Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gravediggers: Respecting Death, Part 2

Photo 1: Elmsgrove Cemetery, NH.  Notice the doorknob on the upper left.  And think: What if something were to suddenly peer at you from the hole?
Photo 2: Weeping willow, or tree, or fountain design.  Cemetery in the middle of a gravel road in the mountains of NH. 
Photo 3: Tree and urn design.  Very common.  Sometimes just tree; sometimes just urn.  Sometimes tree and urn.  In Sharon, MA.
Photo 4: Sometimes a grinning skull with wings design.  Billings Cemetery, Sharon, MA.
Photo 5: And sometimes nothing at all, especially if you're poor.  A crude and uneven cut that you can tell someone did his best with.  (Notice the equidistant measuring line down the middle.) In NH.
Photo 6: And sometimes you get a stone that's isolated and forgotten about forever.  (Stone's buried in greenage just to the left of dead center.  Sorry.)  Upon closer inspection, this was of an Abigail A.  Up the street from #2, one gravestone by itself in the woods.  Makes you wonder.

(cont'd from previous entry)

It wasn't always that way.  People used to die in their homes all the time--i.e. Romeo and Juliet and The Last Days of Dogtown, among many other works.  This was up until the early 20th century.  During plague and flu epidemics, people had wakes in their living rooms on a weekly basis, if not daily.  And elderly and/or dying people weren't shipped away to die, either--they stayed home and died in front of everyone, slowly and often painfully, and not without a little bit of smell.  They were there, always in the mind's eye--and the center of the living room, if not in their own little room, hidden away upstairs.  But this was why Death was more of an actual character in fiction and poetry then--like in many of Chaucer's, Caravaggio's and Poe's tales.  Death was always there, a part of daily, accepted life.  Gravestones show this (see last post)--as Death predominated, so it did on headstones, often dancing and smiling.  Later, as it ebbed somewhat from daily occurrence and acceptance--as medicine improved and facilities and hospitals flourished--angels and fountains replaced skeletons and grinning skulls on tombstones.  Life got easier--or at least we made it seem that way.  Today, if you've noticed, the faces of the dead people themselves are frequently on their own gravestones, as the focus has shifted completely from Death to ourselves.  Or we make it seem that way.  I can't tell which is creepier--the grinning skulls or the grinning, life-like, dead people.  I think I'd take the skulls.

Or maybe Death just used to be handled more immediately, more respectfully.  Not as something to be dismissed and shunted aside--like we do when we banish the dying or elderly to facilities--but as something instead that must be DEALT WITH.

So, anyway, Gravediggers does that.  Death is IN YOUR FACE on every page--because, man, that's the way it used to be.  That's the way it was before we got so scared that we SANITIZED everything.  Gravediggers has an incubus (or is it a succubus?) and flus, and plagues and AIDS and a future filovirus so that there'll be no one to sanitize death anymore--it'll be a dead body in every room in every house, or in every backyard, basement or attic, every crypt, every church--it'll be everywhere, felt by everyone, so that there'll be no one left to even bury the gravediggers.

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