The Family Plot

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DSC01568It occurred to me today, as I found myself standing in the middle of the family plot talking to the people I love who are no longer with me except in spirit and memory, that anyone not Irish might  consider it odd to find comfort in a cemetery.  Yet, I always do.

I’d gone there to to talk to my family about life  and I’d brought coffee because they’d loved it and because I thought it might be a lengthy conversation. A middle-aged woman passing by smiled and waved at me from the road below. “I’m so happy to see I’m not the only one who brings coffee when I come to chat, ” she called out and we both laughed at the loveable absurdity of the scene.

Maybe it’s the fact that we used to visit old graveyards when I was a child – admiring the tumbledown tombstones, scrying the inscriptions, imagining the heartaches both recent and long ago.  So much history captured in moldering memorials – died in childbirth… lost in infancy… gone but not forgotten… we will miss you forever so much of love and anguish preserved forever in a line or twoI used to wander from stone to stone reading the messages, imagining lives. Or maybe it’s the fact that I’ve lost so many  of those dearest to my heart that makes this a place of solace for me.

My own two daughters now lie beside my parents on a small hill in the shade of a gentle Japanese maple, four pink granite headstones echoing the color of the leaves in Fall and making the plot seem somehow softer in the snow.

DSC01520I tend the graves and the memories.  Flowers planted in Spring, a blanket of balsam and Christmas tree ornaments to keep them warm in winter, foolish as that sounds.  I am not resigned to the shutting away of warm hearts in the cold ground, said Millay, and because I, too, am not resigned, this is my small gesture of rebellion.

The memories of those I love are as much part of me as blood and bone.  When I stand before the headstones, it all unfolds again.  The laughter and the love… the library paste-and-glitter birthday cards presented proudly after school… the chubby child fingers clutched in mine, trusting that I’ll keep them safe from sorrows neither they nor I could yet imagine.  My parents’ voices and my children’s lost dreams are all hidden away where only my own heart can find them now.  Yet, somehow, here in the cemetery my family is together again.


My father’s favorite cap… my daughters’ letters… my mother’s prayerbook … I kept them all,  unable to part with what still bore a trace of their touch, lest all that was tangible slip away forever. And deep inside me, I kept the rest.  Those we truly love never leave us, the sages say, but oh, that shadow presence isn’t nearly enough!  We long to hold them, touch their beloved faces, hold their hands again, trim the tree again.  Hear the laughter and the love again.  Say the words left unsaid.  Rescind the regrets.  We don’t get over the death of those we love, we just get through it and go on – anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows the depths of that truth… knows we are changed irrevocably by the loss of each and every one who leaves us.  Never ask to know for whom the bell tolls…

So I go to the cemetery and I talk to them, keeping them abreast of the vicissitudes of life.  Just so they’ll know for certain that I haven’t forgotten for a moment who they were and what they meant to my heart.

I know it sounds silly to think they know I’m there.

But I do.


© Cathy Cash Spellman/The Wild Harp & Co. Inc 2013

Posted on January 12th 2013 in Death, Family, Life, Sorrow

10 Responses to “The Family Plot”

  1. Maria D'Angelo Says:

    Oh Cathy you are not odd at all. I am Italian and I understand completely. I too often wonder about the people’s lives who are buried at the cemetery when I visit to say hi to my grandparents and my uncle. I don’t talk to them out loud though, because then I’m sure someone would commit me!

    You have such a way of capturing a feeling Cathy. Of getting right to the heart of things. It’s such a gift.

    Thanks for these blog posts. I look forward to them on the weekend.

  2. Cathy Says:

    Thanks for understanding what I was hoping to convey, Maria…I, too, only speak my thoughts aloud when I think I’m alone with my loved ones…but aloud or not, there’s a soul-satisfying comfort in being able to voice what’s in my heart. I think of my blogposts as another way to communicate messages across time/space to those who care, so your lovely words encourage me to keep on writing them!

  3. Melissa Martin Ellis Says:

    Such a lovely picture of the cemetery and headstones. I am happy they are together here and you can have your visits. That is a blessing and obviously brings you so much comfort.

  4. Cathy Says:

    I love the photos Dakota took in the cemetary that day…it’s a beautiful old place that dates to the 1700’s and because it’s filled with roaming deer, it always feels as if there’s still life there. I am comforted by going there, but it’s a bittersweet comfort, I’m afraid, as I’ve found that I miss them all as much now as on the day they left me.

  5. Gerry Says:

    That was so touching and emotional that it took me three times before I finally was able to finish reading. It is very visual. I could see you standing in the cemetery and feel the quiet. The photos are beautiful and your words …remarkable.

  6. Cathy Says:

    I’m sorry if my blog made you sad, Gerry…I know you understand only too well profound loss and grief. It is, in truth, a sweet and quiet place, far from the everyday world…I’m so glad you were able to feel that in the photos. Your words, as always, touch my heart.

  7. Anne Calhoun Says:

    Like Maria, I don’t think you odd at all. Among my fondest memories are those of my mother (gone 20 years now) taking me to the cemeteries where her parents, grandparents, a sibling, and other relatives are buried. When I slept overnight at a great aunt’s house, I always visited the family cemetery (paternal side) directly across the road. I still go to those cemeteries whenever I get the chance, when I go “home” to Virginia, and the time spent there is most peaceful and comforting. I also look forward to your blogs because I enjoy your writing so much. (I’m reading Lark’s Labyrinth now.)

  8. Cathy Says:

    Peaceful and comforting is a great way to describe the feeling, Anne. Thanks for your sweet words about my blogs and books…and for letting me know you feel as I do about spending time in cemetaries. I believe there’s a feeling of continuity and love that resides in such places that’s very, very powerful. Hope you’re enjoying your time in Lark’s Labyrinth.

  9. Andrea Says:

    Cemeteries are places for picnics….history lessons, love lessons, and family memories. I stop into cemeteries where I don’t know anyone. On vacation, we told the kids they better behave or mom gets to go to another cemetery! Glad to see others do that too…my Midwest upbringing doesn’t offer ancient graves, but I plan to travel for such an experience sooner than later. I also agree about blogs as a way to connect….

  10. Cathy Says:

    Delighted to hear you feel as I do about cemetaries…they are all that you suggest. I smiled when I read the word picnic, as my Father used to take his lunch and a picnic blanket to my Mother’s graveside often and always said it comforted him to be there with her.

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