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NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
Respect For The Dead
Article ID: 14037
Age Group: Adult
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Posted: September 19th. 2010
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On the eighth anniversary of my mother's death, as is my custom, I walked to the cemetery next to the beach to visit her. I have done this on the anniversary of her death and on her birthday every year since she died. In the first few years after she passed away, I used to go to the cemetery more often, to get some peace of mind and to feel close to her when everything was getting to be too much.
Going into a cemetery- any cemetery- is a strange experience. This cemetery in particular is situated next to the main road that runs by the beach. A very noisy and busy road, too, yet when I walk through those wrought-iron gates and past the little chapel, everything is strangely quiet. It's like walking into a soundproof room. The only sound is made by the crows that frequently circle overhead, the odd carload of mourners, and the mini digger that prepares the new graves. But it's the feel of the place that gets me; so peaceful and serene, and that strange, indescribably eerie feeling that I can only describe as 'anti-life'; you can feel the death and the dead, yet it seems oddly vibrant and, even more eerily, somehow aware of you.
I had bought some pretty flowers from the local shop- purple, pink, and white- and after standing for a moment in the amazingly still cemetery, gazing at my mother's headstone, I knelt on the damp grass and started trimming the flowers so that they would stand in the little holder better. Then I walked to the bin and popped the wrapper from the flowers in, as well as the bits of excess stalk. I picked up some other rubbish that was lying around too, and put that in the bin, as well as generally cleaning up and sorting out the adjacent graves to my mother's. Some of them were never visited often, I could tell, and it only seemed right to give them some attention. After that, I stood before my mother's grave in the bleaching hail (which, typically, only just started when I reached the grave) and mourned a little.
As I stood there, I thought I saw something white moving out of the corner of my eye, as if it were standing at my shoulder; I looked and there was nothing there. Later on, something white hurried across the far end of the cemetery as I was looking at my mother's grave. I looked up, thinking it might be a van or something, only to remember that there was no road in that direction, only fields. The last time I saw anything in the cemetery was a few years ago, and that was the first time. Strangely, I wasn't scared; I was actually quite touched that the ghosts decided to appear to me, if only briefly. The one at my shoulder had seemed especially comforting, though whether it was my mother I couldn't definitely say.
Eventually I happened to notice some rubbish lying in a pile of tatty dead bush next to me. Grumbling about disrespect and selfishness, I wandered over to pick it up. I found an empty flower wrapper and a Christmas card. A Christmas card? Out of mild curiosity, I opened it, and found a message that read:
“To my dear husband Fred. It's just not the same without you. Love Heather.”
It was so touching I almost cried. I just couldn't throw it away. Then I realized; I had a name. Fred. With that name, there might be half a chance that I could find the grave and return the card. Yes, it was well past Christmas (it's February at the time of writing this article) , but I was sure that Fred would appreciate getting his card back. I deduced that the card had been blown from the bottom end of the cemetery, where there were a few new graves with flower and cardholders on them, and probably from this side of the cemetery too.
So I set off to find Fred.
At first it all seemed a bit hopeless; after all, I was only guessing that the card was from this bit of the cemetery, and I had no idea which way the wind had been blowing when the card was blown away. Then I walked towards a grave that was adorned with lots of fresh flowers; one that looked like it was visited a lot. The name? Frederick. I can't quite remember the surname, and it's probably best not to say it anyway, but there he was, a loving husband and father. So I addressed him, saying: 'Hello Fred. I hope that you're the right Fred, but I can't see any others. Here you go'.
And I put the card back, pushing it well into the mulch in the flower holder so that it wouldn't blow away as easily this time.
After that, I told my mother about what I'd been up to lately, picked up some more rubbish and left, feeling much more at peace.
I'll never know if Fred's wife appreciated the return of the card, or indeed if it was the right Fred (though I did look hard and there weren't any others, so I sincerely hope so) . Most people would probably find it a bit strange that I went to so much trouble. But in many ways, I felt like it was the least I could do- I had no right to simply throw the card away, as that decision surely lay with Fred's wife, who had given the card in so much love. Of course, she probably did just throw it away after wondering how on earth it appeared back on the grave, but to me it's a matter of principle; the principle being that it was Fred's card, so it was lost property when I happened upon it, and as the finder it was my duty to return it to the original owner, be they deceased or not.
Expanding upon this point, it has always been my firm belief that just because someone in dead does not mean they are gone. I have always believed in souls and spirit, and so ghosts and visitations. I have smelled my mother's tobacco smoke and perfume many times in my house, and heard her wandering the house at night just as she used to when alive. I also heard my great-grandfather playing his Northumbrian pipes the night that they arrived at our home. Consequently I identify strongly with the Anglo-Saxon veneration of the dead that has passed over into many forms of Traditional Witchcraft, including my own personal path. I fully believe that 'the dead live and play their part in this world and theirs', as said in the Cornish Pellar Craft, and so they must be treat with equal respect to (if not more respect than) the living.
It is for this reason that I bother myself to go around the cemetery cleaning up abandoned and unloved graves, disposing of strewn litter and rectifying overturned flowerpots. It is also the reason why it saddens me so much to see these broken, decayed monuments, which often inhabit their sad state due to a lack of living relatives to care for and maintain them; even sadder, it is sometimes the case that the relatives simply cannot face the truth of mortality, in themselves or their loved ones, and refuse to visit as it causes them too much grief. And of course death is sad; it is sad because we can no longer hold or truly communicate with the departed, except for in our thoughts and prayers, or via the odd spooky happening if you're lucky.
At this point I'd like to mention that I have always been doubtful of clairvoyants and the like, mainly because the dead usually choose to make themselves known to you, and I cannot see why they would speak to a complete stranger rather than their own kin. I also find it incredibly disrespectful to go around disturbing people you don't even know or have a connection with, especially when they're busy having an afterlife. The sheer fact that there are so many of these supposedly 'gifted' people, added to the fact that they often charge extortionate prices for the privilege of their gift, makes me doubt them even more. But that's a topic for another essay, really.
Getting back on topic, I find it disheartening that so many people refuse to visit cemeteries because they are 'depressing' or 'sad'. Well, they are, but they are also beautiful, serene places of power if you have the right outlook. Try not to think of them as places of death and despair; instead try to think of them as places where we can most powerfully contact our ancestors and loved ones, as quiet, peaceful places of rest. The fact is that everyone dies; it is merely a question of when. And though I urge you to enjoy life and be in no rush to end it, I also urge you, dear reader, to let go of your fear of mortality.
Go to a cemetery. Either today, or tomorrow, or next week, I don't mind, but do go. As soon as you step through the gate, you will feel the eerie quiet, but you won't feel alone. And it won't be scary unless you make it so. Remember that there are people there, namely their spirits, and they'll probably be quite happy that you're visiting. If you see any litter, pick it up and put it in the bin; clear some weeds off some unkempt graves. I promise you that you will feel wonderful when you come to leave, and I'm sure the souls there will appreciate your care.
After all, our Ancestors constantly watch over us, sometimes electing to guide us and inform us in unusual ways, and often making their presence felt. It is only right that we return the favour with our respect.
Cornish Pellar Craft quote taken from http://www.cronnekdhu.co.uk
Location: Newcastle, England
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