Monthly Archives: October 2014

Today my brother would have been 49

Rhoads_Allen_3853The wind ruffles the leaves, making a gentle rustle that seems to echo my breath. It’s a sound so gentle it is no sound, or else it’s the sound of the sea, of the blood, of life in its inexhaustible rush from birth to grave. Ashes to ashes, leaf to earth to soil to feed the roots to swell the buds to form leaves again to capture the sun. Everything is a cycle, endlessly spinning: the earth in its orbit, the sun whirling through the galaxy, one continuous dance flowing farther and farther out from its heart and never ever finding rest.

My brother is buried here. The wind whispers through the variegated grass that has grown high in front of the stone, obscuring words I no longer need to see to feel them stabbing into my heart, a long thin prick like a knitting needle, jabbing again and again so deep that I don’t feel the path of the pain, only its terminus, the point from which it radiates out into my limbs like a heart attack, like a stoppage of breath when you choke on something that cannot be swallowed and cannot be coughed out, which much lodge inside until you die of it.

I do not want him to be dead. My daughter tells me, in a sweet plantive voice, that she wishes she knew him. She wishes he had not chosen to drink himself to death before she was implored from the oblivion that exists before birth to come and help me heal the pain in my heart.

I wish she had known him, too.

She sometimes refuses to come to this graveyard with me any more. Once she came here and gaily chased rabbits, streaks of silence through the dancing grass. Now she knows it makes me sad like nowhere else in the world. Here lies my brother, my grandmother, the only grandfather I ever knew, and the grandmother who helped raise me, alongside her husband, who was dead before my parents conceived me. And a cousin, killed in a car accident before her first birthday, though not before mine.

Many hopes lie buried here.

Take Your Children to the Cemetery

Rhoads_RockCreek_3119I’ve been blogging every month at Scoutie Girl magazine online, taking an unsurprisingly morbid spin on traveling with kids and aging parents. My travel essays have ranged from visiting the Pharmacy Museum in New Orleans to sleeping with the stingrays at the Academy of Sciences to exploring the sites of St. Joan’s martyrdom to eating in an entirely dark restaurant for the experience of being blind.

This month’s Scoutie Girl column is more directly related to the subject of this blog.  I encourage people to visit cemeteries, whether local or on vacation — and to take their kids along.

You can check the column out here: http://www.scoutiegirl.com/take-your-children-to-the-graveyard.

My question to you is this:  when you explore cemeteries, do you prefer to go alone?  Who do you — or who would you — like to take along as company?

WYWH_BannerAd

Death Salon is coming to San Francisco

The Jewish cemeteries in  what is now Dolores Park, San Francisco

The Jewish cemeteries in what is now Dolores Park, San Francisco

I’m going to miss another Cemetery of the Week tonight because I’ve been working on my speech for next weekend’s Death Salon here in my hometown.  Want to come and hear it in person?  There are still some tickets left.  Here’s the link.

The line up of speakers varies from my historical view of cemeteries in San Francisco to Jill Tracy talking about writing music in the Mutter Museum after hours to Caitlin Doughty (Ask a Mortician) talking about her new book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.  There will be talks about working as a death doula, postmortem facial reconstruction, Santa Muerte, and funeral food traditions — and much, much more.

I missed the Death Salon in London earlier this year, but I was lucky enough to attend the initial Death Salon in Los Angeles last October.  I blogged about it for days on Morbid Is as Morbid Does.  Check it out here, if you’re interested.

In the meantime, the thought of the day as I researched my lecture:  the first “official” city graveyard in San Francisco was really small.  Bounded by what we now call Filbert and Greenwich Streets and bisected by what is now Powell Street, the graveyard had as many as 900 people buried in it between 1846 and 1850.  They must have been packed in pretty tight.

Shop window above the old graveyard

Shop window above the old graveyard

To call the space a cemetery is to be generous.  It had no fence. Sheep grazed on the property.  Without laws regarding the depths of graves, many were shallow and, unsurprisingly, the smell was bad. In 1850, the Daily Alta California reported, “A visit to this place of sepulture is sufficient to shock the sensibilities of men inured even to the battlefield rude burial of the dead.”

After the Gold Rush began in earnest in 1849, the graveyard’s land was suddenly more valuable.  Its owner stepped forward and demanded the bodies be cleared away so that he could develop his property.  It has been commercial ever since.