravestone artwork of any style doesn't really help us address those concerns.

What do you think about what I have described -- comforting or kooky?


Susan said...

Having lost both my parents within the last 16 years, I have become very familiar with graveyards. The gravestone art has become more complex then in my grandparents' time but unfortunately the work will not last as our climate and weather will erode the stone and work and probably more quickly now. What perplexes me is our society's reaction to death - the almost taboo or silence of it's existance but when a pop celebrity suddenly dies (Princess Diana or Michael Jackson comes to mind)then our society and media acquires an 'obscene obsession' (my view) with the celebrity's final days and death. Is it only through talking about the pop figure's death that they can share comfortably their ideas/views on death and perhaps what happens after death?

Laurie said...

I have many books on the history of graveyards and their stones. It is fascinating to me and every where I go, I go to the grave- yards. It is like walking around in a book. All the history , all the stories.

Deborah Laforet said...

I love graveyards. I think it comes from my love of history and a sense of wonder about these people's lives. I do feel that some gravestones are a bit too much, but I also see them as an expression of loss from loved ones. People are allowed to be more creative (at a cost!).

Maybe as people move away from funerals and such, they are expressing their grief in other ways. I think I prefer the community of a funeral though and the sense that grief and the celebration of a life is shared.

lionlamb said...

I'm with all of you on the meaningful nature and, frankly, the entertainment value of cemeteries. They can be fascinating places, as can old funeral records. When I was on my settlement charge in Nfld. I would peruse the records from the turn of the last century. The death of a seven-year-old was listed as fright. What really happened.

I agree with Deb that there is a dignity to a funeral service and commital that can be moving. And I like Susan's phrase "obscene obsession" to describe the frenzy around celebrity deaths. Pop figures become idols in the fullest sense of that word.