Faith Works 6-8-13
Thoughts on leaving Fairmount Cemetery
Depending on when or where you're reading this, you may not know about the delightful sixteen year old young woman who died in our county after an accident on Memorial Day.
If you don't, it is enough to say she was well loved by family and friends and classmates and many, many more. She was, as is obvious, far too young to die – as if there is an age where it ever feels entirely right.
After a memorial service which attempted to sketch out the depth of our feeling and the breadth of our love for her, a procession longer than I ever hope to see again, and shorter than the number who would have gone if they could, wended its way from Lakewood High School to Fairmount Cemetery on US 40, the old National Road.
We passed milestones one after another, worn and weathered, some of the words obscured by the years, "Cumberla…" and "Wheelin…" above numbers once incredibly important, now so small in terms of modern speed as to be no more than the historical curiosity they now are.
Others have passed these milestones of course, wagons and carriages and sulkies and carts and buggies and Model Ts and Packards and Hudsons and Mustangs. Earlier funeral processions have gone by them, and more will no doubt do so in days and years to come, while the milestones sit and stare, declaring their sullen distances to no one in particular.
The family of the young woman we've lost has been to this cemetery before, for older family members whose days had become a burden, and yet even then it didn't seem like the right time. So much more so today, bright and clear and even beautiful in a way I could only be thankful for later.
With the saying of the last formal words at the graveside, and the singing of one last song, we turned and walked away, back to our cars. There were more gatherings to share, stories yet to tell, but for now we were done here.
At the top of the hill where the cemetery sits is a small brick church, and matching in bulk next to it, a mound. Some twelve to fourteen feet high, it's a mound from a period that archaeologically goes back about 2,500 years, a period we label today as "Adena," from a typical such mound on the grounds of the Adena Mansion down in Chillicothe.
Most Adena mounds are cemeteries themselves, rising up where our contemporary graveyards spread out. Each new usage, from the ground level to the peak, represents a set of interments in most cases, a collection of remains from those who had died in the family or clan over a multi-year period. So some are cremated remains, some bundles of bones, and occasionally a complete, "extended" committal in the middle, likely a person whose death either triggered the next usage of the site, or simply the one who died most recently before the time for burying had begun.
Today, the emotion is raw, ragged, painful and deep. Like any fresh, major injury, it is impossible to imagine healing and calm satisfaction ever again while you are hurting with the initial impact. Maybe after a healer's care, perhaps in a day or two, you won't be there yet, but you can conceive of it happening someday. Not in the moment.
Yet there, looking down at all of us, is a sign, as are the stones set into the ground all around us, of how that day will come. When those honored dead were brought here, on a litter carried by family (we would imagine), their grief was no less real, no softer-edged, not something you could quickly dismiss. It was over two millennia ago, but you know, you just know, that the pain was sharp and vivid as the remains were covered with earth.
You don't want to call it, or imagine it, as detachment, let alone uncaring, but there is a time and season for each wave of feeling in turn. The tide will recede, and when it comes up to fullness again, it will be a different time altogether. The layers mount up towards the sky on the mound, our rows of tombstones extend further towards the horizon. Walking along them, we spot a name we know, remembering that earlier day when we came.
And we pass through the gate, and drive down the road, but know that we will be back. One way or another.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him about a cemetery dear to you at email@example.com, or @Knapsack on Twitter.