Today I paid a visit to a cemetery, for the first time since I can remember. I was trying to find the grave of a family member who died back in 1981. It was a surreal experience for me.
I was told that she was interred in one of the mausoleums, so I began by checking out all the mausoleums. There were three to examine. She wasn’t in any of them. But in the course of looking I saw remembrances of people who were born back in the 1880’s and who died as recently as this year. I saw a beautiful photographic remembrance of two brothers (I can only assume); one who lived from 1979-1987, and another who lived from 1975-2001, right next to each other. They both died so young, for reasons I could only imagine. They were obviously loved very much; each of their plaques included their color photographs; attractive youngsters, and they also had recently placed flowers and deflated mylar balloons brought there I’m sure by loving family members who are still grieving after all these years.
On the ends of the mausoleums are the much smaller drawers where the ashes of those who have been cremated are interred. They all had miniature urns attached to them, most with fairly fresh flowers installed. And in the chapel, which is where I last paid respect to my family member who died in 1981, there were glass cases containing the urns of others who had been cremated, for all to see.
Each wall of the chapel, left and right, is part of the mausoleum. Each drawer is marked with a nice brass placard with the name of the deceased. Except for one. Way up on top there was the drawer for Brian Flanagan, marked only by the kind of sign you would normally see on somebody’s cubicle. Formica. Wouldn’t you love to know the reason for that?
I wasn’t able to find the grave I was looking for on my own, so I went to the cemetery office to seek help. I was greeted by a young man, maybe 25, who was straight out of central casting for working at a cemetery. His skin was pale white, his hair jet black and greased back, his eyes bulgy and creepy, and his black suit just a bit too black and very wrinkled. He sat me in a room to wait for the cemetery manager, who would tell me where my relative was buried.
The room had a sample of a granite monument with all the different type sizes and colors you could choose when you are burying someone. There were also images of all the different types of graves and plots. I imagine I’ll have to make those decisions someday for someone, but I hope it won’t be any time soon.
The cemetery manager emerged with an ancient looking wooden plat of the graves where my relative was buried. Lot 822, locations 1 and 2. She accompanied me out there to find it and I discovered that my ancestors were buried in the ground, husband and wife, next to each other. A simple, flat headstone marks their final resting place.
A cemetery is a humbling place. The one I visited today had hundreds of graves; it’s pretty small. But there are others in town with thousands of graves, many of which contain the bodies of people who were pretty powerful in their time. And then there’s Buffalo Bill’s grave on Lookout Mountain, which contains the remains of only one man.
You can’t help but think that no matter what kind of life you live you will someday end up in a drawer, or a hole in the ground, or in an urn, or with your ashes spread over your favorite place.
And hopefully, you will rest in peace.