Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Throughout my studies I have come to learn that Americans have the vanilla treatment when it comes to their dead. Some Aborigines leave bodies in the treetops. In some parts of Indonesia, widows smear their bodies with the fluids from their dead husband. The ancient Egyptians mummified their dead after treating them with a number of spices, herbs and chemicals. The Jews are supposed to wrap their dead in a cloth and bury them underground, while the surrounding people throw dirt in the hole. We Americans give our dead a coffin and bury them in a cemetery, which is a place for the dead to rest.

As a child, I was taught an old Southern legend of the haints. The haints were basically another name for ghosts in the black community (in the south). Most of my family on both sides is buried behind the old family houses, while some are buried in cemeteries with their own plots. As a kid, when I spent the night at my Great Uncle’s house, there was a cemetery in his backyard. There were sounds from owls and other animals rustling through the leaves. After I was told about the haints, I wouldn’t go outside at night. I had the general child’s feeling of “the cemetery is haunted with the ghosts of the dead” (too many scary movies). My sister furthered my fright and suspicion by making noises in the next room and running out in the hallway, where she would greet me with a convincing “what’s wrong with you?” From that point on and after my uncle passed, I have slowly transformed into a harsh realist.

Nowadays, when I think of or go to a cemetery I am completely unafraid. I know that there is no such thing as ghosts and that everyone buried there is nothing but a rotted corpse (except for the occasional creepy gravedigger). I do however face a feeling of sadness. I am sad for the ones who have passed and the loved ones who had to bury them. I think about the times I have gone to funerals and all of the collective grief hanging over the environment like a black cloud. That was someone’s mother. That was someone’s sister. That could have been someone’s child. I maintain a sense of tunnel vision as I travel to the gates in order to minimize my sadness. I go straight to the person/people who I came to see and then I leave. There is no looking around at all the cool headstones. There are no brisk peaceful walks because of the chilling silence. All of that occurred when you were trying to avoid the person being buried right in front of you. So I guess, I think of the cemetery as a place of grief, sadness, and pain. I don’t associate it with scary things. I don’t overstay my welcome. I pay my respects to the dead and I leave.

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