A Brighton Diary: Life in Death

Note: This is the eighth part in an on-going series chronicling my study abroad trip in Brighton, England. I am joined on this trip by my classmates and friends Cassie JenkinsClaire RobertsonVy NguyenJhocelyn AlvaradoMorgan CollierAbigail Pennington and Susan Salvo, led by director of student publications, Andy Coughlan.

Day 8 — June 19

“In the midst of life we are in death.”

Before we left for England, Andy mentioned an assignment that immediately peaked my interest — we would visit a local cemetery and find the grave of a soldier who died in World War I and then go to The Keep and do a small write-up of said soldier.

This simple research assignment turned into a solemn reflection on mortality and what happens to us when we leave this earth. I wasn’t expecting to do so much soul-searching that day, but I guess there was no better place to do it.

Upon entering Woodvale Crematorium, we were greeted with dozens of red flowers — instantly reminding me of the poppies that adorn cars, buildings and people in remembrance of those who’ve died in war.

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Photo by Olivia Malick

Cemeteries have always fascinated me. They are beacons of peace, even in cities that aren’t always peaceful. I like looking at tombstones and learning a little bit about people I’ve never known. You can tell a lot about a person by what their loved ones do for them once they die.

This cemetery is like no other cemetery that I’ve wandered through. For one thing, it’s considerably older. It dates back to Victorian times — before we left, Jhocelyn and I veered away from the rest of the group to find the oldest grave we could.

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Mr. Thomas Flood was born before America was an independent country in 1775. He was one of a few 18th century citizens that we found. Photo by Olivia Malick

Like most places in Brighton and its surrounding areas, Woodvale was very hilly. It was quite a chore to wade our way through overgrown grass at such a steep angle, but we persevered.

Andy wanted to show us the children’s memorial garden. It might seem grim — it is. But I like to look at this way — graves are erected to be seen so that the people for which they were erected can be remembered.

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Collections of toys and figurines join small plaques commemorating the short lives of these children. Photo by Olivia Malick

Perhaps the strangest (but not in a bad way) encounter we had in England was with a woman and her daughter as we were exiting the children’s garden.

Before we had entered the garden, I noticed a collection of flower petals on the ground. I thought it was odd, but beautiful, so I snapped a photograph of it.

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Photo by Olivia Malick

When we left the garden, a woman (whose name I have unfortunately forgotten) and her daughter began asking us about our day and eventually our trip. It was pretty obvious we weren’t from around there since we had Texas accents. When we explained our reason for being there, she explained hers.

She had come to visit her son, who had died recently, and whose ashes she adorned with flower petals. She was one of the kindest strangers I’ve ever met. She wanted us to take a picture with her and her son and her goodbye to him is something I’ll never forget.

“Goodbye darling. Until next time.”

We were almost in tears. We all had a drink that night to honor her and her son.

It was after that encounter that the tears began to fall.

In the past year, both of my grandmothers became sick and unable to live on their own. One grandmother is currently in hospice care and before I left for my trip, I wondered if it would be the last time I ever saw her.

In life we are surrounded by death. Death is a natural part of life. But it isn’t always easy to deal with, especially when we lose those who are close to us.

When I see broken and un-kept graves, I feel sad and wonder where their family members are, if they even have any.

Walking out of the cemetery with my cheeks tear-stained, I thought of all of its eternal residents — some of whom have already been there for more than a century. What happens after we die, we will never know. All we can hope for is peace.

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