I had my second cemetery walk yesterday. I invited my friend Matt to join me and we followed the following basic outline:
– Each participant is to dedicate the walk to a particular deceased loved one.
– Participants are to wear casual clothes and bring a single or small bunch of flowers with them.
– During the walk (i.e. the same 30-45min route as in the prelim walk), participants will have the opportunity to share stories about their chosen loved ones with each other, as a means of remembrance and reflection. This should be in no way structured and should simply revolve around what the participants are comfortable with sharing.
– Once at Bulli cemetery, participants will split up and each choose a grave. They will then have the opportunity to say a few words for their loved one and to acknowledge and thank the owner(s) of the grave. They will place the flower(s) before finding each other and finishing the walk.
As Matt and I set out on our walk (with Mikey as always), I think we both found it a little awkward when it came to starting the conversation about our loved ones. However, I suppose this is a normal feeling and so it was good to find a way to move past it. I asked Matt about his chosen loved one and he told me about Stan Henderson, his 85-year old friend / drama teacher who died last year. He told me about Stan’s successful career as a professional dancer and later as a drama teacher. Stan demanded nothing less than the best from his students and Matt told me about the time Stan had sent him from the room after he had defined the dramatic term “legs” as things you walk around on. Another detail that stood out for me was Stan’s difficult relationship with his parents. Matt said that as a young adult, Stan had wanted to be a professional ballet dancer. However, his family refused to accept this career choice, as well his sexual orientation, and so Stan moved overseas and lost touch. He saw his parents intermittently during the rest of his life but things were never quite resolved.
Walking up the hill to the cemetery, I told Matt about my cousin Michael who died from cancer when I was 8-years old. We were uniquely connected, as we both shared the same birthday – Michael was exactly 8-years older than me (i.e. 16) when he died. It was hard for me to describe crystal memories to Matt, as I was so young at the time, and it’s as if I remember feelings more so than particular events. However, my Aunty has since told me a lot about Michael and his remarkable life in the face of debilitating illness.
At the cemetery, Matt and I went our separate ways and eventually stopped at the graves of James Starr and Margaret Elizabeth Vincent respectively. I can’t speak for Matt but I stood in the darkness for sometime before finding a few words to say to both Michael and Margaret.
After regrouping and continuing our walk, I asked Matt about his experience and he said he found it to be a rewarding one. He hasn’t yet had the chance to visit Stan’s grave, as he had a private burial, and so he enjoyed the opportunity to reflect in the cemetery. We both found it difficult to describe how we felt afterwards but we each had a positive and peaceful mindset.
Reflecting on the Walking Exercise now, the experience was definitely enhanced by sharing it with a partner. Given that it would be otherwise difficult to start a conversation with someone about a deceased loved one, there was something really nice about walking with a specific person in mind and having the opportunity to verbalise feelings and memories of that person. Leaving flowers also felt like a small yet appropriate gesture. Though unlikely, if someone was to visit either of the two graves, they may be surprised and hopefully comforted by the anonymous flowers.
I might give myself a little more time to mull things over before determining the form of my next walk. Until then…