When you live through a traumatic experience, you look at things differently. You have your trauma sunglasses on, and while that can open up your world in many ways, you sometimes forget to take those glasses off and are unable to just live in the world as a normal person. Your child may be overly anxious or shy because they’ve lived through something horrible. Or, that just might be the kid you gave birth to. It’s hard to tell sometimes.
Once in awhile, after I pick my daughter up from school, we take a different route home because of the ridiculous amount of traffic in the area at that time. That route brings us near a cemetery. When we pass it, she often asks me if we can take a drive through the cemetery to look at the graves.
“Certainly,” I reply. And I drive on in, as if we’re going to look at Christmas lights.
We slowly drive past the headstones, remarking on the different sizes and shapes. She asks about the particularly old looking ones and asks me to read the dates to her. Then we figure out how many years ago that person died and talk about how long ago that was. Some of the graves are well over 100 years old.
She asks other questions, too. Because of the job I used to have, I know more than anyone needs to know about burials and cremations. I should wear a t-shirt that says, “Ask me about your final arrangements!” She asked me last week during our cemetery drive, “Will the rain leak into the grave?” I went over how someone is buried. We talked about the casket, the coffin and how everything is sealed shut. She wanted to know why everything is sealed. We often talk about death as a return to nature, so she was befuddled why anyone would want to keep themselves from returning to life in another form. I explained that long ago, people felt it was very important to preserve themselves, so that they would always stay the same, even in death. Nowadays, while many still hold that belief, it is becoming more common to be cremated. Also, since land costs a lot of money, there simply isn’t room enough to bury everybody.
One of my worst parenting flaws, behind very little patience and a tendency to fucking nag constantly, is that I talk too goddamn much.
We left the cemetery and resumed our drive home, and I wondered from where her curiosity stemmed. I know part of it is that she is enthralled with the idea of visiting someone’s grave. She wants a place where that person will be. A tangible spot. Not an urn, and not the vast ocean where her grandmother floats endlessly. But a place where the whole body is, together. A special place to go and be with that person is important to her.
Death is something that she’s had to make room for in her life. It wasn’t distant relatives who died. She lost two very close people, one right after the other. Death was a project she was forced to take on, like a 1000 piece puzzle dropped on the head of a little girl. She’s still on the floor, working on this puzzle, trying to find where the pieces fit. It’s something she’ll work on for a long, long time.
But let’s take the grief sunglassess off for a moment.
I have a memory of myself, at 10 years old, creeping into a closed cemetery to look around. I tried to get back over the gate and wound up stuck in mid-air, hanging off the gate by my cable knit sweater while my friends laughed hysterically. And at 18, creeping through cemeteries at night with my boyfriend, walking around quietly, taking in the idea that I was surrounded by people who had once lived. I read the headstones, taking particular notice at the old ones, the dear babies and beloved wives, the pictures placed on the headstones, the stones left on top, and the ones so sunken in by countless storms that you could scarcely read who it was that was once placed there so lovingly.
My sweet girl is indeed working on that big grief puzzle. She has also inherited a bit of her mother’s weirdness.