Mormons and Death: Cemeteries
by Kelly Ann
It’s odd. Even though (thanks to the ongoing Mormons and Death series) I recently reiterated to my mother that I want to be an organ donor if possible and would like to be cremated when I am laid to rest, I have a profound respect for cemeteries.
Traveling with my grandfather growing up, I grew accustomed to visiting cemeteries to look for the gravestones of relatives (even though he wasn’t Mormon, he still loved genealogy). Walking around small and large New England cemeteries in particular gave me a good sense of my family’s history as well as tremendous respect for the names and graves of veterans from the Revolutionary War to present. There is an expression that the history of a city is written on its gravestones and I learned to appreciate it.
So when I heard that the cemetery in Punta Arenas was “worth-seeing”, I made a point to visit it on a rare P-day in which we had time to get out and about (early New Year’s morning of 2001). Sitting on the Strait of Magellan, the cemetery is world famous for its architecture, family Mausoleums, raised graves, wall memorials, and landscaping. Having already come to love the people of Patagonia, I really enjoyed capturing a glimpse of the diverse history of the largest southern most city of the world. Walking in with my companion, I had a profound sense of awe and enjoyed the peaceful setting. However, I quickly became aware of my companion’s growing discomfort at my enthusiasm. After reluctantly getting her to take a picture of me (as she discouraged me from “disrespecting” the cemetery by taking pictures of the more notable Mauseleums), we left only to encounter a Japanese tour bus unloading with as many cameras as tourists. As we walked away, she told me that she thought it was weird that people would want to take pictures of cemeteries. I tried to explain it was like taking a picture of a memorial.
It’s not like I go around taking pictures of cemeteries normally (although I have to caveat that I have taken a few of the local cemetery recently for previous posts here). However, I definitely don’t consider taking them a sign of disrespect. As I have stated, I think visiting cemeteries is a good way of remembering loved ones as well as appreciating history. I think that people should be comfortable in cemeteries.
In fact, more startlingly to some is that my standard commute route when I bike to work involves biking through the local cemetery. I like to joke (my odd sense of humor at people’s uncomfortable response to the notion) that my grandfather who is buried there has made friends with all the other ghosts so they don’t mind … While it is practically the least steep way up and down the hill, I also enjoy the peaceful setting and opportunity to reflect. I make a point to go about 100 feet out of my way every time to pass my grandfather’s grave. I think of him in that it is the cemetery but also because my love of biking came from biking with him on the weekends growing up. As the cool breeze blows against my face, remembering is a good way to start the day.
I guess what I am trying to convey is that I like being able to go to a physical place. I like remembering those who have gone on before. While I also treasure the memories of actively participating in funerals, I think going to cemeteries from time to time serves as a ritual of sorts for me to remember those that I have known that have died. I really hope that more people feel equally as comfortable in cemeteries – to remember death as such an important part of life.
I therefore will probably write in my will (not that I am planning on dying anytime soon) to put my ashes in the Mausoleum at the local cemetery – even though it looks a tad like a haunted house.
In terms of discussion, what experiences have you had in cemeteries? Do you feel comfortable in them? How do you remember those who have passed away?
And if you have missed the Mormons and Death series up to this point (which I hope not), please check out the various posts covering a range of topics by a variety of perma- and guest- bloggers including an introduction (5/30), Mormon funerals (5/31), unconventional funerals (6/1), miscarriage/ stillbirth (6/2), the death of a child (6/8), suicide (6/15), the right to die (6/22), organ donation (6/29), giving comfort (7/6), the after-life (7/13), cemeteries (7/20), and grieving rituals (7/27), as well as a couple themed polls on Sundays at the beginning and the end of the series.