13 February 2017

Walking with the dead.

I live in a small town of under 2,000 people,  The town itself takes up less than two square miles and sits along a major US highway that commuters to and from Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina travel daily.

I live down the street from the municipal cemetery, and walk my dog there, usually twice a day.  As such, I am more or less aware of the endless stream of burials that take place here.

By my estimation there is space in the grave yard for about 2,000 individuals, and probably three quarters of the plots are now occupied.

We seem to have about two burials a week on average.  Last week there were three; two the week before that.  Sometimes there will be no burials for several weeks, and then a minor flood of death rolls through and we'll have nearly a half dozen in ten days.

I notice names and dates as well, during my walks among the dead.  One young woman was born a few years after I was, and died the day after her twenty-first birthday, probably in a tragic accident after a night of celebration.  Seeing the forgotten memorials to lives cut so tragically short helps me remember to appreciate the fifty years I've managed to live through.  Many don't make it half as far.

A family burial group I often notice is a man buried beside and sharing a headstone with his grandson.  The younger man was born less than six months before I was, and died just nineteen years old.  The family, faced with such an unexpected tragedy and expense, must have elected to use a plat purchased for the grandmother beside her husband.

To one side is another burial, a woman, probably the older man's daughter.  I once thought surely she was the younger man's mother, but recently I noticed another burial, behind the grandfather/grandson's marker.  The grave is that of another woman, with the same birthdate as the woman I assumed was the mother.  She had a twin sister.  Either could be the nineteen year-old's mother.  Perhaps someday I'll dig into these stories and find the truth behind my imaginings.

Last week I think I witnessed the first cremation burial I've ever seen.  I noticed that the grave opened was a much smaller hole than usual, and the next day a service was held, so I assume the remains were ashes.

I actually kind of like the side of using the space one coffin would occupy to place the cremains of an entire family together in one plot, if that sort of thing is allowed in a place that tends toward backwardness and conservative superstition.

I enjoy walking among the graves.  The residents are usually quiet, and in a small town like this one, there's a lot of history to be found there, if you know how to read the signs.