Sketching at a cemetery

I went to the Hermitage Memorial Gardens on 10-20-17 and sketched. It is normal for me to go visit a cemetery in October. My family members who have died were cremated – not buried, so I don’t have a place to visit when I feel the need to visit. So I go to a random cemetery and think about them.

Note that I call it a “cemetery” and not a “memorial garden”. You don’t plant memories. We have to stop being euphemistic about death. Pretending it doesn’t happen makes it harder when it does.

But I’ve also committed to sketching once a week, so here we go!

The tree (I didn’t sketch from this angle, but you get the idea)

The sketch, first dry (watercolor pencils) and then after I added water.

I stood up while I sketched, balancing the case of 10 pencils on the left side of the journal.  I sketched in the shade of a tree.  This was maybe 20 minutes.

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Cemetery walls

Why do we wall off cemeteries? Even little ones, family ones? Ones that have only ten people in them?

Perhaps we wall them off to let people know that this land is different. Is it considered holy or sacred ground? Certainly there are taboos about walking over graves. Some people will not knowingly enter a graveyard, much less walk amongst the graves.

There was a graveyard next to the college that I went to. It was a Civil War cemetery. Once I realized what it was I spent time there writing and studying. It was like a park, nicely landscaped, with pleasing trees and shade, and of course graves. It was quiet there.

When people found out I was studying there they would get a little freaked out. To me, it is safer in a cemetery than elsewhere. All the people in here can’t harm me.

Perhaps the issue is death itself that people are afraid of. People think it is catching. We have to wall off the dead people, put them in a separate area, so we won’t get what they have.

That doesn’t work of course.

So perhaps we should be more open about death, and not wall it off. Perhaps we should bury our loved ones close to us, in our back yards. Or even our front yards. Why would it matter to them? They are dead. If they are buried in the front yard then we will remember them more often.

Does this sound sacrilegious? If so, why so?

Why do we even bury the dead at all, and put them in special places? The body is a shell. The part that mattered is gone. They aren’t coming back.

Some faith traditions say that the dead will rise again. If so, they are going to have a really hard time of it. Six feet under, in a lead lined coffin, which itself is in a concrete case. And this is not even talking about the embalming process. I hope that the dead don’t rise again. They’d have a bear of a time getting on the right side of the dirt, and being worthwhile after all that, what with their internal organs having been removed and their orifices sewn shut.

Sounds terrible, doesn’t it? The more I’ve read about modern embalming practices, the more I want my body to be cremated. Efficient. Takes up less space. Not icky.

So what is best? Have cemeteries visible, regularly viewable? This would remind people that death is a reality and not something to be afraid of. The more we are mindful of our death, the more we will pay attention to life and take it seriously. We won’t waste our life on things that don’t matter.

Or should we not have cemeteries at all because the body is not needed after death? Would it be better to “recycle” the body, to return it to the earth to let it provide nourishment to a tree? It isn’t really “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” going on the way that we have it now.