I'm still here... & I have at least half a dozen posts half written, both in my drafts folder and in my head (not to mention 165 posts piled up in my Google Reader from over the weekend…!), but no time to write them. I've been composing this one in snatches from the office when I should be focusing on letters to shareholders.
I feel like my life has been running away on me these last few weeks. Work has been nuts (market turmoil adding to the usual year-end rush for both me & dh); I've been cleaning & reorganizing the bathroom, now that the reno is pretty much complete (future show & tell to come!)… and my mother is coming on Friday night for a week, sending me into a housecleaning panic!!
The support group dh & I volunteer with had its Walk to Remember on Sunday afternoon at Mount Pleasant, one of the city's largest & prettiest old cemeteries -- so large that there is actually a major city street that runs right through the middle of it. When dh & I were first married, we lived in a New York-style brownstone apartment building just around the corner from one of the main entrances to the cemetery. We loved to walk around there, especially in the fall, with the autumn colours at their most magnificent, admiring the beautiful old monuments. Some of Toronto's richest old families -- the Masseys, the Eatons, the Westons -- are buried in huge mausoleums there, some that are as big as some houses.
During these strolls, I was always on the lookout for tombstones that bore my own family names, joking that you never know, they could be relatives. One large white monument in particular captured my attention, & I jotted down the names & dates on it, "just in case." Believe it or not, last year I made contact with a distant cousin, and through her, I learned that the people buried there ARE, in fact, distant relatives. One of them -- a three-year-old girl named Florence, who died during a family trip from Minnesota to Toronto just after the turn of the last century -- was actually my grandfather's first cousin. And here I was, some 80+ years later, unknowingly living right around the corner from where she was buried. I wished my grandfather was still here to be able to tell him.
The memorial for the Empress of Ireland was/is almost directly behind our building. The Empress of Ireland was a ship that collided with another ship in the St. Lawrence River on May 29, 1914, and sank in just 14 minutes. 1,012 people died, including 167 members of the Salvation Army, en route to England for a conference. Each year, the Sally Ann holds a memorial service at the monument on the Sunday closest to May 29th. We would hear the band playing "Abide With Me" through the open window as we lazed guiltily in bed.
But, I digress…!
The Walk to Remember begins at the cemetery office. From there, it's about a 10-minute stroll over to the Children's Garden. The Children's Garden was created in 1990 by a woman named Mary Smith, whose son died shortly after birth some 40+ years ago.
At that time, of course, it was common practice for dead & dying babies to be whisked away, unseen by the parents, & buried together in common, unmarked plots. Mary wanted to know what had happened to her child, and after many years of searching, she determined that he had been buried in such a plot in Mount Pleasant, along the side of one of the roads that winds through the cemetery. My understanding of the story is that she wanted to have him re-buried in a family plot, but learned she would have to locate and get permission from the families of every other child buried there with him (!).
So she did the next best thing, and created the Children's Garden as a memorial to her son & all the other anonymous children buried at Mount Pleasant over the years. The garden has been designed so that something is blooming there year round. There is also a charming bronze statue among the plants called "First Flight," showing a young girl and her brother playing leapfrog. This year, I noticed several small toys and stuffed animals had been placed at its base.
Mary attends the Walk to Remember just about every year, and the sculptor, Juliet Jansco of Dundas, Ontario, was also there this year.
Once everyone has arrived at the Children's Garden, parents are invited to come to the microphone, say their child's name and significant date(s), and read a poem, if they like, original or otherwise. This year, a woman who looked to be in her 60s stepped bravely to the microphone and told her story in a halting voice. She lost her baby 38 years ago (!!), and only just recently found out where her child was buried. She read a poem she had written after visiting the site, and when she ended it "Love, Mommy," everyone around me was in tears (myself included).
Following the brief memorial ceremony, there is a dove release (children -- brothers & sisters of the babies we are remembering -- are generally asked to open the baskets to release the doves), and then refreshments. Everyone receives a takeaway. Some years it's been a small plant, other years we've received seeds. This year, we each received a white carnation. I took mine to the cemetery & left it at Katie's niche.
On the way back to the car, dh & I stopped at a very unique monument, pointed out to us by a cemetery tour guide at one of the first Walks to Remember we attended. (The tour is no longer a part of the annual walk.) It's completely surrounded by tall cedar shrubs and is barely visible from the road. It is a unique monument, a tall, Zen-like pyramid, balanced on top of a base of three orbs, and made of metal, marble/granite? and etched glass.
It was erected by the drummer of a very well-known, Toronto-based Canadian classic rock band, in memory of his 19-year-old daughter, who died tragically in a car accident in 1997, and his wife, who died less than a year later -- ostensibly of cancer but also, he believes, of a broken heart. He wrote about his losses and the year-long cross-continent motorcycle road trip he took afterwards in a book (yet another volume in my huge "to read" pile…). I'm not naming names here, but I believe it should be easy to figure out, if you're curious.
On each of two sides of the monument, the women's names, birth and death dates are inscribed on the metal panel, and their images are etched in the glass above. The third side of the monument is blank, although the drummer's image gazes out above it in etched glass. It is, I assume, reserved for him, although he has since remarried. Under his daughter's name & dates are inscribed some lines from the poem "After the Funeral" by W.H. Auden, memorably recited by the actor John Hannah in the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral." The last few line of the poem, included on the monument, are:
"The stars are not wanted now, put out every one.
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun.
Pour out the ocean and sweep up the wood,
For nothing now can ever come to any good."
It is a very private little space -- a sanctuary from the busy world outside the cemetery gates, and a little world unto itself, even in the middle of a vast urban cemetery. I almost feel as though I am intruding when I step through the narrow opening in the tall cedars & gaze on the monument. I once took a photo of it but found myself regretting that I had as soon as I did. (The space is so small that it's almost hard to fit the entire height of the monument into my camera's lens.) And I feel a little funny writing about it here in my blog, even with the names removed. The band's fans are notoriously fanatic, and I have no wish to draw unwelcome attention to the spot -- and yet it is a place that touches me deeply, as a bereaved parent.
I wonder how often he comes to visit.