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Under the watchful gaze of crumbling saints and baby-faced cherubs, you hurry down a path lined with mausoleums. Eventually, you pass crops of headstones glinting in the moonlight, each engraved with the CliffsNotes version of the dead person’s life. You practically run past sunken graves and dying flowers, hoping upon hope that the sound you hear is just the wind and trying to shake the feeling that something is following close on your heels.
All right, so maybe you’ve never taken a midnight shortcut through the local cemetery. But if you have ever set foot in a graveyard, you’ve likely felt a hint of the fear and uneasiness that is their legacy. Maybe you were attending a family funeral, touring historic graveyards or simply fleeing flying silver spheres and hooded dwarves.
Whatever your reason for strolling among the tombstones, you probably felt something noteworthy about the experience — something different from all the other spaces and places that fill our lives. After all, graveyards are the final resting place for many of our dead. People say their last goodbyes there, sometimes returning year after year to leave flowers or say a few words.
No matter where you travel in the world, cemeteries frequently are silent and solemn settings. Whether the grounds are finely manicured or left to the weeds, graveyards exist as the place where the living contemplate the mysteries, traumas and heartbreaks associated with death.
But why are so many people afraid of graveyards? Is it the thought of all those decaying bodies under the dirt or the idea of a bony arm emerging from the soil to grab your ankle and pull you into the underworld ? Or is it something deeper? On the next page, we’ll travel to a place full of dark secrets and hidden skeletons: the human brain.
What do cemeteries symbolize?
Cats often receive a bum rap for hanging out in cemeteries, but can we really blame them? After all, graveyards offer great feline amenities: choice napping spots, scratching trees and a generous selection of small animals to prey on. What would an 8-pound (3.6-kg) tabby want with your grandfather’s soul when there are so many squirrels around?
To cats, graveyards may just be another place to sleep away the afternoon, but to humans, they represent the mystery and the outrage of mortality. Like it or not, we’re all going to die. You may think you’ve accepted that fact, but it’s an issue humanity has struggled with for millennia. Unable to avoid it, we’ve tried to figure out what lies beyond its
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Here’s a secret: I wear my father’s clothes every day. Not entire outfits, but a garment or two, always. I wear his striped t-shirts to bed at night, his vibrant dress socks under my boots. I’ve tailored his button-up shirts to fit me in the shoulders; I’ve removed a link or two from his bracelets. Yes, I am ashamed to admit, I have even worn his underwear. But that was only once, and, well, I happen to wear Calvin Klein briefs, too. I wear his jade pinky ring on my ring finger, and his army tag necklace never comes off my neck.
I thumb the words: MADDEN, JOHN L, #11500138, JEWISH.
Why the hell does it say Jewish? I asked my mother when she gave me this tag.
Because they had to know how to honor the dead, she replied, in case he died.
My father has been dead for one year five months and 12 days, as I write this. It was his lungs, not the army. I don’t have to check the calendar, or count, because my body knows. Each day, I think, I am not doing grief right. I am wading too slowly through this, or, at moments, too quickly, or not at all. My grief is selfish, my grief is smaller than other griefs, it is unjustified, my time for sadness is up; everybody dies, so it’s absurd to feel this bad, that my situation is unlike all others. Spoiler alert: That is grief talking, and none of this is true.
Every single day since November 2, 2015, I have asked myself that same question: How do I best honor the dead?
Because that army tag was incorrect. My father didn’t want a religious ceremony
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