30 Oct 2009

Going gentle into that good night

I had a day to myself recently and decided I would check out our local cemetery, which, being just beyond the grounds of a 400 year old house, was potentially quite old and cool. I'm a big fan of cemeteries, I like how quiet they are, how beautiful and old they are, even in Australia, where they've only existed in the form we recognise for just over 200 years. I like reading about people I don't know and wondering what their lives (and deaths) were like and pondering the way we as a people deal with death as the ones left behind.

This cemetery is very well maintained and really not that old by comparison to some of the ones I've been to - most of the older graves date back to the 30s and 40s, and only a couple I saw were turn of the century. It's also not a full cemetery so there are more recent graves, and it looked like there was to be a funeral that day too. I found a few interesting graves, including a very old mausoleum with a worn sign saying 'Entrance to the Vault of William...' - that made me pause and look around suspiciously for a minute, expecting a door in the ivy to suddenly creak open.... it didn't, so I kept looking around.

As I was wandering I could hear soft tinkling noises, which I assumed were wind chimes and there was a soft, sweet smell in the air. As I got back round to the main gates, I realised the wind chimes were closer and I turned a corner to find the children's cemetery. Now I've seen child graves before and it's always sad to read that they were only a few years, weeks, even days old when they died, but I've never seen anything like this. There were about 15 or 20 graves in a walled, grassed section of about 25 square metres, and most of the graves were covered in colourful toys, flowers, tributes, plants, ribbons, wind chimes, lit candles (on the grave and in hanging 'lanterns'), sparkly decorations, photos and trinkets. Little signs saying 'our beloved daughter', 'we miss you, mum and dad', 'for my sister', glass stones, teddy bears, other furry toys, even Chuckie from Rugrats and Stitch from Lilo and Stitch.

One grave, a little girl's, had photos of her with the family spaniel, was completely filled with flowering plants with ornaments and toys hiding between them, edged in pebbles with a sign at the foot of the grave saying 'sssh, fairies are sleeping in the bottom of the garden.' Another, an Asian girl's, was the source of the sweet smell floating right through the cemetery - it was incense - and there were two smaller graves, side by side, literally covered in furry toys, for two babies who died a day apart.

I didn't take any pictures of this part of the cemetery, these graves seemed so much more personal, such a public outpouring of private grief, it just didn't seem right to photograph them for something as frivolous as a weblog. The fact that some of these toys had obviously been there for some time and remained untouched says that I'm not the only one who felt this way.

None of the graves were particularly recent, but as the candles and incense had been lit, I'm assuming that the families of these children come and visit regularly. I can't begin to comprehend having a child, let alone losing one, but I'm guessing that all these bright, cheerful toys and trinkets are an attempt to make sure their children aren't alone and frightened in the grey, dark graveyard. If so, it's working, this burst of colour, scent, soft chimes and light amongst the stark, cold stone of the rest of the cemetery is comforting, almost joyful, despite the tremendous sadness it represents.

It does make for stark and poignant contrast though, when you see the one or two graves without all the colour and sparkle - like the one with a simple wooden cross, a name and date and a weather-faded, rain-matted teddy sitting quietly and loyally at the base of the cross.

1 comment:

Phillip said...

Admittedly I was already teary but that post really put a large lump in my throat.