I was having an odd day. I couldn’t quite place my finger on why.

So I stopped by a cemetery.

Cemeteries are peaceful. I don’t need to buy a coffee to justify my existence, and no one to worries question my quiet introspection.

The first time that I remember entering a cemetery was 1986. I was eight years old and in the gifted program at my elementary school.

Our field trip was to the local cemetery.

We had to find the oldest person buried there.

And the youngest.

The youngest person buried in that small Connecticut cemetery was three days old.

At each gravestone, we did a rubbing with black paper and a gold crayon. I don’t remember what we did with the rubbings, but I remember the crevasses of stone appearing and disappearing underneath my crayon. I remember the sunshine playing games with the leaves of the trees. I remember picturing the baby underneath my feet but being unable to picture the grief.

Six months later, our gifted teacher killed herself.

But I never lost my appreciation for cemeteries.

They are wide-open space between the living and dead. A place of stark contrast. We walk out of the cemetery, or we don’t ever walk again. We are band together with the living, or we stay behind forever. But within this declaration of life and death, cemeteries carry a soft, green muting of the in between. We find ourselves alone but surrounded — with no reason to talk but so much to say.

A cemetery reminds me that life and death is.

Just is.

Even when death comes so soon. So unexpectedly soon.

The baby was three days old. My teacher was thirty.

I hope to live to be an old lady with a collection of large red hats shading too much purple eyeshadow and rouge.

But I imagine it’ll still feel too soon.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on LateEnough.com, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

23 thoughts to “Cemeteries”

  1. lovely. such poetry and poignancy. so sad about your teacher. so sad.

    “I hope to live to be an old lady with a collection of large red hats shading too much purple eyeshadow and rouge.”

    I feel that way too.

  2. Wow, Alex…a school field trip to the cemetery and a suicide a short while later? That is most likely a distinct memory for you and all your classmates.

  3. I loved this post! I too love cemeteries. They hold amazing stories – some told on tombstones, some not. They can be extremely beautiful and moving on so many levels. A girlfriend was taking a photo class at Baylor and asked if she could do a shoot with me anywhere I chose…I chose a cemetery. On my running route in Charleston I ran by a cemetery and I would often find myself counting colors of flowers as I’d run by or praying for the families I’d see. It’s an amazing connection from us as humans to God and the after life. Love it.

  4. I like cemeteries; too. A place to connect with all the wisdom and experience that those souls had/have. Thanks for bringing them to my mind today!

  5. Is there something in the air? I just wrote a post about life & death…

    This was such a thoughtful piece, and I am sorry about your teacher. How interesting that she brought you there before she took her life… like she may have been preparing your minds to be able to process what she felt was sure to come…

    Time is all at once endless, finite.

  6. I love cemeteries. When I visited Skye in Paris we went to pretty much every cemetery around. Which means that I have 6 photos of the Eiffel tower and 1,423 photos of graves. Not including the catacombs, which are just photos of bones.

    Sometimes when people look through my photos it worries them.

    1. Those were awesome cemeteries- old and mysterious and majestic. Somehow, I think it’s less sad to visit the graves of famous people. Arlington Cemetery, on the other hand, makes me really sad.

  7. We just visited one of the oldest cemeteries, its up in the Chesapeake, whole families gathered close together, huge tombstones telling their history … all entwined in the beginnings of America.
    Very peaceful, and inspiring to think of all those new beginnings wrapped up with the endings we were sitting between.

  8. One of my most interesting college classes was called: the material culture of death. For a time, cemeteries were seen as ‘pleasure grounds’, built with broad promenades and spaces to sit or maybe meet someone special.

    I remember doing the rubbing thing too. But, didn’t lose a teacher. Life and death. Always a razor thin line. I like being on this side.

  9. I don’t have much experience with cemeteries. I think I’ve been to 1. Unless you count the time I went searching for a treasure left behind by Tony Hawk. (I’ll leave the story at that, because it sounds cool that way.)

    But as a teacher, I’d love to know what the lesson was that day. By the age of 8 some kids have experienced death, while others only know what it is. I believe I was in my mid-teens before I had a death that was close; maternal grandmother from cancer and the family dog (probably also from cancer).

    And wow, the fact that your teacher took her life. I wonder how I would have took that as a kid. I was a pretty sensitive kid–well, I’m still sensitive.

  10. I love our cemetery! It’s great teaching ground, and the kids love going. It’s full of family and friends that we love. It’s always felt more peaceful than creepy.

  11. I was already thinking about swinging by Hollywood Cemetary on my way home tonight when I saw your post. My father’s birthday is tomorrow and I wanted to place flowers there in case my mother went by hoping it would give her comfort. It’s such a beautiful place. I always feel better when I leave.

  12. matt and i went to cuba for our honeymoon, and most of the best pictures i took there were from the cemetery in the middle of havana. it was absolutely incredible, the sculpture, the monuments, the stained glass. i remember one lady’s tomb had a little dog carved at the foot, because after the woman died her dog came to the cemetery every day and sat at the foot of her grave, so when the dog died they put him in the tomb and added him to the monument. there was another one with a woman and her baby inside, and the carving on the top of the sarcophagus showed the woman lying with her hands clasped and the baby at her feet. and the blessed mothers! the most beautiful virgin marys you’ll ever see are in that cemetery. that place is in my book.

    1. also, i took a school field trip to a funeral home. it was the first time i ever saw a dead person (laid out for a wake) and an embalming table. quite memorable.

  13. Yet another reason we can never live on the same coast. The awesomeness would cause the California to fall into the ocean. Or something.

    My first job was working for a florist. I delivered flowers and would always save the cemetary deliveries for lunchtime so I could sit and enjoy the peace and the quiet. I’ve loved going ever since. We even visited a few on our honeymoon. Which, now that I type it out, sounds weird.

  14. Cemeteries are nice places. My grandparents owned a funeral home and, as was the tradition back then, they lived above it. People are always creeped out to find that we used to play hide and go seek in the casket show room. It’s not like there were bodies in them! People get so uncomfortable around death.

  15. this post is lovely.

    and so…poignant.

    I love sitting in a cemetery and writing…hand writing. or reading. or thinking.

    huh. never admitted that before.

    I feel like I am soaking up our local history…the feelings history. not the fact history. even though there are dates and names everywhere.


  16. I have tried to overcome my incredible fear of cemeteries in the past 6 months with the help of a couple of dear friends. I’m almost there. This post helps me want to go. Thanks.

    1. I almost didn’t post the cemetery piece. I thought people would think me even MORE strange. I felt better when people related. But your comment? Made me feel like posting it was bigger than me feeling better. So thank you.

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