Day 4 of five photos in five days: Cemetery

For this exercise, I’ll tell the stories behind five photos over the course of five days.

My Uncle Eddie, my mom’s brother, died in December 2010, almost exactly four years after she did. I went up to North Jersey with my sister and two aunts for the funeral.

Afterwards, my aunts (sisters of my uncle and mom) said we should go to Holy Cross Cemetery to find the old Ward family plot. My grandfather, grandmother and Uncle Tom are all buried there.

My aunts, who are in their 70s, hadn’t been to the cemetery in years, but remembered roughly where the plot was and what it looked like. We drove very slowly through the cemetery path, craning our necks to see if we could spot it. Finally, one of us saw it, but it was quite a distance off the road.

There was also about six inches of snow on the ground, and nobody was dressed to make the trek out to the headstone. I decided to just go out there, even though I was wearing heels, tights and a skirt. I ran, literally — I thought if I ran it wouldn’t be as cold. I remember hurling myself through the snow and leaping deeper into the rows and rows of headstones until I got there.

I brushed off the snow to reveal the name WARD with a flaming heart under it, followed by, “James (1961), Irene (1972) and Thomas (1965).” I took a few pictures, then ran back in the same footprints.

I’m not completely sure how my grandparents died. I think my grandfather James had liver disease, and I think my grandmother Irene had Alzheimer’s, although it wasn’t called Alzheimer’s back then. Tragically, my Uncle Tom died of leukemia when he was in his 20s — he and his wife had a baby and they were expecting another when he got sick. My parents, aunts and everyone in the family were devastated when “Tommy” died — I don’t think any of them ever stopped grieving. They spoke of him often.

When I got back to the car, my Aunt Irene said she really wanted to see it because it had been so long, maybe 20 years, since she had visited the grave. So, she and my sister Laurie traced my footprints in the snow.

My other aunt took this photo of them as they made their way back to the car. I’ve always loved this photo — I love how the light is hitting the snow in such a hauntingly beautiful way and I love Laurie’s coat and how she’s helping Irene get through the snow by holding her hand.

I’ve also always loved cemeteries. When we were little, my friend Karla and I used to hang out at an abandoned cemetery called Frick’s Meetinghouse Mennonite Burial Ground near where we lived in Hatfield, Pa. with graves that dated back to the 18th century. So many kids died young back then. We used to love wandering around, reading the headstones, and wondering what life was like in the 17 and 1800s.

It’s not visible from the road and, at the time, we had to trespass on private property to get there. The cemetery and tiny, modest church had fallen into disrepair, and it didn’t even have a sign. So, everyone just called it church hill because it was on a slight embankment and flanked by a creek to the east.

I visited it a few years ago and it’s all fixed up now, with a plaque detailing the cemetery and church’s history. Plus there’s a driveway leading to it now, marked by a sign by the road. (It also has a Facebook page! Interesting.)

Does anyone else enjoy exploring cemeteries?

I just realized that this is another post about death. It was unintentional!

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Irene and Laurie at Holy Cross Cemetery in North Arlington, NJ on December 2010.

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