Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting Moment

“Do not bury me in the cold ground”

Despite the heat baking the insides of my lungs, I halted before the little marble gravestone.  It stood as tall as my knee, nearly blinding me in the August sun.  I don’t know why it had seemed like a good idea to visit M. Parfitt in August.  A transplanted Sacramentan, she was dressed in blue jeans and a plaid short-sleeved top.  I felt practically indecent in my hand-me-down sundress.  It had to be 110 degrees.  Still, I shivered as I framed the little headstone in my camera’s lens.

It said: “Our Dear Cora’s Last Request:  I am going to die.  Do not bury me in the cold ground.”

Had they ignored her dying wish?  Did she curl beneath my feet in the dry Sacramento dirt?  Could she feel the heat of the sunlight crushing me to the ground?  Was she basking in warmth down deep inside her grave?

Had 7-year-old Cora Elvareto Dingley belonged to one of the Christian sects who believed that the dead remained imprisoned in their graves until Judgment Day, straining to hear Gabriel’s horn?  Had she been begging for the reassurance that she’d meet her mother again in Heaven?  Had she longed to go to “the Spiritland,” as one of her permanent neighbors did?  On her monument, no graven angel led Cora upward.  No hand of God reached down to her.

The child’s words blazed from the gravestone like an accusation.  Her parents couldn’t fend off death.  They couldn’t keep her safe or protect her when it mattered.  They couldn’t keep her with them, but had to bury her in the cold earth.  They couldn’t even have cremated her, since the first crematory was built in Pennsylvania in 1876, the year following Cora’s death.

It wasn’t the Dingleys’ parental failures that froze my heart that August day.  It was that her parents chose her wish to adorn her tombstone, so that every time they stood before it, every time they touched the marble or brought her flowers, every time they thought of their little girl, they would know how they had disappointed her, sending her alone into the ground.  Everyone who passed the grave would know how terribly, how thoroughly, they’d failed her.

Cemetery of the Week #66: Old City Cemetery, Sacramento, California

About Loren Rhoads

I am the author of the essay collection Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, co-author of the novel As Above, So Below, and editor of The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two. Scribner published my favorite essays from Morbid Curiosity magazine as Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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14 Responses to Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting Moment

  1. coastalcrone says:

    Very touching! I like reading messages on gravestones.

  2. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Fleeting Moment on the street | Tay in Europe

  3. Galen says:

    This is a captivating rendering of the theme. I appreciate your thinking.

    As a side note: Just about a week ago I discovered the Merchant Marine Cemetary outside of Ruidoso, New Mexico. An absolutely fascinating place… and out in the middle of nowhere. Thousands of graves marked only with a cement brick stamped with a number… and an old wooden whitewashed cross. A super find for me.

    • Loren Rhoads says:

      Oh, it sounds amazing! What are the Merchant Marines doing in New Mexico, I wonder. The only cemetery I’ve visited in New Mexico so far was at Acoma Pueblo.

  4. Wow, that is very haunting! I also enjoy exploring old graveyards, but have never come across such a somber epitaph.

  5. ritarivera says:

    very intriguing concept for a blog! – rita
    http://gauchomarx.wordpress.com/

  6. Nice description of your thoughts. Fleeting moments in deed.

  7. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Juxtaposition | Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World

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