Early last week our newly formed homeschool group headed out to the local cemetery to create gravestone rubbings in honor of this threshold time of year and the upcoming Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.
It’s been pouring rain, so I wasn’t sure how long we’d want to be out there. Some of the kids are comfortable in any kind of Pacific Northwest weather (it seems to me!), and some are not. Amazingly we all found ourselves captivated by our activity–exploring the cemetery and making rubbings of the gravestones, using crayons on Rite-in-the-Rain paper (waterproof paper!).
So why did we choose this activity? Isn’t the idea of doing gravestone rubbings kinda … morbid? Perhaps disrespectful?
Years ago our family began doing gravestone rubbings when celebrating the earth festivals with other families. Here, at the time when many traditions say the veil between the worlds and between the living and the dead are thin, and when (as in Day of the Dead) the ancestors, and our loved ones who are passed are celebrated, honored, spoken to, it feels right (to me) to do something like this with children. My experience is that they love it, and that they are fascinated by this very tangible expression of time, and people who have lived and died before they were born, or died more recently. We didn’t find gravestones marking anyone we knew, yet we all felt the connection. I suppose because these were people who lived in and died on our island, in our community.
And the leaves falling from the trees, and the gray clouds thick, and the mist in the air. This deep autumn nature speaks to me of change, time’s passage. It signals to me to look at death, and to remember those who have passed on, the gifts of my ancestors. We told stories in the cemetery, and we wondered at the people who are remembered here.
Some of the children made rubbings of the designs on the stones–birds, roses, a violin. Of images that meant something to them personally, or of names the same as their own. We ended up with some lovely layerings of such things.
One way that children can meet with the truth of death, of passage in a way that is gentle yet filled with mystery is indeed to visit a cemetery, whether you know anyone there or not. Exploring the gravestones, searching for the oldest you can find, or the oldest lived person, or the youngest (always sad), or … there are as many ways to venture into something like this as there are people on the earth.