taphophile. Noun. (plural taphophiles) A person who is interested in cemeteries, funerals and gravestones
It’s hard to talk about things like death and grief. Especially when you are deep in its hold. When life seems like a mirror. A reflection you can see, but something you’re not really part of. And cemeteries are ground zero. My memories of cemeteries are blurred with tears. They are not a place of joy.
Which is why for a long time I wouldn’t set foot in a cemetery because I thought it was bad juju. I remember even in middle school, while riding the bus to school, me and my friends would close our eyes, hold our breath, cross our fingers and pick up our feet whenever we passed one. I guess to ward off the spirits.
After the unexpected loss of my cousin, I found myself standing once again in a cemetery. It was a feeling I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but something we all must go through. I couldn’t close my eyes, pick up my feet and and wait for it to pass by. I couldn’t breathe.
To cope I painted Shadow Man which shows a dark shadow figure standing in front of a path. Three human figures are walking further down the path to an unknown place. This is how I saw death. As a gatekeeper to another place that I didn’t understand and that I wasn’t ready for.
That painting took me a year to finish. And in that year I didn’t paint much else. It was hard for me. And the only thing that seemed to help was blasting music through my headphones and heading to the 5 mile trail of woods near my house. I could drown everything out, keep my head down, and just run.
About halfway on that path is a very small cemetery with about 5 headstones. Honestly the first couple of times I would run as fast as I could just to get past it. I didn’t even want to look at it.
Then there was the day I was running like usual, head down, music all the way up and a deer jumped out onto the path. It startled me, so I stopped, took out my headphones and we just stared at each other. When the deer finally leaped back into the woods I realized I was standing right in front of the cemetery. I have this thing with deer showing me signs (that’s a whole other story) so I went with it, and on that day I went in and looked around.
I was careful not to step on any of the plots. I took time to read the barely visible names. And I was overwhelmed with this thought that these people once lived, in this town, just like me. They had families. They laughed, cried, and had stories to tell. They were here because they once lived. My fear of death and cemeteries started turning into an appreciation for life.
Maybe cemeteries aren’t just a place for sorrow. Maybe they are also a place to remember how this world is full of beauty and hope. Maybe they are a quiet place, in nature, where we can reflect on our own lives and how we are choosing to live. This is what Dia de los Muertos has been trying to tell us all along.
Since then, I’ve been drawn to cemeteries. I’ve been noticing them everywhere. And I’ve been painting them more into my art. Like the cemetery in the Haunted House painting.
I’ll probably be posting more about the cemeteries I visit and what I find. I wanted to share with you one of my favorite local cemeteries in Franklin, TN. These two historical cemeteries rest side by side. Informational signs mark the entrance of each and even include an audio tour you can listen to on your phone.
Rest Haven Cemetery
A seven-acre cemetery of several confederate soldiers. Including, Capt. “Tod” Carter of The Carter House. A piece of the original Tennessee State Capitol marks the final resting place of an Unknown Franklin Civil War soldier who was buried here in 2009 and represents all of those unknown soldiers of the civil war.
Old City Cemetery
This two acres of land was purchased in 1811 by the city commissioners for $100. Buried here are Jesse Cowles, who purchased his own freedom, as well as his wife and children's, from slavery. Ewen Cameraon, who built Franklin’s first house. Dr. Daniel McPhail, who died in the Mexican War. Fountain Branch Carter, whose house is now the Civil War museum.
Cemeteries inspire me. They have helped me process what death means. They are outdoor museums, full of history and art. I visit because I want to know the stories of those who have passed. I want to remember them. But most importantly they help me realize we should all be grateful for each and every day we have. That death is just a part of life. And what we do now, what we leave behind matters.
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