When you walk into a cemetery everything changes. The pace changes, you become aware of your surroundings, you feel the sun on your face, you smell the clean air, you walk slower. The sounds change, you hear the bird song, you talk softer. You feel calmer. There is no place quite like a cemetery. Be it an old cemetery or a newer one, like the nave of a church, cemeteries have that feeling. They have soul.
Everyone knows cemeteries are special. They are protected. When a new highway is built it goes around a cemetery, instead of going through the cemetery. Housing developments are planned to spare cemeteries. Children are hushed when they visit a cemetery, they know without being told they are in a special place.
In the cemetery, the sharp edges of our everyday life feel out of place. The ring of a cell phone seems shrill. And yet, things that would feel wrong and out of place in the real world, feel right in the cemetery. Things like a husband sitting in a lawn chair reading the paper in the “presence” of his deceased wife, or a wife talking softly to her husband about her life plans moving forward, or a person quietly working out grievances held in life with a deceased family member - all of this feels natural in a cemetery. Cemeteries are for grieving. A person can grieve in a cemetery in comfort and without judgement. Cemeteries are for remembering. In the cemetery the love you felt from your grandmother, father, sister, husband or child comes back to you like a warm hug.
Cemeteries are by definition a “final resting place”. They have a permanence that on first blush it is easy to gloss over. But when one takes a moment to let those words, final resting place, really sink in we realize we are talking about a forever place. It is that place where grandchildren always know the grandfather who taught them to fish or the grandmother who made those perfect cookies, is resting forever. No matter how far family may scatter, or how seldom they actually get to visit the cemetery, there is comfort in knowing where family rests. Graves are seldom moved in the name of progress. It is reassuring for future generations to have a record, to know the place where their ancestors will be in perpetuity.
Over time, a cemetery becomes a garden. It improves with age. Ashes may be scattered in some lovely places but many of those lovely places become something else as time passes. The trickling stream is dammed and becomes a reservoir. The farm is sold and becomes a housing development. The golf course changes hands and becomes a shopping mall. Not every place improves over time. The cemetery stands the test of time. It always has soul.