..."certainly the United States most chronic ailment: it's denial of death...and it's abandonment of the bereaved to a kind of solitary confinement."
I have always been happy in cemeteries. When I was little I had a school friend who lived next to the only cemetery in our rural midwestern town, and I loved her almost as much as I loved visiting her house for sleepovers. From her second floor bedroom you could see all the headstones, modern and ancient slabs alike crammed together and crookedly erupting from a grassy hill like teeth in a questionable mouth. There were aging willows that draped themselves protectively over an ornate mausoleum, as well as oak trees guarding the groundskeepers shed that woke us on windy days with leafy shushing.
This is still the place I see when I imagine my own death and the eternity beyond - nothing gory or eccentric, just a peaceful earth sans one human. This is the picture I keep in my mind as so many people succumb to a pandemic, to the police, to their neighbors, and any other number of pointless cruelties controlling our current narrative. When my friend had to move, her parents spent years trying to sell their cemetery house and I begged my parents to buy it, to no avail. It seemed that rural America considered such proximity to death terrible for building equity.
"In our western culture, where are we held in our grief?"
I can't help but wonder, though, if it's the hiding of things that allow the madness of our present situation to take hold. The hiding of bodies. The hiding of the sick. The hiding of consequences. The hiding of truth. Perhaps cemeteries feel peaceful because no one is jockeying around with facts or obfuscating intentions. No one is arguing about causes of death, or whether or not the death was fake, or performative. No one is blaming the bodies for their action, or inaction, depending on your worldview. Each headstone states what simply is, not what anyone else thinks; this is a dead person, this was their name, this is when they died, and here is where they lay.
If we spent more time with that simplicity, the quiet, inexorable simplicity of death, perhaps we would place more value on the loud complexity of the mortal realm and fight harder to preserve it. At the very least, we could have a fuller picture of the truth of the matter - that when you die, you will be dead, and while it might not be obliteration, it certainly won't be what you have now. It will be grassy and voiceless, the only audible chatter erupting from stately oak trees and willows weeping green tears. That knowledge might allow us to fill our present, our NOW, with quiet and peace, instead of saving it for an unknown future.
"These were places to meet despair face to face and say, 'I see you waiting there. And I feel you, strongly. But you do not demean me."