Finding Beauty in a Cemetery and in Death / by Leslie Fandrich


Last year when I was posting my Photo Walk series, I did a photo walk by myself in our local cemetery.

I felt uncomfortable posting the pictures. At the time, I was worried people would find them morbid or disturbing and not see the beauty in them that I did. Now, I don't care as much, but I'm also more preoccupied with death than I was before and I'm finding it difficult to contemplate anything else. It's time to post these pictures for one reason:

Death doesn't have to be faced with fear. It can beautiful and tell us valuable things about life.

I have always been drawn to cemeteries. Maybe it's my fascination with history, or my love of typography, but whatever the reason, I've always seen beauty and love in a cemetery. It's the ultimate expression of our humanity. I'm also the type of person who, when faced with a challenge or something I find scary, try to plunge myself headlong into it and figure out how to deal with it. I generally don't run away from it, at least, not for long. So, here we are.


What do you see in these pictures? I see enduring love, beautiful details and craftmanship but more than anything I see TIME. I see evidence of time passing, but also of the attempt to make time stand still by committing the facts of our lives to stone. Like the pyramids, these monuments are our lasting and permanent mark on the world.

We are born. We live. We die. That's pretty much all you can count on. 

Open Yale Courses: Philosophy 176 - Death "Professor Kagan puts forward the claim that Tolstoy's character Ivan Ilych is quite the typical man in terms of his views on mortality. All of his life he has known that death is imminent but has never really believed it. When he suddenly falls ill and is about to die, the fact of his mortality shocks him. In trying to further access how people think about death, Professor Kagan explores the claim that "we all die alone," presents a variety of arguments against it and ends by considering whether the primary badness of death could lie in the effects on those who are left behind."

Lens Culture: Life Before Death - portraits of the dying "Death and dying are arguably our last taboos – the topics our society finds most difficult. We certainly fear them more than our ancestors did. Opportunities to learn more about them are rare indeed. The majority of the subjects portrayed spent their last days in hospices. All those who come to such places realise that their lives are drawing to a close. They know there is not much time left to settle their personal affairs. Yet hardly anyone here is devoid of hope: they hope for a few more days; they hope that a dignified death awaits them or that death will not be the end of everything."

Buddhist Reflections on Death by V.F. Gunaratna "According to the Buddhist way of thinking, death, far from being a subject to be shunned and avoided, is the key that unlocks the seeming mystery of life. It is by understanding death that we understand life; for death is part of the process of life in the larger sense. In another sense, life and death are two ends of the same process and if you understand one end of the process, you also understand the other end. Hence, by understanding the purpose of death we also understand the purpose of life."

TED Talk - Peter Saul: Let’s talk about dying "Look, I had second thoughts, really, about whether I could talk about this to such a vital and alive audience as you guys. Then I remembered the quote from Gloria Steinem, which goes, "The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off." So with that in mind, I'm going to set about trying to do those things here, and talk about dying in the 21st century. Now the first thing that will piss you off, undoubtedly, is that all of us are, in fact, going to die in the 21st century. There will be no exceptions to that. There are, apparently, about one in eight of you who think you're immortal, on surveys, but -- Unfortunately, that isn't going to happen."

The Final Journey: A collection of short stories about people and death and dying. "Birth and death have some similarities. They both are monumental occurrences that change your life forever. Megan Cooper, an acquaintance I met when trying to make sense of this experience, mentioned if we talked about birth like we talk about death we'd say something like: There is a baby inside you. It will come out. The way it comes out is different for everyone. We wouldn't talk about long labor, pain, cesarean section, episiotomies, aspirating meconium, circumcision. But of course we do talk of these things and that way the family is better prepared to deal with the event and a crisis should one occur. It is time we start talking about death. We need to hear about pain control, agitation, delirium, hallucinations, restlessness. That way if one of those arise when you experience a death you will be better prepared."

I hope that you all are not facing death in your life in the same way that I am now, but I know that someday you will if you haven't already. Someday we all will. First with those we love and eventually, with ourselves. It will never be easy and there will always be grief, but perhaps with some understanding, with some acceptance, this massive burden of dying can be easier to bear.