Other People’s Grief

I’m always fine in the presence of other people’s grieving processes or struggles as they pertain to mortality, but I am always caught off guard when I experience those feelings for myself. And to be honest, it sometimes makes me feel like a fraud. The first example of this hit me after the Pulse tragedy and I had to drive by the memorials every day on the way to work. I tried taking different routes but it seemed like every time I tried another road there was another group of memorial signs on the corner, and I would sit at the stoplights purposely looking away from them in order to keep my emotions stable before work. But I was reminded again this week of how fragile I can be when dealing with my own feelings toward death. 

I’m in a transitional place right now and Shawn and I are not sure how much longer we’ll be in the Orlando area. I am also attempting to leave my job of 14 plus years for one that actually aligns with my values. So there’s a lot going on and I feel a need to tie up loose ends in my life in order to move forward with as little regret or fear as possible.  

I had a doctor’s appointment this week and arrived to that side of town early, because if you’re driving to Altamonte in the middle of the day you have to leave at least an hour early because of the obscene traffic on I-4. So when I arrived with time to spare I decided to go scout out a cemetery nearby, if there was one. 

4 miles away I found Highland Memory Gardens and realized that it was where my former father in law had been buried years ago, so long ago that it made me feel like another girl in another world when I thought of it. I had never gone back to see his grave site after the funeral, even though I lived 3 miles from it for 8 years. For the last 3 years I’d been driving over to Altamonte for appointments with my allergist and had still avoided going.  For some reason- maybe it was the gloom of the rain or the need for completion somewhere in my life, I decided to go visit him. Because 11 years is a long time to avoid something or someone. 

I didn’t like being a part of that family, which may have been the reason for the avoidance issues. I still wake up every day and am so incredibly grateful to have been set free from that marriage that I sometimes don’t know what to do with that overwhelming feeling. I still cry because I’m so happy and relieved. There were a lot of reasons for me not to visit and running into the rest of the family was a big one. Dealing with whatever I might feel if I went to visit was the other, stronger reason. 

I had liked my father in law a great deal despite how I felt about everyone else. Wendell was a good man and he was kind-hearted toward man and beast. He was tall and rangy, tanned from spending years of his life outdoors, and had silver hair. He loved his wife, his grandchild, gardening, and beer. I was never really sure about anything else, but on those points I was very clear. 

I went through the rain to the cemetery office without my umbrella and asked where I might find his grave. The family counselor was right there when I walked in, standing with a pleasant look on his face and his hands clasped before him. He was happy to help me and pulled out a complicated map of the cemetery, then drew on the map as he gave me even more complicated directions. He then notified me that the four plots behind Wendell were for sale, in case that was important to me. I said nothing, but took the map and thanked him before stepping back out into the gloom.

I parked in what I thought was the right area, got out of the Durango and started walking. I literally walked right to his grave. I stopped short when I saw his name and then I just stood there staring down at it. Thunder rumbled overhead in a melodious way, not threatening, and I looked around me before saying, “This is a beautiful place.” I said it out loud.

Then I said. “I was so angry at you for dying.”

Tears came.

I wiped them away with my fingertips and tried to act like it wasn’t happening but my nose started to run, and I sniffed as I told him in choppy sentences that everything fell apart when he died, and that at that point in time he was the one that held everyone together. And then I just stood there and felt tears run down my face and thought about a time when he had rescued a snake from our back porch, and how it had been injured. He placed it on the ground and then I saw him reach down and pet it gently.

And after that I remembered that he had always said that he did not want to be embalmed, and that he wanted a green burial- as green as we could get it, and instead he’d been embalmed and made up and stuffed into a suit and put into a bronze deluxe casket. Here. Under my feet. I still remembered looking into that casket for the last time. But I think his family had been through so much and they really didn’t know what else to do and I certainly can’t find fault with that.

I thought about Payne’s Prairie near Gainesville and how much he would have loved being buried in a place like that. People would hike past him and he would literally be at one with the environment. I felt like we had done him a disservice when he died and I regretted not speaking up.

But I had been different, and it was way before I started writing or caring so much about all of these things. I finally told him that I would have brought him flowers but he didn’t have a vase to put them in, and that I thought that really sucked. I thought it was pretty much the rule that you got a vase in Memory Garden type cemeteries.

A big hawk flew low across the graves and landed in the oak tree across the road from where I stood. I looked at it for a moment and felt better. Then I walked to my car, reached in for a box of tissues, and blew my nose. Loudly.

Cleaning Page Jackson Cemetery

First of all, this is my 50th post! I am very excited about this and hope to continue for another 50 posts and at least another 50 new cemeteries this year. Yay!

A couple of weeks ago 4 of us met to work on picking up trash in the Page Jackson Cemetery in Sanford, Florida. Many of you who read this blog know that this is probably one of my favorite cemeteries in Central Florida. It’s never a boring trip when I visit this place and I always discover something new. I was armed that day with a new trash grabber (The Deluxe Gopher 2) that made me feel like I was 90 years old when I bought it, but it was so worth the ten dollars! For one thing, there were a lot of things laying around that I wouldn’t want to touch with my bare hands, and it also saved my back from a few days of muscle relaxers and pain. I didn’t realize that these things can not only be used for trash pick-up but also to knock weeds and branches out of the way when you’re navigating the Florida scrub brush on this property. Maybe I should get a machete too.

I knew the moment that I pulled up that it was going to be a successful morning because Ariel’s personal hearse was parked on the dirt lane and it just set the tone for the whole day, especially since it had two big dogs looking out of the back, their sweet faces staring longingly at us while framed by funereal red curtains. Maryanne was there too, and while I unloaded the cooler from my car she cheerfully informed me that she had brought disposable gloves for everyone. We all snapped them on, unloaded the trash bags, and got to work. Later in the morning Heather joined us and so between the 4 of us we had 2 bloggers, one funeral records addict (especially Carey Hand), one Hospice volunteer and educator, one funeral professional, and one person who can find anything genealogy related if she has a computer in front of her. The conversation was lively.

This is a failing cemetery, meaning that it really doesn’t matter what happens from this point forward because it will never be unearthed from the rapidly encroaching saplings and vines. My wish for this cemetery is that it be mapped every few years, and kept clean and safe for people to come and visit their loved ones even if it means a hike through some brush. That’s really all that can be expected and even that seems like too much to ask for when you look at the place and realize that this is the way it’s looked for years, and that neglect has been a part of the history here. I’d love it if it could just be under control in some way but this is Florida, and Florida plants rarely cooperate. We took our time going through, learning new graves along the way and picking up massive amounts of trash as we went, everything from pairs of shoes to (lots) of underwear and food wrappers. Tons of beer cans. Thankfully no condoms, though all of the underthings lying around in the back of the cemetery gave me a pretty good shudder anyway. Seeing Maryanne put her head into a grave to try to figure out what caused the hole in the concrete (air bubble) didn’t shock me as bad as the underwear did.

There is one grave there that has always stood out to me. It’s a plain ledger stone that’s been smashed, most likely deliberately, and is in several large pieces that jut out at odd angles like a mouthful of crooked teeth. That night I got home and looked up Find A Grave, and I went through all of the photos of the headstones until I found that marker. His name on Find A Grave is listed as Dr. Wallace Thomas Eaverly.  He was a Prescription Clerk with a third grade education. He’d worked in a drugstore pharmacy for part of his career and he died at the age of 32 in 1931, leaving a young family behind. He was somebody in the community- just like everyone else here- and it broke my heart all over again to think of his final resting place coming to this sad end, with moss growing in between the cracks in the concrete and no name for people to read as they passed by. These people built the Sanford community and Seminole County.

In the early afternoon we strolled over to Shiloh to pick up some trash back there and look around. There were some new burials and also an open grave that was covered by a piece of plywood, patiently waiting for it’s occupant to arrive. The vault was already in the ground; sand was piled on top of the grave next to it in a huge, ugly pile. This cemetery in its open field with it’s 300 plus burials is mostly clean. It’s also an African-American cemetery like Page Jackson, but if you stand at the front of the cemetery and look into the trees you see the burials in Page Jackson obscured by woods and a massive trash pile that’s grown steadily over the last year. There are burial markers right next to it, if not underneath it.

 

That night I was nursing a sunburn and itchy legs, and the next day I was actually sore from clomping all over those woods in heavy rubber boots, but it was worth it.

Our next clean-up day is planned for April 17th. It’s a Monday this time, but if you’d like to come please email me at marnie.bench@gmail.com. We’d love to see you there!

Zion Lutheran Church Cemetery in Gotha, Florida

The Carey Hand funeral records called this plot of land the Gotha Cemetery back in 1928. It’s a large chunk of land for 18 burials, and when we were sitting in the car in front of it arguing about  whether or not it was actually there, the thing was staring us right in the face. The whole plot is fenced with a handsome, high black fence, but don’t let that put you off. There’s a gate on 2 sides to enter. There is no sign indicating that this is a cemetery or that it’s owned by the church, but it is there. If you look carefully you can see spots of color standing out through the verdant green of the overgrown lot, and these are flowers that someone has brought for one of the graves. While the land is not tended, the graves are. Most of them were clean and cared for, at least minimally, and what headstones we could see were in good repair. Hats off to whoever is working to keep this cemetery respectable. The most recent burial was in 2013, so it’s possibly still in use.

The land itself is a tangle of branches, vines, and downed trees so if you do visit use caution. There are also miscellaneous pieces of rusting equipment on the property that you’ll want to look out for. The cemetery is in the middle of the property and has several fenced family plots.

You’ll find the Nehrlings buried here, the family that started the botanical gardens literally right around the corner. Their home is still there along with 6 acres of their land and it is open for tours. It’s on my list of places to visit, I love the idea that something that Dr. Nehrling started in 1885 is still left.

Nearby you will find a small grave for Ferdinand Runge who died at 2 years old and is the first marked burial at this site (death date 1898). He has a beautiful grave that is tended and completely fenced with natural wood fencing. The next marked grave wasn’t until 1900 and it made me feel sad to think of him there all alone for 2 years.

Also here is the Hartmann family, Ludwig and his younger wife Antoine. The Hartmann’s came over from Germany; Ludwig’s immigration was in 1883. All of their children were born here in Florida, and by 1900 they already had six daughters. Ludwig was an orange farmer and the census records show them surrounded by other farmers and fruit merchants. The farm that they owned was mortgage free so it seems that they were prosperous.

When Ludwig died his funeral was handled by Carey Hand funeral home, the oldest funeral home in Orange county. He died of uremia, and it seems like so many of the funeral records that I’ve come across include deaths from kidney-related diseases. I’m going to have to research that some day, it’s easy to speculate but I’d be curious to read more about that. His funeral record was apparently filled out by the laziest person (or the busiest) in that funeral home on that day in 1940 because it literally says almost nothing. The person who filled out his wife’s record included her maiden name, Krause, as well as all other pertinent information. Their records can be viewed on Central Florida Memory.

Gotha was originally a German colony started by Henry Hempel and is near Windermere. This cemetery is worth a look because it’s so unusual and it’s full of our German pioneers that made Florida their home.

Bay Ridge Cemetery

Bay Ridge Cemetery is near Apopka and it has been on it’s own for several years now. It appears there is no owner, operator, or cemetery association for this property. Even the map of the cemetery has no information on where the plots are located, making it extremely useful, as you can imagine.

FullSizeRender (7)

One side is clearly abandoned. There is a small plot on the other side of the dirt road that this cemetery lies on that is the Reid family plot. The family died in 1995 after a car accident, the husband and two children died on one day, and the wife died from her injuries the next day. Two of their children were not in the car. It was an incredibly sad moment to stand in front of their monument and look at those dates, knowing that some horrible tragedy had befallen this young family. When I got home that day I looked it up. That small plot is the only part of this cemetery that is lovingly maintained. It’s mowed, weed-whacked, and someone has been leaving flowers and gifts for the family.

The rest of the cemetery is a mystery, because it’s actually quite old, dating back to the 1880’s. The first stone we saw had a date from that decade on it. It was partially obscured by ivy, but the dates were still clear.

FullSizeRender (9)

When you look into the cemetery you start to see shapes emerging from the woods; the shadow of a headstone here, the glint of a metal funeral home marker there, another stone crouched beneath a large palmetto. I wanted to charge in but I was wearing shorts and a tank top, plus it was at least 98 degrees that day and this was the second cemetery we’d visited. I was sweating through my clothes and just couldn’t go much further. Shawn walked in though and took several photos, coming out to tell me that there was an entire family plot surrounded by decorative stonework to the left. I can’t wait to go back to this one in the winter when some of the foliage has died.

FullSizeRender (8)

I walked to the front of the 2 acre property to take a photo of the homemade sign, and when I did that I walked around it and pushed some branches out of the way. Underneath them was a large stone lion, one paw raised and resting on a shield with the letter S on it. There were no visible graves nearby. I stood staring at it for a minute, wondering why it was there, and if it was marking a family plot.

FullSizeRender (10)

Find a Grave has some incredible photos from this cemetery, including one of an ornate funeral from the 40’s. Thankfully, someone has added photos of many of the people buried there and of the cemetery the way it was a few years ago before the ivy, kudzu, and pine needles did their work. It’s well documented, just not well maintained. Carey Hand funeral home held some of the funerals there and there were records of those in the Central Florida Memory collection.

This fall I’m going back with gloves, bug spray, and trash bags to see if I can locate a few more of the graves.

Beulah Cemetery in Winter Garden, Florida

On this particular day I remembered to wear my Converse for the first time. When I was spending a lot of time with horses I had boots for all occasions- boots to run in, ride in, muck stables in, and two pairs for winter since I hate having cold feet. Now that I spend a lot of time in cemeteries, I frequently forget to put on appropriate footwear. I keep rubber boots in my car, but I forgot about them on the day that I grazed a plant in St. Augustine that caused the top of my foot to form welts and blisters over a period of three painful days. I keep converse in Shawn’s Jeep but I also forgot to put them on the day that I got stung by ground bees in New Smyrna. So on this day I was very proud of myself for stopping outside of the cemetery gates to put on closed-toe shoes. Most Florida cemeteries seem to have a lot of burrs and this cemetery is near water so there’s also the possibility of snakes.

FullSizeRender (8)

The sign states that Beulah Cemetery was started in 1866, and the earliest burial that I could find was from that year, Andrew Jackson Dunaway. He was an orange farmer, as many of the families in this area were. Mr. Dunaway appears to have been the start of the cemetery, but much of his family is also there. Not only was he enlisted in 1861 as a private in the Civil War, he was twice married and had a huge family. If you walk from the cemetery entrance toward the lake you will notice a humble handmade marker facing the water that says Mrs. America Keen. The rest of his children had pretty standard names, so she stood out to me. In 1860 she was one year old, and I was unable to find much information on her. His children were basically farm labor if they were men or housekeepers if they were women. That’s just the way it was.

 

The census records from the 1860’s that show this family have their neighbors listed as farmers, one that was both a farmer and the local sheriff, one doctor, and one man from Ireland whose occupation was listed as “ditches”. It was fascinating reading. Apparently, this cemetery served the Beulah settlement which was also called the Reaves settlement- Reaves is a name that you see many times in the cemetery. The Beulah Baptist Church is down the road and they maintain this cemetery.

FullSizeRender (7)

This cemetery has several death dates on tombstones that correspond with the Spanish Flu epidemic (1918-1919). Additionally, many of the headstones to the left are artfully rendered and quite detailed. Some of the motifs include a harp, a star, the gates of heaven (always!), and one white stone with carved flowers at the top which is one of my favorites.

IMG_3463

The cemetery has 2 above ground crypts belonging to James and Matilda O’Berry, who died 20 years apart, with Matilda dying first. Shawn and I stood there for a moment staring at them, wondering aloud what it would be like to die 20 years after your spouse. She was from Georgia, he was born in Florida, and they had 12 children in their 25 years of marriage. He was also an orange farmer. Matilda’s funeral was done  by the Carey-Hand funeral home and cost 130 dollars and was paid for in 2 payments (1921). Her death notice was printed in 2 papers but I was unable to locate them. When James passed away in 1941 the doctor that attended him was also the Justice of the Peace. It appears that the crypt was added when James died in 1941, since his funeral record includes a charge for masonry and labor and was considerably more expensive than Matilda’s funeral.

IMG_3460

It’s a beautiful cemetery to walk through, not only because of the majestic trees and the breeze from the lake, but also because every time I visit I see birds that live near the water, and the last time I visited there was a baby turtle shell on top of a grave.  It was no bigger than the palm of my hand and still a deep, mossy green color.

I left it there.

 

Photos in Greenwood Cemetery

I’ve been to visit Greenwood so many times I felt like I’d never see anything in there to surprise me, but that wasn’t true when I went last week. It was the middle of the day and I needed a walk to clear my head. If you haven’t been here this cemetery is magical, very old, and run by an amazing staff who keep it impeccable. It is full of people who made Orlando the city it is and you’ll see headstones with the name of local streets and businesses everywhere- Bumby, Corrine, and my personal favorite- Carey and Hand, the men who started the Carey Hand funeral home here in Orlando. Their buildings are still downtown and have other businesses in them, but plaques commemorate the family and what they did in Orlando, including the fact that they had the first crematorium in Central Florida and the first chapel included in a funeral home in Orlando. (Now the UCF building.)

Greenwood is huge, and in the years I’ve lived in Orlando I still haven’t seen all of it’s 82 acres. One of the things that I love about this cemetery are the ceramic portraits included on many of the graves. Today if you add one to a headstone they can range in price from 100 to 300 dollars, so it’s not inexpensive, and must have been quite an extravagance in previous decades.

On this muggy day I saw three things that I had never noticed before.

The first was a large monument near the front of the cemetery in black marble that looked large and imposing, however, on one side was a small engraved plate with the deceased’s initials. When I touched the plate it slid over to reveal a beautifully colored portrait of the man. I always expect photos like this to be black and white but it just shows that I’ve been rather small minded and that sometimes people still like the old fashioned tributes that are done in new ways. There are a few more of these at the back of the cemetery on newer monuments and they’re lovely.

FullSizeRender (12)

 

The second was a small headstone with a lamb on top of it that was not in either of the three Babyland sections, meaning that the child was most likely buried near his other family members instead of with other infants. These small headstones rarely have photos on them for good reason, and if they do the ones that I’ve seen tend to be more somber. This one had a small oval portrait of a beautiful toddler holding his ball and smiling, walking down a sidewalk. Sadly the portrait is worn and a bit hard to see, but at one time it had gold trim painted around it.

FullSizeRender (14)

My heart pretty much fell out of my chest, but it was precious.

Finally, on the way out I decided to visit Fred Weeks, and on that day someone had left him a flower! If you don’t know about Fred Weeks or his unusual mausoleum, nobody can tell it like the tour guides on the moonlight tour that takes place every month at the cemetery. Get some walking shoes on and go! I’ve been twice and both times was fortunate enough to get Don Price as the tour guide. You’ll never forget it.

FullSizeRender (11)

On the way out I noticed another portrait on a headstone, this time in sepia. Quite the dashing young man, don’t you think?

FullSizeRender (13)