The Heavy and Loving Hand of Grief
I never thought I'd come to enjoy walking through a cemetery. There's something about the one that I'm living relatively close to right now that speaks to me and has me returning to in order to discover something new. (Just like in this very moment when I went to look for a link to the Montmartre Cemetery to discover the very photograph I had taken and already selected for this story was on the website's home page. O Mon Dieu!) Perhaps it's the proximity to nature that appeals. Or maybe it's the opportunity to contemplate life and death. Likely, it's a bit of both as well as general curiosity.
Cemeteries have always felt creepy to me. They've also felt like a waste of space. Scary ghost stories from childhood and my own personal preferences as to how I want to be laid to rest have discouraged and biased me from seeing the beauty and grace that is there to behold. I realize people want and need places to grieve. They also need places to remember. And while I believe the best place to remember our loved ones are in our hearts and memories, it's important to have places we can go to where we feel some part of them remain.
I believe that no matter where our bodies are buried or ashes are scattered, we're pretty much everywhere once we're no longer on this physical plane we call 'living.' I like to think that the presence of our family and friends who have passed can be felt anywhere and probably more specifically, to "show up somehow" just when we need them most. Whether it's through our dreams or a warm breeze appearing out of nowhere or recognizing a knowing glance on another person's face, there's an undeniable experience we can't explain of, "Yes, I feel you here and now."
Death of the body doesn't separate us. I think it's our own beliefs (or the ones that were handed down to us through our ancestors, religion, cultural norms) that convince us we can no longer be connected to or feel a part of something that once was. I call bullshit on this. Love continues to exist whether or not someone is around. The love we have for the ones we've lost and the love that our departed had for us doesn't diminish or disappear. - it expands exponentially. As we get on in years, I'm discovering that grief has a tendency to expand as well.
As I walk through the countless number of headstones and concrete sculptures, I am amazed by both the ornateness of some and the simplicity of others. Some inscriptions can no longer be read while others from the mid 1800's are still visibly present. There are plastic flowers strewn about with no worries about the weather and there are living, growing vines that continue on no matter the sun, the rain and occasionally snow.
And that's what we, the living do, don't we? We continue on, although we're never quite the same. How could we be? Someone's life force was infused with ours for a time. No matter what the relationship was or how short or long its duration, another human being impacted our being - and our lives were forever changed because of it. Maybe for the worse. Hopefully for the better. But there was an impact made due to the connections made, the period of time that was shared and then it was no longer.
It's not just the loss of a loved one that does this to us. Grief is an ongoing, steady player in many facets of our lives. It's loss of any kind that can render us speechless, unable to function as we might normally would and leave us in a place where we need to mourn what was "ours" so-to-speak. Grief can be a serious mother fucker at times. We can either welcome it in or we can push it away. Whichever we choose, grief will have its say. Perhaps that's the heaviness of it. To learn from and receive the gifts that grief can offer is a damn hard thing to do. It's also where the love is.
We have all lost someone or something in our lives. Grief does not discriminate, although at times it does seem like some folks are given more grief to bear than others. I feel for those who have innumerable experiences of loss, one after the other it seems, with no time to catch a breath before the next loss occurs.
When I walk through this cemetery, I'm paying attention to breathing deeply and walking slowly as I take in everything that surrounds me; the concrete sculptures and inscribed words, the fake flowers and the real weeds, the squawking ravens and the silent cats and the people- all those who come to walk among the newly departed and the long-ago dead. I see exquisite sadness and I also see tremendous joy. This place has changed how I see cemeteries.
Grief is a heavy and loving hand. I know I do not walk alone.