How many of us visit cemeteries or grave sites of our loved ones once they’ve past? I, for one, did not until about 18 months ago. That’s about the time I retired and knew that I wanted to dedicate some of my new found time in some cases to identifying those I never knew, those who had lived in much different times; and in other cases, remembering and respecting those I had known earlier in my life and in my busyness I neglected them and my fond memories of our times together.
It was during these adventures to find those people that I came to feel a sense of serenity and tranquility when visiting in many instances these historic old graveyards where there were tombstones of up to 300 years old. Yet, some inscriptions could clearly be read while others the human eye couldn’t read. And, amazingly, the lens of my iphone camera captured what I couldn’t see. And standing there among so many families’ names, dates of birth, wives, husbands, children, and dates of death I started wishing that I had known them and their stories.
With every visit, memories of my families’ past envelope me. And, too often, I am standing among unkempt, disintegrating, hidden, overgrown, and forgotten graves and graveyards. These sites yell out at me. They scream at me that the people buried here no longer matter and that our disposable culture has cast them aside, regardless of who they were or what they did or didn’t do in their lives. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say. But has our culture always had this attitude about our dead and their burial places, or what and how have we changed?
So I thought my thoughts and opinions might be emotionally skewed and I went looking to find out what is known about traditions for preparing, maintaining, and respecting the dead. That’s when my research led me to the withgoodreasonradio.org’s podcast and a recent video about the annual Christmas tradition of honoring our veterans who has passed on “Wreaths Across America.”
I hope you enjoy and will send me your reactions to this blog.
The Victorians photographed their dead before burial. Abraham Lincoln’s death might have popularized embalming. Some people today have their ashes made into diamonds. Bernard Means (Virginia Commonwealth University) studies how and why we bury our dead – and how that’s changed over the last few centuries.
Plus: A trip to some orphan graveyards – forgotten places where we’ve buried our dead.
Also featured: They’re called Lost Communities – the places on the map that have lost their original industry or way of life. Sometimes they’re still struggling to survive; other times they no longer exist at all. Terri Fisher (Virginia Tech) has visited the general stores, schools, train depots, and post offices of towns along Virginia’s back road and interviewed longtime residents and brought those places back to life in her new book, Lost Communities of Virginia.
Podcast by: With Good Reason Radio Play in new window
Wreaths Across America Video