I don’t visit graves. I’ve never gone out looking for the place a body was put and I don’t think I will, ever. There are those who do and I don’t wonder why, but it isn’t for me and it never was. To me a body is to be returned to the earth not put in a container and left forever. There was a time a simple wooden box and a piece of land was all that was needed, if that much, but being dead has gotten to be a big business. When funeral homes took grief and started an industry around it Americans became inured with the way their loved ones were interred. There became a formula to follow and everyone did it the same way, more or less, and perfectly good land became fields were the dead were planted and nothing was allowed to live.
A woman I once dated took me out to a cemetery to meet her parents. We sat on the ground and she talked and I listened and it was more or less an introduction to how she felt about their lives and how she wished they were still around to meet the people she knew now. For her, there was a diving line between those people who knew her when her parents were alive and those of us who only knew them from photos and two names on a piece of granite in a field of stones. Their birthdays were on the same days, but different months, her mother was two years younger than her father. Her mother’s middle name was Oliva, and I’ve always like that name, and said so. We spent an hour or so fending off fire ants and speaking in hushed tones. I do understand the desire to have some geographic location to return to, and some sort of symbol to represent someone at that place. But bodies ought to go back to the earth from which they came. We did it this way for thousands of years.
We had a conversation, the woman with the dead parents and I, about visiting the graves. I never said I wouldn’t go or I didn’t want to go, but sometimes I didn’t or I did, yet I suspect she sensed I was detached from the experience; it’s not that I lacked empathy for her loss but I didn’t feel that same sense of presence when we were there. She asked me if there was anyone anywhere that I went to see and I told her no, there wasn’t and she looked at me as if she was pondering a life with a man who wasn’t going to visit her if she died first. It’s the same sort of look I get when I tell someone I hate Christmas or I don’t like grits.
When I worked in woodyard in Hilton Georgia, there was a group of men who worked with me and they were all from the same small South Georgia town. They told me the story of a man who had died in a house fire and the family looked for his body in the ruins, but there was nothing left of him but some charred bones. One of the men told me that no one could find the man’s heart and I was at a loss as to why they would look for it. He said the heart couldn’t be destroyed by fire and some of it ought to have been found, and they family spent a great deal of time looking for it. I stopped arguing about this point very quickly.
What most people don’t know, and no funeral home is going to tell, is that the heart and other organs are taken out of the body and basically flushed into the sewers. There was a case in Valdosta Georgia when a family wanted another autopsy on their son and when his body was disinterred and taken to a crime lab they discovered it had been stuffed with old newspapers. That’s a common practice and I wonder how many people have been buried with their own obituaries holding their bodies up? But what you see in a casket is a body that has had a lot of work done to it and a lot of things are missing. Poisons have been injected into it and it will remain in some form or another in a concrete box long after anyone who remembers the person is buried, possibly nearby.
Someone in the hills of Virginia is a rock that has a named painted on it. There’s a birthday and a date of death, but that’s all, and that’s the spot a friend of mine had her ashes scattered after she died. One of her cousin’s took me up there to see it one day, and I liked the view from the rock, and this was a good way to do it. Anyone wanting to visit the site had to make a good climb, but it was worth it because it’s so pretty up there. I’m willing to bet no one made that much money off her funeral, and that too, is a good way to do it.
If I can manage it I’m going to be buried in the ground in a pine box or maybe just a shroud. I would rather just be dumped into a hole in the earth and have an Oak tree planted above me, and if anyone wanted to tend to the tree that would be fine, but as far as a marker of any sort I would rather do without. There is no reason whatsoever not to do it this way, as far as I am concerned. Failing at being able to be buried out in the woods, I’m going to be cremated and have my ashes scattered out in the Okefenokee Swamp. I’ll let the red-black water take what’s left of my physical machinery and swirl it around lazily, maybe a few flakes of my physical self will settle down to the bottom and become a home or food for something still living.
I’ve heard it takes four generations for someone to be totally forgotten, but in my case I suspect it will be a lot less than that. There are no children to come speak to the concrete box in a cemetery and there will be no building anywhere that carries my name into the future, no streets named after me, and no lasting legacy of good or evil. Most people fade away like this, into history, yet here we are, hanging onto tombstones and concrete boxes, wasting perfectly good fields, and the dead still cannot hear us.