"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Conflicting thoughts re. Summit Cemetery

Our Summit Cemetery, Morris MN, at twilight (B.W. photo)
UMM cannot expand to the west because of Summit Cemetery. Minus the cemetery, UMM could perhaps have made use of the old school property, perhaps establishing the soccer fields there. The cemetery is a landmark associated with UMM, being right next door and very visible.
By definition a cemetery is depressing. We associate it with death. If there were no cemetery, there would be no chimes controversy. Until 2013 I had nothing to do with the death industry in Morris. It doesn't warm the cockles of your heart.
The cremation industry tells us that the percentage of people choosing cremation is steadily going up. In 2013 our family went with the traditional approach because we hadn't considered any alternatives. Given that my father was a semi-public figure, as a UMM founder, maybe that was the best approach.
When I chose a monument, I was immediately attracted to the idea of a bench, because it could be useful. I encourage everyone to relax and sit a spell at our monument when visiting the cemetery.
I think each new generation of young people will show increased skepticism toward the traditional method of dealing with death. I have heard a local minister say "people don't go to funerals anymore." People are more likely to lead harried lives, to retreat inward and be more focused on their own daily needs and responding to pressures.
We used to live in a slower-moving, more laid-back world. In that old world we might want to pull strings to "knock off early" on Friday. Unions negotiated so members could get optimal personal space in their lives. People were more likely to view work as a necessary evil, something to simply endure. Today, people work obsessively and they don't question - they had better not - their employer's lofty goals.
I see another reason why funerals seem no longer as big a deal. There are exceptions, of course, as when a middle-age person dies rather suddenly, but in an increasing number of cases, the deceased is very old and is not likely to attract many funeral-goers. And we all know that with many very old people - people who have had to battle chronic health issues - death comes as rather a relief. In that case, we aren't likely to see uncontrollable sobbing at funeral time. People are respectful and reverential but they aren't cut down by grief as would be the case with that middle-age example I cited.
The amount of land needed for a cemetery will always increase, it can never decrease. I think young people increasingly doubt the necessity of cemeteries with the big blocks of stone with names on them. They doubt the need for those vaults and coffins and the embalming process. If we are going to keep cemeteries, why not make them "green" cemeteries in which the bodies would just be placed in the ground and allowed to decompose the way God intended.
As far as memorializing people, it takes hardly a thought to realize this could be done using new media. A memorial site could be chock full of biographical information, remembrances, photos and links to photo albums etc. Visitors to the site could be asked to submit their own remembrances. Compare this to a slab of rock at the cemetery.
I am new to understanding the etiquette at our Summit Cemetery. Apparently the one-lane road that winds through the cemetery is intended only for people with official business at the cemetery. It appears that mourners are supposed to park along a city street outside the cemetery and walk in from there. Because the cemetery road is one lane, it is impossible to park without pulling out onto the grass. And there is an official cemetery policy for visitors not to drive onto the grass. I noticed a sign out there stating this just the other day.
I got another notification too. We tried visiting my father's grave on July 4 and pulled just off the road, whereupon I was verbally berated by a cemetery attendant. It is unfortunate to have to learn some of these things the hard way. I'm not sure how practical it is, to push a wheelchair over the surface at the cemetery. A high percentage of cemetery visitors are senior citizens, I would guess. It's a rather expansive place.
The best thing about Summit Cemetery is the Sam Smith statue.
I think maybe the cemetery attendant had a case of "parking lot attendant syndrome" in which they feel they can throw their weight around. Based on all the rules, it's unlikely my mother will ever see the monument again. I'm not too disconsolate about that.
When my father died, his soul departed from this existence. The same will happen with the two survivors. My father is in heaven now with his dog "Sandy."
There remains only one reason why I'm glad we have a cemetery plot at all: the monument reminds everyone that my father was the founder of UMM music, and that he served in the Navy for WWII.
I can live with never visiting the cemetery again. But I have to manage the vase holders on the monument. I remove the silk flowers for the cold weather months. I have to check to make sure the flowers aren't blown out of the holders in a severe storm. The recent storm in Morris dislodged a set of flowers for the first time.
When I go to the cemetery now, I park on a city street and walk all the way in. I'm still physically vigorous enough to do this. Perhaps the text referring to me on the monument should say I ran three marathons in the 1980s. Just kidding. The text is already there and it refers to me as "son, caregiver and journalist." Caregiver is listed above journalist because that is the most important role I have held.
It's ironic that chimes should be an issue at the cemetery. A cemetery, if nothing else should be a place where one can experience quiet and serenity, like a Civil War battlefield. Quiet is the one sure asset a cemetery can offer. And yet we have the chimes controversy in Morris. How stupid. You can't allow loud public music near residential neighborhoods. Maybe I should run for mayor. You laugh? I once joked with Merlin Beyer, the quintessential small town politician, about how pointless it would be for me to run for local public office. Merlin said with all seriousness: "You'd be surprised how many people would vote for you." Hmmm.
Death is mysterious and dreary, and a cemetery hits us over the head with that. Maybe it's time, led by the young, to depart from all the legacy practices. We can remember the deceased in more meaningful ways. My father is not in the ground out there. He's in heaven. With "Sandy."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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