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Guest Opinion

Cemetery strangers, bound together by grief


Some days, the cemetery is like a bar during happy hour (minus the hot wings) — people coming and going, no solitude or peace as I sip my tea. I wouldn’t mind except I expect those states of being at the cemetery, which is why I go there and not to bars. Is being totally alone with my dead family and friends, old and new, too much to ask? (On a weekend especially, apparently it is.)

The cemetery’s like a bar, too, in that there are regulars. I’m one. There are several others who think they can avoid ending up there by walking and riding their bikes for more than an hour. There are some who haven’t been there since they buried whoever they wander around looking for. There are some I think will always be there, like the woman who recently started arriving at 1 and departing at 4 after sitting in a folding chair by a headstone of I-don’t-know-who that she obviously misses.

There’s also the white-haired guy in the blue pick-up truck. He sprinkles the grass and flowers he planted in front of the headstone he parks near with a big plastic watering can. Once his work is done, he drops the tailgate, perches himself on it, lights a smoke, and turns up the tunes. On a mid-August Saturday, he played Elvis loud enough for everyone in the cemetery to hear. I ended up singing along: Wise men say only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you.

I don’t remember when he started his gardening and impromptu DJ-ing. It had to be sometime during the pandemic. I don’t remember seeing him before that. Of course, I don’t remember a lot of what life was like in The Before Times. Before, during, or after, someone he loved experienced the singular constant we all share, and this is his new normal. I like his take on that more than those pretending the pandemic didn’t change everything and/or is actually over as they attempt becoming something old again, yet new.

Denial is the first step. I wonder if they know that.

I don’t visit the cemetery every day, but I stop in often enough to know when somebody new moves in, and there have been many new additions these past three years. It’s one of the only places to find quiet — usually — beyond the highways and overcrowded suburban neighborhood streets. I mostly avoid the weekends, when too-busy-otherwise crowds show up to pay respects, plant flowers, and wander around trying to find someone (I can’t tell you how many people play that game).

I hate cemetery crowds (well, crowds in general), but I didn’t mind that or the concert that weekend. Elvis may be dead, too (allegedly), but he is timeless. As is love. And grief. And being alone together in a group and finding comfort in that.

Tara Lynn Johnson, of Middletown, is a former journalist. Connect with her at

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