Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Post One Hundred and Forty Four: We All Start As Strangers.
We can go from strangers to companions in an instant. We can change people's lives in a single meeting. I am assured of this.
I met a man and he told me about death. We met by accident, in a cemetery, because I thought he was a gravedigger and I called on his services from across the monuments. The reality was that he was a man who loved his overalls but had just buried his wife. My bad.
I was arriving at an old rural cemetery early to sight a grave and make sure that everything was organised for a burial arranged for later that day. I saw a rugged man in boots and overalls smiling at me, and waving gleefully from afar. Being pretty pleased that someone living was wanting my attentions, I made my way over to talk about what I assumed was the burial plans that lay ahead of us.
I threw my hand out to shake his, and introduced myself as the newest and most competent member of my company. I joked about something stupid and grinned unabashedly. I felt a connection to the 'gravedigger,' probably because he was covered in tattoos but still had the gentle warmth and energy of a labrador.
He then said, "Sarah, I'm not a grave digger. You buried my wife five weeks ago."
Imagine my face. I must have looked like I was going to cry, because he gently reached for my shoulder and assured me that he wasn't insulted. In fact, I think he was oddly chuffed that he fit the bill.
I hadn't actually buried his beloved, because I hadn't been working in Victoria for long enough to have even been a member of staff on the service. Needless to say, our conversation started with how the lady had died and how he felt that the funeral proceedings went. Everything went according to plan, but death in itself was never in HIS plan.
We sat at her grave, alongside each other, looking at the headstone. We talked about how the five weeks had passed by so slowly. He seemed pained by the memory of her loss, but happy to talk to someone who understood. What he was saying was sad, but his face was happy, and I was confused by that.
We talked about how the first week blurred together. I asked if his friends and family were still in close contact with him, and he hadn't spoken to anyone apart from myself in almost seven days. We then walked for a short distance and he showed me his mother's grave in a nearby plot. I felt like I was being introduced into his family, even after their passing, and I let him know that I felt a priviledge in doing so.
I felt so close to that gentleman. He taught me about the reality of death for those that are left behind to wash the sheets, cancel the bank accounts and 'move on' with living. He taught me how to open up to those that are willing to hear. He taught me that I can find inspiration in dark places.
And he taught me that I should exercise more care and restraint when approaching citizens in a cemetery to avoid looking like an idiot.