Happy Halloween Dear Reader. To honor this holiday, let’s take a walk in the graveyard. Memento mori.
Last week, I attended Richard Friswell’s fascinating library lecture, “Graven Images, Colonial New England Gravestones as Art and History.” As he explained, the imagery on the gravestones directly correlated to the early settlers’ relationship with Death.
From 1670 to 1770, life was very fragile, Professor Friswell remarked. “Poor harvests, outbreaks of diseases, and possible Indian attacks.” Death could arrive at any time, so the favored image of that time was “Death’s Head,” the winged skull.
From 1740 through 1820, life became more established and as the people felt safer, a sense of “Confidence” brought the image of a “Cherub” to the gravestones carved during that time. Around 1780 through 1850, the Industrial Revolution was quickly transforming life in the American colonies. The stones that previously had been hand carved were now being “manufactured.” Death was less of an imminent threat, and so the “Urn and the Willow Tree” motif arrived.
Next came the “Gilded Age,” from 1840 to 1920, and the establishment of gates around family graves and plots. The prevailing attitude towards Death was one of “Defiance.” Now, graveyards became cemeteries.
From 1900 to our modern day- 2020, Death is basically ignored, denied, “out-of-sight, out-of-mind.” And the designs on the gravestones are plain style.
In spite of our present day’s denial of Death, Memento mori, which is Latin for “remember that you [have to] die,” still holds true. The hour glass will eventually run out for each of us. So, this is where the writing part come in. Write it Down, Make a will. Commit your wishes to paper. I say this because just last week, I went to a friend’s memorial service and discovered that she had not written a will. This woman had a very successful shop, a devoted community surrounding it, dear friends, and family. Now everything goes to probate court! The shop is permanently closed, and the community is shattered.
Four years ago, my sister died suddenly without a will. The aftermath within the family was very ugly. So, let’s take a moment to think about writing a will. You would be surprised to learn how many people do not have wills. It is not a morbid thing to write one. You do not have to be sick to begin a plan. Better if you write your will BEFORE you are ill. There are online forms that make it easy (see link below). Just be sure that they are legal in your state. And you’ll need to consider who will execute your wishes, your executor. If you have pets, please give a thought to where they will go when you are gone. Be responsible. You worked hard to earn what you have, so why not take some time to plan what will happen to your “stuff.” The culture may deny Death, but that is not a wise choice. One way to fool Death is to determine who will benefit from your possessions afterwards, so something of you will live on outside the graveyard.
Special thanks to Professor Richard Friswell, Wesleyan University, Meriden, CT