Osteen Cemetery in Osteen, Florida

Osteen is a small town in Volusia county near Enterprise. Well, it feels small, but apparently has undergone a lot of growth in the last 2 years. It has a small town feel to it though, like you’d expect Andy Griffith to walk out at any moment wearing his sheriff’s uniform and saying “Howdy!”. (I would love that. It’s still one of my goals to visit his grave and I was really sad when he died.)

Don’t judge me…much.

This cemetery is really private, which is a good thing because you can wander freely without cars passing by or people walking through with you. It’s a bad thing because in terms of Florida history, this place is a treasure trove and needs all the protection it can get. Speaking of protection, the sand parking area in front of the gate (a cattle gate, by the way) was littered with condom wrappers. I seem to see more and more of that lately and it always baffles me. I bet if your grandma was buried here you’d think twice about bringing a date here for ‘romance’.

This is considered an active cemetery and it appears to have a lot of space on the right, but I didn’t really notice and new burials the day we were there. The left side was drawing so much of my attention anyway with it’s beautiful old headstones. Lots of Sauls and Osteens here, and they had good taste in funerary art because some of the headstones are just beautiful. The Saul family built a home near here and raised their family with the Osteens. They started a whole community called Saulsville, but as these things always go in Florida, this happened and that happened, and people died, and the house burned to the ground. This is the part of history that I don’t like, hearing about all of the amazing places that have burned down, usually while they were stuffed full of old papers that some genealogist or writer needs in 2017.

I read that this cemetery is near an African American burial ground, but I wasn’t able to find it, or I wasn’t able to tell if it was actually incorporated into this cemetery. We walked the perimeter which is heavily wooded and in one corner I looked down and saw a number on a round piece of concrete. The numbers were in rows, and took up a considerable part of that corner of the cemetery. I saw nothing that would indicate who was buried here, but I always feel sad when I just see numbers instead of names. There are also a lot of children buried here, and their stones were, to me, the prettiest I’d seen. The lambs were beautifully carved on many of them and retained a lot of detail.

Toward the back of the cemetery on the left you’ll see a small section that is fenced off and has the weirdest headstones inside. They’re all damaged and aren’t readable in the slightest, and the stone has turned almost black with age and is pitted. I’ve never seen any like them. It looks almost like they’ve started to melt. This section is also home to a sizable gopher tortoise, which has built a mansion near one of these headstones.

The cemetery was established in 1884 and is certainly one that I will visit again. And since we were talking about illicit cemetery visits at the beginning of this post, in 2012 a mother of 2 stabbed a man with an ice pick, strangled him to death with a cord, and then mutilated his body… in self-defense, she said. Where did she do this? In the parking area of this cemetery.

You can view the news story here.

Enterprise Cemetery in Enterprise, Florida

Enterprise Cemetery was established in 1841, and I have a picture of the sign to prove it. It was a gloomy day with a heavy sky, and all of my photos that day looked gloomy and colorless so I switched them all to black and white for this post. It adds drama. That’s what I’m telling myself.

This cemetery is pretty bleak with lots of open space and dead grass, but it had some unique things that made it an interesting one to visit. First, I was freezing to death that day because I’m a Florida native and the surprising high last Sunday was about 48 degrees. I don’t really understand how to bundle up because I never really have to, so I was not dressed warmly enough for a trek outdoors- but I got out of the car anyway and Shawn and I walked in through the side gate. One side of the cemetery is clearly active, and one side is the more historic side, though you can see a small, older plot over to the far left which is all the way in the back. We started there, and I began to realize what made this cemetery different from the others I’ve visited.

Most people place statues of angels on graves. It’s what they do. It’s nice to imagine an angel watching over your loved one in the hereafter, but I don’t think this notion really caught on with the people of Enterprise (population just over 43,000 in 2012), and that is what made me love this cemetery. These people got creative with their grave tributes- no angels for them! Here is a short list of some of the things we saw on the graves there:

-A statue of a green bullfrog wearing a top hat.

-A bigmouth bass statue.

-A larger than life statue of a blue macaw.

-2 tee shirts rolled up on graves.

-2 guitars on one grave- an acoustic one that had been beaten to death and an electric one parked against the tree alongside the grave.

While these gifts are festive and make for an interesting walk through the cemetery, this cemetery is actually the final resting place for some of the victims of the 1888 Yellow Fever outbreak in Volusia County. (Many other nearby counties were affected as well including Orange and Duval.) I found one chilling telegram dated October 26, 1888 saying that there were 2 deaths and 12 cases so far, and that armed men were surrounding infected areas to prevent further transmission of the disease, which is actually spread by mosquitoes. While digging around I also found a letter from September of the same year to the Governor of Florida from several different county health boards begging for help. There is a lot of desperation in that letter, found on floridamemory.com.

The grave of Annie Bradley is dated from the same date of the telegram, which means she was most likely one of the two deaths referenced. The older section has a large fenced area with a grand monument for W.H. Cavin, with a death date of October 27, 1888, so it seems that they could possibly be a victim as well. (I wasn’t able to find out if Cavin was male or female, but I’m thinking they were male.)

Near Annie Bradley’s headstone is the resting place of W.D. Moore, who is said to be the first marked burial in the cemetery with a death date of January 15, 1882.

In the same section of the cemetery you will also see a small plot for children of the Florida United Methodist Children’s home which began in 1908, and a few sad burials. The home was renamed in 1971, so the main stone marking the plot pre-dates that as it simply says Florida Methodist Children’s Home. This children’s home is still operating today and has a fascinating history.

There were also a lot of Osteens here- and so we decided to head to that cemetery next. See you next week!

 

 

Page Jackson Cemetery Part 2

There will be many parts because I love this cemetery so much, but more than that… I love the story of this cemetery. And so I went back to take another look, and this time I saw different things that I had not noticed before.

When Heather and I pulled up to the dirt road that winds through the cemetery we saw an older man with a rake working away by himself in the central part of the cemetery. We both smiled and waved, but he just stared at us. We parked a little ways away to give him some privacy and started to wander. It was cloudy and grey, rain was threatening- and the night before we’d had a huge rainstorm that made the ground spongy. I’d worn my old horse boots just in case there was mud. There was also a lot of wind, which was awesome to hear in the trees. We’d walked down the road to Shiloh cemetery and then turned to come back when he decided to approach us. I walked up and introduced myself and found out that his name was Tom, and he’d been coming to work at this property since the mid 80’s. He was protective of the space and rightfully so, because somebody needs to stand up for this cemetery and it just so happens that recently, somebody did.

Part of the cemetery actually has an owner now, one that cares, according to what Tom told us. I’m thrilled about it and about witnessing the changes that will take place under new ownership. At least that’s my dream, that this place will start to look loved again instead of completely abandoned. There is a pile of clothes, an empty wine bottle, and an old bag of food on top of one of the graves. People are living in here. They’re having sex here. There are condoms at the back of the cemetery; they’re all over the place. Someone actually left her ID there, half buried in the mud next to the trash pile. If there was ever a cemetery that needed a locked gate, this is it. The three of us made a few jokes about what we would do if someone we dated suggested sex in a cemetery. We were cracking ourselves up coming up with pick-up lines. All of us said we’d never had anyone ever mention that to us and we couldn’t figure out why it was such a popular thing to do. I feel like if there were gates and people couldn’t drive into the back of the cemetery then a lot of this behavior would probably stop. It’s one thing to get frisky in your car, and another thing entirely to get naked on the cold ground which is potentially loaded with ticks, burrs, and thorny vines. And frankly, Shiloh and Page Jackson both look like something from Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Whoever is going in there for that purpose is crazy.

We walked around for almost 2 hours, and my favorite thing that Tom showed us was the Hurston plot, supposedly belonging to the family of Zora Neale Hurston, the Florida writer that wrote Their Eyes Were Watching God. (Hurston is buried in Ft. Pierce.) Tom had to use his rake to pull back the vegetation to expose the graves, but there they were. I’ve been to this cemetery at least 3 times and never saw them. Who else might be there, waiting to be uncovered?

We marched back into the woods while Tom used his rake to bat vines and branches out of the way. We passed a broken crypt that looked like someone had taken a sledgehammer to it. We passed multiple gopher tortoise homes- they like to dig under the ledger stones and kick up huge piles of sand, potentially causing problems with the grave site. We walked past one ledger stone that had a giant pile of poop on top of it from some type of large animal, God knows what it was. The woods are filled with funeral home markers and in every section you can see graves from multiple decades. There’s no logical progression when it comes to dates. I asked Tom about it.

“This was the Wild West,” he said, telling us that William Page Jackson had allowed burials by anyone at any place in the cemetery. I haven’t been able to verify too many facts about this place and the records are scant, but it seems likely that something like that happened.

I’m planning to do some research on many of the graves I photographed that day- but here’s my question…where is William Page Jackson buried? Is he here too? I can’t find him. And I’d really like to have a word with him.

Before we left I asked Heather to pose by my favorite family plot, way, WAY back in the woods. It’s completely overgrown but in the spring it’s filled with blazing pink azaleas and it’s so beautiful.

“Look like you own the place,” I told her.

She did. I think anyone that loves this place owns it. We are planning our own little clean up group soon- if you’re interested in joining us please let me know by leaving a comment or emailing me at marnie.bench@gmail.com. The main goal is just to go pick up trash. That’s it. That’s a start.

Temple Cemetery in Jacksonville, Florida

Temple Cemetery was cold the first time I visited, but that’s always my favorite time to go to a a new cemetery, when the weather is chilly. It was clear that day and the sun was shining brightly so it was a good day to read tombstones. Temple is a Jewish Reform cemetery and it mingles with Old Jewish Center cemetery, which is a conservative cemetery. There is no line or obvious kind of separation, but the space is set apart from the rest of Evergreen and has it’s own gate.

Temple Cemetery attracted me because of the mausoleums, of which there are many varied types. It’s a small Jewish cemetery inside the massive Evergreen Cemetery complex, and it looks to be old and not visited very often. Both times that I went there there was no one else around. Despite this, it’s perfectly maintained except for some vandalism to one of the mausoleums. It will probably never be repaired since most of them are very old with the families probably long gone by now. This particular one has the glass window shot out with what looks like a BB gun, as some of the glass still has holes in it where it didn’t shatter all the way and fall out. Because of this, you can look right into this mausoleum and on that day when I did this I realized that it was freezing in there. My face felt like it touched ice the minute I stuck my head through the window to peek in. I felt sad about the window though, it was done in delicate shades of gold and green and were just panes of colored glass, not the usual ornate stained glass windows that I usually see in mausoleums.

My favorite one here is the Burkheim mausoleum because of it’s very solid and incredibly creepy looking ventilated iron door. Whether it was placed to keep things in or keep them out I can only imagine, but it must have been effective because nobody has messed with this structure at all. Jacob Burkheim has lived in 2 of the places I’ve lived in during my 43 years, including Tallahassee, where I grew up, and Jacksonville, where I was born and lived again briefly in my 20’s. He also lived in Savannah, which I love visiting. He worked as a merchant, a tailor, and he also fought in the Civil War (confederate). He had 7 children, but his name is the only one found outside of his mausoleum, so I wonder if the rest of his family is buried elsewhere. He was born in Germany in 1831, and he died in 1914.

If your back is to the gates and you look to the far left and start walking you will see a small headstone for Hazel, E. Waterman, who died in 1904 at a few months old. Her headstone is a type that I had heard about but had never actually seen in all of my cemetery visits. Usually a child’s stone will feature a lamb or sometimes a small bird. A few times I’ve seen deer. Hazel’s stone has two small baby shoes on the top and two small socks draped down the front of the stone. I was thrilled to see an example of something I’d only ever heard about. Hazel’s small gravestone did not have a record in Find A Grave which made me wonder more about her and her family. I couldn’t find anything on Ancestry, which happens a lot when you’re looking for a child. There is a child’s headstone in St. Augustine that has haunted me since I first saw it and I can’t find out anything about the child or the family, which has bothered me for 2 years. If you’re awesome with genealogy and like a challenge- send me a message.

Temple Cemetery is one of my favorite sites to date in Jacksonville. If you get over there please let me know what you thought! And bring snacks, you’ll need them if you go to Evergreen because you could spend the day in there and never see it all.

Camp Captain Mooney Cemetery in Duval County

Sounds like something from a storybook, right? When I was a kid I loved a book called The Magical Drawings of Mooney B. Finch, and I read it until it fell apart. That was the first thing I thought of when my mom drove me up to the gates of this historic cemetery. She loves cemeteries too and will scout out new locations for me to see when I go visit her, and she almost always goes with me. One time last year I did sneak off to see one that she told me probably wasn’t safe to go to by myself, and I told her about it afterwards.

“Well, how was it? ” she asked.

“I think it was fine. I never saw anyone.”

She just smiled and said she wanted to go with me next time.

The Camp Captain Mooney Cemetery is a surprise. It’s set way back in what’s part neighborhood, part business/warehouse area- which is how Jacksonville is designed anyway. There’s wasn’t a lot of reason applied to the layout. This is a small cemetery and the only hazard I can think to warn you about ahead of time is that the ground can be quite spongy. My mom walks with a cane and was basically doing ground testing while she was walking around because her cane kept sinking.

The cemetery was established on March 1st, 1864 after a short battle (the Battle of Cedar Creek), and the creek is nearby and is actually quite sizeable. There is also a historical marker there and you can get out and take pictures because even though it’s on a busy road, there is a place to pull over and a sidewalk. The death toll for the day included 7 Confederates, 2 Union, with others wounded and some captured. Writing about battles is not my strong suit, so I’m including the Wikipedia article. The cemetery was started on the day of the battle; the dead were buried there, and it was used for some time though it is very small, with only about 114 interments. Captain Mooney is there also- and his veteran’s headstone doesn’t have a birth date or death date on it.

There are some wonderful headstones here and quite a few handmade ones. I’ve been to this cemetery twice, and the first time I noticed four graves, looked at the stones, and must have blanked out because I didn’t notice that all four graves had the same death date. Shawn and my mom called me over to look on this visit, and I took photos to do some research. Emma, Dora, and Mary Silcox all died on June 26, 1927, along with their friend Frances Norton. Mary was 15, Dora was 12, and Emma was 9 years old. Frances was a friend of the family and was only 19. They drowned during a boating accident at Clearwater Lake in Jacksonville, which is now a place to hike and fish. I can’t imagine what that family went through losing three of their children and a close friend in one day.

Private James S. Turknett is also buried here even though the  Turknett Cemetery is right down the road- it’s connected to the Smith Cemetery. The Turknett’s are buried in the back and the gate to that part of the cemetery has a bright blue sign that reads Turknett Cemetery, while on the other side it says Smith Cemetery on a very formal plaque. There is also a third set of gates that are probably for hearse access that are large, fancy wrought iron and do not have any name on them. These two cemeteries are in the back of a neighborhood and there was yet another sign posted on a light pole warning about fees associated with disturbing graves or remains, and that the fine is up to 5,000 dollars, 5 years in jail, or both. It’s a 3rd degree felony and I wish more people would think it through before they decide to do something that stupid.

If you do find yourself in Jacksonville and want to see something a little more unusual before you head off to the Victorian glory of Evergreen or the Old City Cemetery downtown (best to keep your wits about you down there, that one is a little weird), then these three cemeteries are worth a look.

Camp Captain Mooney is now owned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and it is always impeccable every time I go. Just be careful with your cane. Also, Shawn and I have a knack for finding bones in cemeteries (animals, thankfully) and this trip had a small surprise as well.

Restlawn Memorial Park in Jacksonville, Florida

This cemetery has been in the news in the last 2 years due to allegations of improper burials, and is under new ownership- which I think is a good thing. The news story is disturbing, and Jacksonville has had it’s fair share of bad press when it comes to cemeteries in the last year alone. But in this situation, it appears that the new owner is doing the right thing and is working hard to that end.

So when I found out that my grandparents were buried there recently, I breathed a sigh of relief because they weren’t in Beaches Memorial Park, part of a long and ongoing investigation for all kinds of horrible things, and I also breathed a sigh of relief because I finally knew where they were. When my grandfather died I was 17. That was the last time I went to that cemetery, and no one who was with me that day could remember where it was or the name of it once I grew up and started this…hobby. I’d looked and looked on Find A Grave to no avail, and then in January of this year the cemetery was recorded and lo and behold, the grandparents showed up as a record. I was thrilled.

Then I saw the news story. So when I drove through the gates by myself that day I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wanted them to be in a pretty place with no problems, and that was exactly what I found when I got there. While this cemetery is not beautiful in a Bonaventure sort of way, it is pretty, with large trees and a well-kept lawn. It was also much larger than my 17 year old self had remembered, and so I pulled up in front of the offices to get some help finding my family members.

I was greeted right away, and I realized right then that I may not have the tact needed to work in the funeral business, even though I would like to.

I explained what I was doing there and that I had been very young the last time I’d been there.

“And what are the names of your loved ones? ” She asked me kindly.

“Charles and Susie Sears,” I said. I gave her the date of my grandfather’s death in 1990. She asked me to wait a moment and indicated a couch where I could sit down.

If it had been me, I don’t know that I would have thought to say “What are the names of your loved ones?” which sounds very nice. I probably would have just asked for their names and been my usual direct self. I appreciated her delicacy while I marveled at it.

She came back and asked me for the date of my grandmother’s death instead, and I showed her my printout from Find A Grave. She vanished again into a back office. The offices were nice and there was a pretty chandelier hanging in the entrance way. I had noticed though that those same offices shared an inside wall with the mausoleum that had been attached to the building. Or maybe the offices had been attached to it instead. Either way, it seemed like odd energy to have behind you while you work all day.

While I waited I was greeted nicely by two other people who both asked if I needed anything. When the first lady came back she was smiling and told me if I’d just wait outside, a gentleman would drive me to see my grandparents. I said that I could walk, but she said they’d prefer to take me there. I went outside and waited.

I’d been there maybe a minute when I heard someone call out “Charles Sears?” I turned and there was a man standing next to a golf cart, gesturing for me to get in with him. I slid onto the seat beside him. I expected a sedate and solemn ride through the graves and for this to be a gentle experience. That is not what happened, but what happened makes me laugh every time I think about it.

The second I was on the seat next to him he punched it and the cart took off; one second we were on the paved road and the next second he was speeding across the grass, looking down on his side of the golf cart at the ground as we sped past graves on our bumpy ride. I was hanging on tightly, trying to look casual as I told him the last time I’d been there had been in 1990. Turns out, that was when he started working there. He was talking amiably about his work as we bounced along over grass and pine cones before coming to an abrupt halt. My hair swung forward.

“There they are,” he said. “I can wait.” He folded his hands on the steering wheel.

“No that’s okay, I’m parked right there,” I said, pointing. The offices were actually pretty close by and I could see my car.

“Okay. But just remember for your next visit, the mausoleum is right there, and they line up with that.” He smiled and bid me good day before zipping off again in his cart. I’m not sure of his job title, but when it comes to driving a golf cart through a graveyard very fast, he is a skilled professional.

I turned and looked down at the ground. And yes, there they were. If there had been a vase it had been stolen, but the plaque itself wasn’t in bad condition. I just stood there with the sun shining on my head while breathing in the chilly air, and I thought about them. Random memories. My grandfather’s ability to draw. My grandmother’s scrambled eggs.

I told them I’d be back for Christmas and that I was glad to have found them.

Restlawn was opened in 1929 and is still an active, operating cemetery.

Christmas in the Cemetery

Most people wouldn’t think to head to the cemetery as part of their holiday festivities, but apparently a lot of people do. Everywhere I visited this month there were bright decorations everywhere, everything from trees to candy canes to a little snowman headstone topper. For my own family I’m choosing poinsettias, and will be taking them out to my grandparents on my Dad’s side on Christmas Day. They’ve been long neglected- I just found out where they were buried after quite a bit of searching over the last few months. I was really happy to see their names on the plaque and know that whenever I’m in town I can take them flowers.

I also decorated the graves of a family in this cemetery this year. After writing about them and researching them I felt like I wanted to do something, not really sure why. I just loved their story and thought that their history must have been very similar to so many others here in the Central Florida area, and every one of those families is important. They’re the foundation that this area was built on. So on a bright day Shawn and I went out and brought them each a small decoration and a light to place by each grave. I’ll leave the lights after the holidays.

I never really considered the act of decorating a grave for the holidays until this year, I guess for a lot of reasons. I think that I realized that losing someone doesn’t mean that you lose the habit of caring for them, even in the most basic of ways. Reaching for them in the middle of the night, buying something that catches your eye just because you know they’d like it, or leaving their number in your phone because you’re used to calling them. Habits die hard if they die at all, and they last long after the person is gone. So this year it seemed perfectly normal for me to go out to cemeteries and see entire Christmas trees, little stockings, Christmas cards, sparkly flowers, and velvet bows.

 

My favorite was the full sized tree that I saw on one grave, each little stocking hanging on the tree had a family member’s name on it, and it had been decorated with so much care. I stopped and took photos of it and read the names on each of the stockings, wondering what the family was like.

If you’re visiting loved ones in the cemetery this holiday season I hope they’re not sad visits, but visits filled with good memories and smiles. Happy holidays, everyone!

That Trip To Jacksonville

Last week I went to Jacksonville for a cemetery training put on by The Florida Public Archaeology Network. It was going to be my second one that I’ve attended, and I was really looking forward to it because the first one was so much fun. An hour before I left work, I bent over to get something out of the fridge in the office and felt my back go out. I decided to go anyway. By the time I got to Jacksonville after an almost 3 hour drive I was barely able to walk upright and was in a lot of pain. I’m stubborn, and I decided that the next morning I’d see if I felt well enough to attend the all-day workshop, even though that night I had to climb onto the antique bed at my mom’s kind of like a toddler climbs onto a couch.

I knew when I got up and hobbled to my mom’s favorite chair with the heating pad that there would be no 6 hour class for me. I sat on the heating pad for an hour, had breakfast with my mom (with a side of Advil), and limped out of the house after she went to work, intent on at least seeing a cemetery while I was there. I bundled up somewhat because it was surprisingly cold and drove out to Evergreen Cemetery, which is HUGE. It’s 167 acres of pure beauty that also includes an arboretum- and as I had discovered after some research- 2 receiving vaults. These were my main reason for visiting. On my last visit I had wandered through the beautiful mausoleum complex and chapel, but when I heard about the vaults I knew I had to see them.

Receiving vaults in Florida are quite rare because they’re usually found in colder climates where bodies needed to be stored before burial because the ground was frozen. Now they can thaw the ground with lots of fancy equipment, and some cemeteries still have vaults on the grounds but I’ve never seen one in Florida. The ones I’ve seen were in Knoxville and Charleston, and I was thrilled to see them because at that time it had been something that I’d only heard of.

I knew where the office was and heard that I could ask for a map there, so I went in shortly after they opened and asked where the vaults were. The receptionist looked at me for a beat before she placed a rather large map on the counter and stared at it for a few seconds. Then she looked up at me and said apologetically, “I can’t remember how to get to them, I’m going to go ask.”

I waited while hearing a whispered conversation taking place in the next room. She came back smiling and told me they were by gate five. I had no idea that there were more than 2 gates, so when she showed me how to get there on the map I was shocked. I thanked her and got back into the car, noting that the Advil had started working and I felt like I was walking more normally. I drove out of gate 1 and drove slowly around the main road and passed gates 2, 3, 4 and then noticed that the fifth gate was locked. I drove to the next one, only to find that it said Temple Cemetery and not Gate 5. I stopped anyway because there were a lot of mausoleums. I’ll be writing about that section in another blog post.

The next gate was actually labeled Gate 5 and I pulled in and turned to the right. The receiving vaults were directly in front of me. One was smaller and had room for 12, the other was larger, from a different decade (1927) and had room for 30. I’m not sure on the date of the first one. The cemetery was founded in 1880 and the first burial was in 1881. The cemetery actually had a train depot on site (the tracks run right next to it and are active) and the vault was primarily used for people visiting Florida for extended periods during the winter who came for the sunshine and then…died. The families rented space in the vaults to store their loved one until they went back home on the train and took the body with them for burial. In one source that I seem to have misplaced I read that the first vault was often full and they needed to build the second one as Jacksonville grew and more people visited. The cemetery made a little income from renting out the vaults, and the rest of the families could finish their visit without the expense of going back home for a funeral and then returning until spring. Weird, but more than likely true.

One vault is gated and one is not- and of course I went in. The leaves were crunching under my feet, the sunlight was slanting in, and even with it I felt chilly surrounded by all of that heavy marble. The place was fantastic, but had either succumbed to some vandalism or the aging process. Either way it’s incredible. On this trip I took a video of each vault, so take a look! (Part 2 here) I didn’t speak because they were running blowers and a lawnmower next to them, but at least you can see the inside. And yes, my back is feeling better!

 

 

The Portraits at Congregation Ohev Shalom

This cemetery is one of the prettiest ones in Orlando, and in a completely unexpected part of town. It lies along Old Winter Garden Road in Orlo Vista and is next to the Lake Hill Cemetery, which is my favorite little cemetery here. Lake hill has a lot of space between burials and is grassy and has only a few trees, so it’s s surprise to walk next door and see a verdant landscape of trees and shrubs and a crowded cemetery with a small mortuary chapel at the back. Congregation Ohev Shalom was founded in 1918, but the cemetery dates more from 1928. The cemetery regulations also suggest that the wife be buried on the left- something that I have never once paid attention to in any cemetery, to be completely honest. This cemetery serves at least 3 congregations, and while you must be Jewish to be laid to rest here, you do not have to be a member of  Congregation Ohev Shalom.

This cemetery is beautiful to walk through, but it also has something that makes it even more interesting to visit- tons of ceramic portraits on the gravestones. I just love these things!

Some of them are quite old and some are more modern and nicely done in brighter colors. I like both, but I especially love the old ones which tend to be more formal. This cemetery does not have a lot of historical information, but I still wanted to write about it and give a sort of tombstone tour of noticeable portraits. You will see that there are lots of small stones on top of the graves, and in the center of the cemetery there is a small box full of these stones for visitors to choose from. It is tradition to leave a stone on the grave with the left hand, not only to show that someone has visited, but also as a tribute to the deceased. There are other fascinating theories that can be read about here. I love the idea.  I will sometimes leave seashells on the grave in other cemeteries. I left an amethyst crystal on my dad’s grave when I went to see him once, it was the only thing I had in the car and for some reason it felt important that I do something, even though I sat on his grave and talked to him for awhile.

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The last two were father and son- brilliant smiles on both of them!

In the back of the cemetery you will find a grave for Talia Joy Castellano- truly a bright light in this world. Her Youtube channel is still up- she was a young make-up artist and honorary Cover Girl. Her appearance on the Ellen show brought me to tears! Her grave is bright and pretty and seems to reflect her love of color and beauty and her talent for making others look their best. I have visited this cemetery many times and didn’t see her grave until I went on Thanksgiving and my fiancee’s daughter mentioned the colorful grave toward the back of the property. Please take a minute to look her up!

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I’m off to Clay county this week for another CRPT cemetery training. There are a few graves here locally  that I’d like to work on restoring and I’m hoping to learn everything that I need to in order to make that happen in January. Details and pictures next week!

 

 

Grieving for Pets

Last week I lost my beautiful little Cricket, who I’ve shared my life with for 14 years. She made my house a home, and I am still getting used to life without her. For me, the hardest part besides watching her decline was coming home from work each day and not seeing her calico face in my bedroom window, waiting for me. She has always treated my bedroom as her personal apartment at every place I’ve lived and I always accommodated this since like me, she was shy and preferred to have her own space. I truly miss her presence in my room and the house feels emptier without her, even though we have two other cats.

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What I’ve struggled with besides just feeling the lack of her presence has been all of the empty space in my head that was previously filled with worrying about her. Did I give her her fluids Monday or Tuesday? Why isn’t she eating? Do I need to take her back to the vet again? Am I hurting her when I give her fluids? Who can I trust to watch her when we go out of town? (Thank you, Owen!) It was a lot of worry and anxiety over a period of one and a half years from when she was diagnosed with advanced kidney disease. I lost a lot of sleep and had mounting expenses for her health care, but it didn’t matter to me because I loved her.

So now I find all of this space, and I still find myself locked into routines that revolved around her care and making her happy. I open the blinds every morning, still expecting her to jump up on the couch to look out. I close them but leave space at the bottom at night, still thinking she’ll look out during the night. I leave my robe on my bed for her, still used to the fact that she LOVED sleeping on it. I still come home from work thinking it’s time to feed her.

After a week I started wondering if I should stop any of these behaviors, but my answer was no, that I shouldn’t, because for now it makes me feel better. I have sympathy cards in my room from friends and from our outstanding vet, who sat next to me in the room the day she died and put her arm around me, crying with me. I have flowers from a friend who lives in another state who went with me to learn how to give her fluids because I was terrified of fainting. I did clean my room and removed her food dishes, corralled all of her toys into a basket in the corner of the room for now, and tried to make everything look clean and peaceful. For a few days there was a lot of chaos as we took care of her and waited to see if she would take a turn for the better.

I grew a lot in the last year and a half and I realized that I’m a lot more capable than I ever thought I was. I’m pretty good with a needle now. I can manage multiple medications, and I can see warning signs that I couldn’t see before. I was financially capable too, more so than I thought I was.

I have a few suggestions for anyone who loses a pet, because whether it’s a horse or a hamster or anything in between, it’s still painful. But here is what I’ve learned that has helped me cope.

  1. Don’t give yourself a time limit for when you’re supposed to be done grieving, and ignore anyone who tells you to get over it. It takes as long as it takes, and some people have a harder time with grief than others. I remember when I lost my first cat, Sam, I was in a restaurant with my mom 3 months later and when she mentioned him I started crying. I’d had him for 16 years! If an animal spends a significant part of your life with you, you’ll probably spend a significant amount of time missing them. Be gentle with yourself and cry when you need to, you’ll feel so much better if you don’t hold it in.
  2. The flip side is also knowing when to get help. If you feel like you can’t function in your normal life, are losing sleep, or are feeling so sad that you don’t want to get up, please see a counselor. Also you might try supporting yourself with homeopathic remedies for grief or stress (these helped me, especially Rescue Remedy), using aromatherapy, and just generally taking really good care of yourself. If you’re not sleeping and having trouble eating you’re going to be more emotional, whether you realize it or not.
  3. Say thank you to the people that helped you with your pet, whether it was your vet, friends, or family members that were there for you. Writing thank you notes to those special people that made a difference for me in the last few days helped me to have closure.
  4. You can have your pet’s ashes returned to you, which is something I chose to do. No it’s not weird and no it’s not scary. She’s in a beautiful cedar box with her name on it, and it’s smaller than a box of Kleenex. I’m glad I did this, it made me feel better somehow. You can also purchase custom urns on Etsy and they also have memorial jewelry for your pet’s ashes or fur, and most are reasonably priced.
  5. You can also create a ritual for your pet or do something meaningful to create a sort of memorial. My mom had a friend that passed away and she decided to knit a scarf in her friend’s favorite colors to wear when she was missing her. I light a candle at home every night next to all of the cards that I got for Cricket, which makes me feel better. You can say a prayer for your pet or even talk to your pet, whatever helps you process. Frame your favorite picture of them, or if you feel like you need to, take their pictures down for awhile. It doesn’t have to be forever. Finally, if like me you’re still embedded in the daily rituals of having your pet, like opening blinds or leaving their favorite blanket out, keep doing it if it helps you cope. For the time being keeping those routines is helping me and I know that one day I won’t need them anymore.

 

Special thanks to the East Orlando Animal Hospital staff and Dr. Yaicha Peters, Shawn, Keila, Owen, Terri, and Robert, and Greenbrier Memory Gardens and Crematory, who specialize in afterlife care for animals.

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