Grief and mourning.
I have always had a gothic/Victorian/romantic streak about me. I am fascinated by how people deal with death. My specialisation is funerary archaeology. How is grief expressed through funerary rites? What are the symbols associated with grief? How does having a physical place to grieve help with the process? I love physical anthropology and working with human remains but my real passion is trying to understand the people behind the burials, the grieving families, the parishioners, the clergy, the state. How all of these elements combine to create funerary art and hardware and what those tangible objects express about ideas of grief and death.
I have supervised and participated in many archaeological excavations in cemeteries. I know firsthand that they both fascinate and frighten people. I have excavated stillborn children while seven months pregnant. I have had people tell me in which part of the cemetery their sibling who died in infancy is buried. I have had people make stupid jokes about the bones or requested a skull to put in their house. I have seen very simple wood casket burials and ones with ornate coffinware. I have found porcelain dolls in tiny coffins, locks of hair, messages in bottles.
We as a society try to hold death at bay. We prefer not to see it, to pretend that it is not there. That makes the grieving process very hard for people who are mourning. They are told ‘get over it’, they learn not to talk about their grief after a while because it makes other people uncomfortable. For the Victorians, the cemetery was a garden, a place to walk in, to have a picnic in, a place to remember loved ones. They wore mourning jewelry, they wore mourning garb, sometimes for years. Death was a part of life and always very close.
The ancient people of Mexico believe that there are three deaths. The first death is that of the body. The second death comes when the body is buried in the ground. The last death is the most terrible and final one and must not come to pass. The third death is when no one remembers your name, when no one is left to mourn you.
I feel comfortable in cemeteries. I love their serenity, the beauty of the statues, the offerings that one finds around the tombstones. I imagine the bones under my feet. I think about the people who buried them there, those who still come to visit. I lost my father a year ago. As per his wishes, we put his ashes in the ocean. That is the place where I go to remember his name.