The Gravity of Graveyard Wisdom
“The meaning of life is that it stops.”
― Franz Kafka
If life didn’t end…if it went on forever, I doubt it would have much meaning at all. It is the finite nature of life that makes it so sacred.
Have you ever heard of the mental exercise of imagining yourself attending your own funeral…looking down at your dead body in the casket/urn and asking yourself questions such as: “Did you achieve what you set out to?” and/or “Were you truly happy?”
And then if you don’t like your answers, goes the wisdom, then you best kiddy up on making a few tweaks so you can change that ending…to a life you can be proud of (and satisfied with) versus one you simply settled for.
Mentally visiting one’s future funeral is a useful exercise…I highly recommend it.
But have you ever considered visiting your own grave…imaginary or otherwise?
I was widowed at thirty-two. My husband was buried in a casket then laid to rest in a burial plot, complete with a stunning slab of polished black marble for a headstone. His name and date of birth and death are, of course, carved into that headstone.
Beneath his name and dates is a big blank space. Then under that, at the very bottom, is an epitaph that reads, “Until we meet again.”
The big blank space is where my name and date of birth and death will go.
In other words, whenever I visit his grave, I am also visiting my own.
In the early days, this was an awful lot to wrap my relatively young mind around. As much as I wanted to die as soon as possible—to be with him and out of the hellish hurt of grief—I knew the chances of that happening were, unfortunately, very slim.
Now that I am fifty-four, boy oh boy, has my tune ever changed. Truth be told, it changed a long time ago. I hate how fast the time is going. I absolutely love my life and it makes me sad to think of it ending.I hope I live to a ripe old age, and they have to drag me from the party to my grave…laughing and dancing, martini in one hand, pool boy in the other. Click To Tweet
When and if my dead husband and I do “meet again,” he wouldn’t be one bit surprised 🙂
But I must confess it was a very strange feeling knowing, at the age of thirty-two, exactly where I was going to end up. I just didn’t know when.
And despite the horrific hurt involved in having to hang out with my husband’s headstone – instead of him – it was (and still is) very conducive to facing my own mortality. For although his destiny was carved in stone, mine was still a blank space…literally.There is nothing quite like staring at one’s reflection in one’s future shiny headstone to force one to remember this party will end. Click To Tweet
It’s up to us to fill in that blank space with as much meaning, purpose, joy, laughter, and love as possible.
Which brings me to the difference between “imagining one’s funeral” mental exercise and “imagining one’s grave” mental exercise. The funeral, of course, is the social gathering of our loved ones. Imagining our own funeral helps us think about what people might say about us after we’re gone. Did we make a difference in the hearts and lives of the people we loved and who loved us?
Whereas your grave is about you. Did you accomplish what you set out to with your life? Did you become the person you were capable of becoming? Imagining looking at the shiny reflection in your own headstone is rather similar to being able to look at yourself in the mirror.
Because at the end of the day – and the end of your life – what you think about you, and what you did with your precious time here, matters very much.
I have visited my husband’s grave (and mine) many times over the past twenty-one years. I was back in our hometown a few months ago and popped by the cemetery to say hello…and have a little check in with myself. As I looked down at our headstone, I didn’t feel sad at all.
But I did feel a little out of place. I could almost hear a little voice whisper, “There’s nothing here for you anymore, Maryanne. You’re happy. You got this. Go home. Laugh, cry, write, dance, sing, walk on the beach, travel, sleep lots, eat yummy food, nap, do good work, help people, watch movies, have fun, hike, read, learn, grow.”
In other words: live.
For that is the gravity of graveyard wisdom: our time here is short and what we do with our lives – who we become and how we treat others – matters. For when this life ends, and it will, we’ll have all the time in the world to hang out at our own grave. Eternity, in fact.
Carpe diem, friends. Tempus fugit.
Maryanne Pope is the author of “A Widow’s Awakening.” She also writes screenplays, playscripts and blogs. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and a Director with the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive Maryanne’s blog, “Weekly Words of Wisdom,” please subscribe here.