Thursday, 1 January 2015

What's in a name?

I was watching an episode of Supernatural just recently from the very first season. The scene where Sam (I'm a huge Gilmore Girls fan so I struggle to not call him Dean) was bringing flowers to his girlfriend's grave and wallowing in regrets of how he could've saved her and what he would've done differently.

On her headstone just had her name, birth and death year along with a small oval shaped photo of her. It may have been the acting skills of Jared Padalecki or maybe having spent a fair bit of time in cemeteries myself, but it got me thinking about what the headstone represents.

To a complete stranger, looking at a headstone tells you very basic information. The identity of the person, their age, any religious beliefs or loved ones they left behind and maybe something extra that the funeral organizer thought was relevant or important enough that the rest of the world should know.

It doesn't give you much information about the person themselves though. When you look at it you don't know what made the person laugh or cry, what they dreamed of as a child, what their favorite colour was, whether or not they were scared of spiders, snakes, clowns or jellyfish. You don't really get the essence of that person, you just get their name.

Whenever I look at my paternal grandmother's headstone I remember the person I knew her to be even though I was only 9 when she died. The numbers of her birthday and deathday are essentially meaningless, the biblical quote might give comfort to people who are religiously inclined but does nothing for me.

I look at her headstone and think of the big hugs she used to give me, the sausages and Deb potato she served on medium sized slightly squared blue plates and my brother would scoff down with no trouble. I remember the dresses and quilts she made for me when I was younger, and how she went out of her way to show her love to everyone, especially her family even when she was in agony and had been hurt so badly by other people.

None of that would fit on a headstone and I suppose it's a good thing because that means the people who were closest to her and knew her the best would be the only ones to really know her and make the memories that much more special.

As many people do when they visit their loved ones grave, you move on to see who else was buried nearby and maybe feel sorrow at how young they were or what they left behind according to the few lines etched into stone. Sometimes I'd look at the graves of complete strangers which had limited information and wonder about them, what they were like, what happened to them, what they would've done if they'd been given more time, what they wished they'd done before their time was cut short. When I'd get really bored at home I'd occasionally consider researching some of the more interesting headstones and seeing if I could solve a mystery I'd potentially created for myself.

I think a headstone says a lot about a person, well as much as it can say at a few dollars per line. It's the final legacy of the deceased. A piece of stone or whatever which says "I was here, I existed for this period of time and loved these people or this thing enough for them/it to be a testament to my life".

A few years ago my therapist got me to do a task which she'd done with many other patients whereby I was to create my own headstone and put whatever I wanted on it. From memory it was an exercise in self-esteem or something. As I have done and continue to do with therapy homework I went all out and my therapist herself commented on how much effort I'd put in and said that she'd seen many people who just wrote it on the back of a serviette or something. Not to belittle their efforts of course.

I wanted my headstone to scream "I was here and I was freaking fabulous!" to make people wonder what kind of a person I was and wish they'd had the opportunity to meet and get to know me when I was alive.

One of the most defining memories of my life was that of my paternal grandmother's funeral. It was the first one I'd ever been to and she was the first family member or person in my circle that had passed away. I couldn't believe how many people turned up for it! Dad said it was because she died relatively young and most of her friends were still alive and able to attend, I preferred to think of it as she'd made such a big impact on so many people's lives that they thought the least they could do is pay their last respects to such a remarkable woman.

I was surprised to see some of our neighbours who were a completely different background and religion and I didn't even know they'd known her, but they'd come anyway.

Whenever I think about what I want to achieve with my life and the kind of person I want to be, I think of my grandmother and her funeral, the variety of people that came and the love she left behind. I want to, and aim to be the kind of person that is so well received and loved by others that even people who dislike me shed a tear at my funeral.

That's not in a name, for it is so very much more than that. It's in a person, in their words, deeds, actions and legacy.

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