Thoughts on Narratives and Death
Jarad has some thoughts on an often uncomfortable topic: death. But these conversations are necessary and, like death, unavoidable. Feel free to share your thoughts as well.
I recently attended a funeral recently of a person I didn't know very well with my mother and grandmother. After the service, we made our way to the burial site. My grandmother is almost 90, and she had to use a wheelchair that day. This was challenging because the plot was near the back of the cemetery, and my mom realized there was no choice but to roll her through the grass. Of course, we thought this was hilarious; it’s not every day that grandma goes off road, and she was in for a bumpy ride. I'm pretty sure giggling is not appropriate at such a somber event, but we couldn't help ourselves. We neared the plot (finally!), and suddenly my gran cried out, "Don't roll me over all these graves!" It seemed like a moot point by then, since we’d already bounced her halfway through the cemetery. This did not help the giggling situation. I pictured skeletons rising from their slumber to tell the living, "get off my lawn!" Or alternatively, packing up their coffins to find a more restful place to, well..... rest. That phrase stuck with me though, mostly because I couldn't figure out why she said it. Did she think it was bad luck or disrespectful? Maybe both? Or perhaps she thought the wheelchair would collapse into one of the graves.
While that still makes me laugh (much to my grandmother's consternation), it does make me think about stories we tell (or don’t tell) ourselves about death, how we view death and what it means to respect the dead. I used to like the show House of Cards (thanks for ruining it Kevin Spacey!) and in one of the early seasons, one of the main characters jogs through a cemetery and is stopped and scolded by an elderly woman. "Have you no respect?" She demands. When my gran demanded that we not wheel her over the graves, I was reminded of that scene, and maybe I'm weird but I was left wondering, "Is that such a bad thing?" I've always sort of thought that cemeteries should also be parks, where you could picnic next to a loved one's grave if you wanted, or you could simply sit and think. Should we leave the dead alone or if we do visit, only to mourn with them? Never to laugh or enjoy a joke? Never to sit quietly with them and feel the wind or listen to the song of the crows? To run away from their memories on every possible occasion, only allowing ourselves the memory when social decorum demands it?
But, the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that maybe this isn’t about respect at all. Maybe it’s just about separating ourselves from death, pushing it out of our minds. I think many people view cemeteries as places that you strictly go to only when someone dies. This narrative of keeping the reality of death as far away from us as possible makes running through a cemetery disrespectful because, I think, it makes it seem like you are treating the space as normally as you would a bike trail. We don't want to normalize death.
I live only a half-mile or so from this very cemetery, and I see it almost daily. I've told that to people before and they've found it very strange, as if cemeteries should be isolated on top of a hill. I usually find that those people are the ones petrified of death and anything to do with it. I like Stephen King to guys, but let’s not always take him literally, shall we? Pet Sematary wasn't journalism. You have to go to the fiction section of the library to find it. Unless they're very old, cemeteries aren't hidden away, yet for some reason, we tend to think they should be and hide them from our consciousness.
Cemeteries serve as a kind of memento mori, a reminder of death. That's pretty obvious, but our discomfort with them serves to illustrate how uncomfortable we are with the topic. Taking a walk through a cemetery, or rolling a wheelchair over the grass, has us too close to death.
I am of the belief that everything in life is about the stories we tell ourselves, and the narrative we choose to follow. Here at Sacred Chickens, we are very interested in narratives, and it occurs us on occasion, probably due to the close proximity of Uncle Morty, that death has a narrative too, one that inevitably weaves itself into life. Do we tell ourselves that death and anything to do with it must be hidden away? We feel we mustn't look at the cemetery as we drive by it in the morning, and we avert our eyes from the funeral going on there in the afternoon, as if ignoring something makes it less of a reality. This makes us feel better briefly but leaves a disruption in the soul, something that festers the more you try to ignore it.
I've been thinking about how we distance ourselves from death. Home funerals used to be common practice, death was close and real. Funerals marked the ending of a life cut short, a celebration of a life well-lived, time to let the tragedy and comedy of life sink in, to tell stories. Funerals – attended by generations of family members, adult children, siblings, toddlers, babies – remind us of the way the ending of one story weaves itself into the beginnings and of a whole new wave of stories. Cemeteries are physical reminders of these past narratives. Each one is full of stories that might be better remembered than feared.
Jarad is the co-administrator and writer for Sacred Chickens, attends college at MTSU, loves tea and coffee, and tries to spend every spare second reading. He recently developed an interest (some might say obsession) with gardening. Jarad is an English major with a concentration in literature. Bless his heart! Let's all light a candle for him and send him happy thoughts!
Cemeteries as parks are, in my opinion, a fantastic idea. My ideal home would be one in which the backyard backed up to a cemetery. Late night strolls through the park under the stars sounds wonderful to me. No disrespect to those interned at all. If I was there I'm sure I would appreciate the visitors! I'm currently reading a book on this and other deathly subjects, which I'll most likely review for some discerning and sacred website in the near future.
8/1/2019 10:14:08 am
That would be a wonderful thing for this sacred website.
7/31/2019 06:26:05 pm
I like that idea! Surely the dead get lonely too?
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