Tag Archives: epitaphs

Weekly Photo Challenge: Letters

Broken headstone in the Alamo Cemetery, Danville, California

Broken headstone in the Alamo Cemetery, Danville, California

This headstone caught my eye on Saturday as I toured the Alamo Cemetery.

Last week was a rough one, as I dealt with the collapse of my cat Morpheus’s health.  At 17 months old, he’d developed crystals in his bladder — after suffering all his young life with an immune disease that had attacked his teeth in February.  I left the Mare Island Cemetery a week ago Saturday to take him in for emergency surgery.  By Friday morning, he’d relapsed.

In the midst of Friday morning’s rainstorm, I took Morpheus to the SPCA and asked them to take him back.  After a year and a half of emergency vet visits, tiny bags of expensive cat food, and more medicine than I take as a grown woman, I had to face that I could no longer care for him.  I’d lost hope in February that he would ever be well.  Last week, I finally grasped that I was no longer even able to make him comfortable.

Still, the SPCA counselor said that none of his health issues appeared to be life-threatening.  That was the breaking point for me:  if it had been a matter of caring for him through his final illness, I might have been able to stick it out.  This roller-coaster could go on for years.

I’m a travel writer. I have a full schedule of travel ahead of me this summer.  I couldn’t board Morpheus, because his fractured immune system couldn’t handle the vaccines he’d need.  When I went to DC earlier this month, I enlisted a family member to care for him, but after the bladder trouble, he would need closer monitoring.  I’d need to find him a live-in nurse.

I cried through the intake paperwork at the SPCA.  I cried through saying goodbye to him in the SPCA hospital.  I had to sign something saying that I understood that they might have to euthanize him, if he’s not adoptable.  I will never know, though.  My part of Morpheus’s story is over.

When my last cat died at the ripe old age of 17, I had him cremated.  I keep his ashes in a silver sugar bowl on my dresser.  I think I understand now how important it is to have a gravestone or a niche or a sugar bowl on which to focus your grief.  I have nothing of Morpheus left but his favorite toys — and the foolish hope that someone, somewhere, with medical skills and a large disposable income is looking for a project cat to love.


This was inspired by this week’s photo challenge: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/letters/

The Heart of the Association for Gravestone Studies

Photo of Andrea at the 2011 AGS Conference by John O’Brien. It’s not her gravestone!

The Association for Gravestone Studies (AGS) was founded in 1977 to further the study and preservation of gravestones.  With approximately 1,000 members worldwide, the Association brings together a wide variety of people to protect and preserve graveyards all around the world.

Andrea Carlin is the part-time Publications Coordinator, Senior Consultant, and volunteer secretary for the Association for Gravestone Studies. She lives with her fiancée, two cats, a dog, and lots of chaos in Greenfield, Massachusetts. When not working or taking care of pets, she walks around (or rollerblades in!) cemeteries.

Cemetery Travel: How did you get interested in cemeteries in the first place?
Andrea Carlin: I started working at the Association for Gravestone Studies in 1999 and it was, at that time, just an office job for me. After attending conferences and becoming friends with AGS members, I eventually was hooked.

Cemetery Travel: You’ve been involved with AGS for years. What all have you done for the group?
Andrea Carlin: I started out as an office assistant, was the administrator for a while, but had to leave that position to take a full-time benefitted job. I still work for AGS, though: I create the e-newsletter and design the Quarterly. I oversee the office activities, so our poor staff person isn’t all by herself and left to figure out how things are done. I’m currently the secretary of the board of trustees. That’s a volunteer position. I also help organize our local chapter meetings. I love it all!

Hope Cemetery, Worcester

Cemetery Travel: Who are the members of AGS?
Andrea Carlin: All kinds of folks, from conservationists, academics, historians, photographers, people with Goth-type interests, genealogists. That is one of the things that is so cool about AGS: it brings together people who might not connect otherwise.

Cemetery Travel: Why should someone new join?
Andrea Carlin: Fellowship! The conferences and chapter meetings are great. Everyone is welcoming and friendly. I love that they always have a wide variety of topics presented, so even if there are things that aren’t your cup of tea, it’s guaranteed there will be other things that you are into and/or want to learn more about. Plus, in my own case, every time I go to an event, I learn about something that I didn’t think I would be interested in. Epitaphs, for example, and stone types.

The publications are great, too. They also have a wide variety of material.

Cemetery Travel: What’s the best thing that AGS does, in your opinion?
Andrea Carlin: Conferences, workshops, and chapter meetings!

Andrea’s favorite tombstone, Green River Cemetery

Cemetery Travel: 
Do you have a particular passion in Gravestone Studies?
Andrea Carlin: Like a lot of other AGSers, I love kooky gravestones. I collect food and body part gravestones. I also like to take photos of gravestones that are humorous—sometimes intentionally and sometimes not. I really enjoy exploring modern gravestones. I love how personalized they can be these days.

Another view of the same stone, Green River

Cemetery Travel: 
Do you have a favorite tombstone?
Andrea Carlin: There are too many to name! I love all of my food and body part gravestones. There is a strange stone in one of my local cemeteries that I can’t find anything about. It’s one of my faves because it’s weird and I don’t know why.

Cemetery Travel: Why should people care about cemeteries?
Andrea Carlin: It’s history. It’s too bad that a lot of people just don’t see that. They are so often neglected and vandalized I like that when I mention my hobby, people usually go from “how weird” to “how cool.” And then they look at cemeteries with a new appreciation.

Cemetery Travel: Anything else you want to mention?
Andrea Carlin: Check out my Facebook gravestone pages:
Food gravestones
Body Parts gravestones
Strange epitaphs and more

Weekly Photo Challenge: Launch

Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial

It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than 25 years since the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after launch. I was watching TV that morning before I went to my job as the Undergraduate English Secretary at the University of Michigan.

Much of the country was watching TV on January 28, 1986. Among the crew members was Christa McAuliffe, who’d won the honor to be the first Teacher in Space. She represented the opportunity for normal people to go into space. Her death marked the end of that dream for most people.

On June 12, 1986, Congress resolved that “the Secretary of the Army should construct and place in Arlington National Cemetery a memorial marker honoring the seven members of the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger.” Artist Robert Harding designed the bronze plaque on the front of the monument. John Gillespie Magee Jr.’s poem “High Flight” is inscribed on the memorial’s back.

Some of the Challenger crewmembers’ remains could be identified and were buried in private graves. Everything that could not be identified using 1980s technology was cremated and is buried in the base of this monument.

Vice President George Bush dedicated the monument on March 21, 1987. Family members of the seven Challenger astronauts, along with a small crowd of 400 other people, attended.

Faces and names engraved on the monument are:

Commander Michael J. Smith, Pilot (buried in Arlington in Section 7-A)
Commander Francis R. “Dick” Scobee (buried in Section 46 to the left of the Challenger Monument)
Ronald E. McNair, Mission Specialist
Ellison Onizuka, Mission Specialist
S. Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist (and teacher)
Gregory B. Jarvis, Payload Specialist
Judith A. Resnik, Mission Specialist

“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings…”

Cemetery of the Week #1: Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia

Other people’s epitaphs

Headstones at the B’nai Israel Cemetery in Petaluma, California

Every day WordPress sends out topics in hopes it will prompt everyone to blog.  Last month, the well of suggestions was running dry, so they asked for suggestions.  I of course asked a morbid question.

Here’s the original post.  Many bloggers just answered the question in the comments, without actually writing a post of their own.  Others gave the matter real thought.

These are favorite answers to my question “What would you like on your tombstone?”



Sometimes you need a website instead of an epitaph:


Sometimes one word summed it all up:


My answer to the question is here.

What do you want your tombstone to say?

Epitaph in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Tarrytown

One of my suggestions made WordPress’s Post A Day prompt today!

I’ve run through several potential epitaphs. When I published Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries in 1994, I wanted my epitaph to say, “She tried always to do right — but sometimes the temptation was too much for her.” Then I went through a phase where I thought it should say, “My god, it’s full of stars.” At this point, it should probably read, “Traveler, stop and lend an eye. As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so shall you be. Prepare for death and follow me.” Sometimes the classics are the best.

What would you like your tombstone to say about you?

What do you want your tombstone to say?.