–All photographs by David Urrutia
Graveyards, like books, make a statement. The few words written on gravestones are arguably among the most potent one can read. Perhaps it is this very potency that keeps many away, for the message in graveyards can be most uncomfortable. For others, graveyards represent an opportunity to pay respect to and pray for those departed.
(I see images in my mind’s eye as I type this, of characters depicted in film, visiting and scrubbing their forebears’ tombstones.) Since more and more people today choose cremation over being buried in plots, those living are doubtless going to have fewer chances to read the last words commemorating the lives of those born at the turn of this century or earlier.
What does it matter, you may well ask, once we are dead, to have words carved on a block of stone? Possibly it matters not at all. Nonetheless my husband and I felt very touched by the message we got when visiting the cemetery at Cambria, in California, right after attending the Fourth of July parade in Cayucos, a message not entirely made with words. David, being a photographer, felt drawn to the lack of pretense in the rambling, not-so-terribly straight rows of gravestones that were mixtures of love, whimsy and cultures. Cambria cemetery, dating to 1880, had quite a few tombstones that announce the interred as having been born early in the 1800s in Scotland, Germany, and other parts of Europe. How potent four words can be when they tell so much about a life: Born in Ireland, 1820.
I felt the pioneers around me, as well as those severely tried. Three tombstones neatly arranged together with corners dulled by decades of rain showed that three siblings had died within months of each other, during the great flu epidemic after the First World War. There was nothing to read but names, ages, months and years of demise, and in those few words I read a tragedy to redden my eyes as I contemplated the parents or whoever had survived to pay for the stones.
Yet despite these sad musings, there were several deer serenely grazing, and demonstrations of honor and respect for the beauty and hope of those lives now concluded. Never have I seen so many chair-backed benches near ingenuously handmade graves . One child’s grave was decorated with his toys and no one has taken them away. Another bench was under a sign that implored the visitor to read the words of the interred, who had been a writer. (I almost thought some writings would be there, and dutifully looked, on the spot, for a page or two under glass.) Yet another was of a cherished mother, wife, artist and writer. May I call lucky a deceased person who has left behind in this life people still living who respect her passions and creativity?
We will all be in that state, someday, and I mean no disrespect in my title. It came to me after reading two inscriptions. The first said of its occupant: “He lived for better or for worse, but he died for good.”
The second was a quote, presumably from the lips of the deceased: “I told you I was sick.”