My first experience with a cemetery that I can remember was Crown Hill, located in Jefferson County, Colorado. This is where, when I was eight years old, I accompanied my family to the burial of my grandfather. This was also my first real experience with death. It was then that I realized that I too one day would die.
From that day, and all through my childhood, I remember going there with my grandmother. She would plant and tend flowers by the headstones of my grandfather and our other family members buried there. My brother and I would play among the graves. Always respectful, we never stood or climbed on the headstones, but our laughter was never stifled. My grandmother would tell us of my great-grandmother Cosima, who was an accomplished pianist, beautiful, and sadly died when my grandfather was only a baby. She taught me not through words but through her behavior that though a cemetery should be respected, you could feel comfortable there. These were happy moments; peaceful moments.
As a teenager a friend and I would occasionally walk through the cemetery near her house, and we'd talk of our lives, and wonder about the lives of those who now resided beneath our feet. We always paid special attention to the section of the cemetery set aside for babies and young children.
In my young adulthood I developed a love of genealogy, as my grandfather had once had. He had done extensive research on our family history, and my grandmother entrusted all his work to me. My great task was inputting dozens of his hand-written notebooks and letters onto my computer. Then I started scanning pictures. I got to know where and who I came from.
When I was barely an adult I flew to Connecticut to visit my new husband who was there completing sub-school. While he was attending schools during the day I would wander around a cemetery just across the street from our hotel. I felt I was among a history I had never been near before, as the dates of the headstones on the East Coast go back much further than those I normally saw.
When my husband and I took a camping trip in the mountains of North Carolina, we took a day hike up a winding dirt road, climbing higher and higher. When we finally reached the top, we found the most serene little family cemetery, with a wrought-iron fence around its perimeter. There with the clear mountain air, the cloudless sky and bright sun shining down, I felt overwhelming peace and happiness. Of all the final resting places, this had to be the most beautiful.
Not long after that we visited the famous Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia after reading a little bit about its history and residents. We would visit Bonaventure several more times while living in the Southeast.
Full circle, I found myself living in Denver, and once again able to visit Crown Hill Cemetery. My grandmother is now buried there next to her true love. No longer do the flowers bloom there. In the spring you can still see the tulip bulbs strain to push their green stems towards the sun, but are too old to get very far. I took my husband and children to the place that I would play as a child, and listen to my grandmother teach me about gardening, and family. Those three large flat headstones several plots away are still there, just as they were. My brother and I were always careful never to walk upon them, but I remember him teasing me that if they were ever covered with leaves I should never brush them aside, or I would see my own name chiseled on the stone.
I tried to impart to my daughter a little of the family history I have come to love and cherish, though being so young she was more interested in skipping among the headstones and gathering pine cones. I sat upon my grandparents' graves, and while everyone else was talking and laughing at Ella, I had a quiet moment to "introduce" them to my new family - the one they hadn't gotten to meet.
Cemeteries are not scary places for me. They glow with a light that the rest of the world doesn't. They are quiet, peaceful, and reflective. They are stories untold, and mysteries unsolved.
Many members of my family talk of being cremated. For me, I want a small piece of ground, quiet and tended to by nature. I want a beautiful headstone, unlike the flat mower-friendly ones of today. I want an occasional stranger to wander by and see my name, and wonder for just a moment about my life, before admiring the scenery, and reflecting on their own.