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Strange Conversations and "Home"

It seems like recently, I’ve had some strange conversations with my family and friends.

Covid has made these conversations even more frequent.

Now granted, we’re older, so eventually they evolve into talking about illness and death and planning for the future.

My husband and I enjoy watching CBS Sunday Morning. The program typically produces human interest stories many that do not have a political slant. That is appealing nowadays.

Getting a glimpse into the lives of authors, musicians and actors is always interesting, but it is the other stories that can bring some good discussions.

Recently a short story/commentary about the folks at the Apple Genius Bar and us “old people” gave us (and many of our friends) a good laugh.

But it was a story about a Washington, DC cemetery that gave rise to a strange, and strongly emotional conversation.

A half century ago, an African-American cemetery was sold to developers. The Columbian Harmony Cemetery was founded in the late 1850s, but by the late 1950s, there were few burials, and the cemetery was losing money. The developer worked with the city and relocated the graves. In order to move the cemetery in a timely manner, the graves were moved as a mass. 37,000 graves were moved within 6 months to a new cemetery plot in Maryland. The headstones were not moved with the bodies. They were sold off, and a large portion was used to shore up a river bank in Virginia.

Some hikers found a large cache of markers back in 2009. And since 2016, Virginia historians and other non-profits have been bringing the markers to a central location where they can be eventually reunited with the bodies, at least in the general vicinity.

So what does all this have to do with strange conversations, or even "home"?

My husband asked me my feelings about this story. Of course, I wasn't happy. But also, it wasn't surprising. Our country has a long history of "progress" by destruction. Oftentimes, we destroy our past to push forward towards our future.

My background in history has made me hyper-aware of our failures (and successes) as a country.

If it was a white cemetery the headstones would've probably moved with the bodies. Great care would've been taken in the relocation.

Great care was not taken at all in this case.

But that was not the strange conversation.

My husband said that during his recent visit with his father, the subject of his wishes when he passed came up. He wanted to be cremated. But he didn't care where the ashes went.


He doesn't want his ashes placed next to his wife's at the church?

My father-in-law was looking at it very pragmatically, not emotionally. Hardly any of the family lives in Michigan, and the large Presbyterian Church in Flint where his wife's ashes are, may or may not be there in the future. Who would "visit"?

Ok, but isn't there somewhere he'd like to be scattered? A place of meaning or significance?


So what is going to be done with him?

Why did this bother me so much? That he didn't care where he was "buried"?

My mom plans on being cremated as well, but also has some specific places she'd like her ashes scattered.

Shouldn't there be someplace those of us still here can go and pay our respects? To visit, so you can "talk" to them if you needed to?

According to my husband, no.

"Ashes to ashes; dust to dust," he said.

Does it really matter? He has never visited his mom, who is "buried" at his hometown church in Michigan.

May be part of it is cultural, maybe part of my upbringing, or, maybe it is because I love history, but I couldn't imagine not going somewhere to "see" my great-grandparents, my grandparents, my dad.

Every time I go back to Michigan to visit, I try to visit the cemetery. And say hi.

Is that weird?

You see...a strange conversation.

When discussing this with my husband, I got pretty emotional. Not hysterical, but I was crying while talking. I just couldn't fathom not having a place to go to visit the dead.

Granted, I find it strangely peaceful yet emotional to visit the resting places of people.

J.P. Morgan's gravesite. Part of a larger monument

J was infatuated with the 19th Century Robber Barons for a while a few years ago. We discovered that J.P. Morgan was buried in Hartford, Connecticut, not far from where we live. He wanted to "visit". I did too.

I later found out that several "famous" people were buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford. People like, Samuel Colt and his wife Elizabeth (the inventor of the "revolver"); Reverend Joseph Twitchell (Mark Twain's best friend); Morgan Bulkeley (president of Aetna Insurance Company, and first president of the National [baseball] League); Lemuel R. Custis (the last member of the first class of Tuskegee Airmen to pass away); and Katherine Hepburn (yes, that Katherine Hepburn!).

And we visited many of those graves.

The Colts' resting place.

For me, I felt closer to these people even though I never met them. I get the same feeling when I go to different historical sites. I become more aware of what these people did, even if it is some famous person, or if we would never know their name.

I feel grounded. I have a sense of "place". Almost like coming home.

Now maybe I will feel different as I get older, and I can honestly say I have not thought much about what happens to me after I die. Perhaps I should.

After my dad died, I visited his grave often. I "spoke" with him a lot. I asked lots of questions. I yelled at him for how he treated me.

I wouldn't have had that experience, that closure, if there was no where to go to be with him.

The idea of place or home is something that I feel strongly about. That's why we have monuments, historic sites; why we preserve places and things.

Why we need to know where we come from.

Maybe that's why those ancestry DNA products are so popular?

Regardless, this strange conversation stirred something in me that I really need to think about. And I'm sure I will think about it a lot on my next run.

What do you think?

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1 Comment

Jane Ohanesian
Jane Ohanesian
Feb 26, 2021

Very good questions Jodi. I feel very much the same.

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