never occurred to me how important it was to pick the perfect beach chair until
I was presented with buying my first one. There I stood, hands propped up on my
hips, eyes painfully squinting and focused intently on the massive variety of
summer seating options. I was not the only one in the aisle, but I was the only
one this dedicated.
I crouched down, carefully examining the fibers and running my hands over the
cold metal legs. By this time, my younger brother was pacing. He had read every
remotely testosterone-filled magazine available and was now gravitating towards
American Bride. I tried to explain to him the magnitude of this event and how
a perfect beach day could be completely ruined because of an unsuitable chair.
He clearly did not share my moment, so I caved in and made a very expensive purchase,
assuring myself that I would be comfortably supported and the price well-worth
a good beach day. I smirked as I yanked the chair from the shelf and threw it
under my arm, content with my decision.
Within an hour, I was thoroughly enjoying my chair as the waves crashed onto my
feet. As I sat blissfully, I started to wonder about the places people bring their
beach chairs. It is comparable to watching cars drive by. I often speculate to
where everyone is rushing off. Perhaps the man on the motorcycle is weaving through
traffic to tell someone he loves them, or maybe there is a surprise birthday party
to get to or even a funeral. So there I sat, wondering where all the beach chairs
go, when my train of thought was abruptly interrupted.
"Do you see dead people?" my brother asked hesitantly, afraid of the possibility.
I pondered the thought for a moment, heavily weighing the shock factor.
Sigh. "No. I don't see dead people," I responded. This is a fairly common question
for me, and although horrible to admit, there were times when shock won out, despite
my Catholic upbringing.
Everybody has that one job they are especially proud of, even if they only worked
there for a nanosecond. For me, that job was in a cemetery. There are not many
people who have had that opportunity. But, the truth remains that I, at 21 years
old, worked in the death industry.
For the record, I did not wear black everyday. The sky was not in a perpetual
state of gray, nor was the sound of thunder a backdrop to an average day. It was
not gloomy or melancholy, spooky or scary, quiet or "dead", freaky or creepy,
foggy or haunted. In fact, it was everything one would not anticipate, and everything
which became comfortable to me.
Ironically, I wandered into the position while I was at the cemetery "visiting
a friend" and left with a job. There was never a single moment of hesitation.
I did secretarial work, speckled with days of record-keeping.
It was absolutely fascinating to flip through the original death registry, dating
back to the late nineteenth century. Watching the handwriting evolve was like
a history lesson. The cemetery I worked for was well over 150 years old, and a
large part of my experience consisted of wrapping myself around that history and
understanding how this century embraces death.
I was exposed to an array of cultural traditions and beliefs. I was startled to
hear upbeat music being played as the hearse drove into the cemetery, while the
attendees walked onto the grounds rather than drive. I was taken aback, seeing
women wearing vibrant colors as opposed to the traditional black or navy. I listened,
observed and absorbed as each person filtered through.
For many of my tasks, I was the final person to type the name of the deceased.
I marked their death cards and noted the map of their burial. I helped finish
the tangible part of death, the paperwork, and the filing. More importantly, aside
from the maps and the records, I had the opportunity to see the living cycle of
death. I saw death not through the eyes of a griever, but those of a student.
I keenly remember those first few weeks as I tried to soak it in and understand
their devotion; "they" being the "leftovers," the remaining living. As I methodically
handed them vigil candles, I began to learn their names, their stories, their
idiosyncrasies, and their schedules. There were "regulars" who religiously came
on Mondays and others who only came in the afternoons. Despite their everyday
responsibilities, they always came.
I saw many things from that desk window and, oddly enough, it was not the usual
motions of death, like crying, that had the deepest impact on me. Instead, it
was those devoted individuals with their lawn chairs and their candles who were
the most poignant.
I observed their every monotonous ritual like the individual beads of the rosary.
The task would not be complete until they touched every bead. They parked their
cars in the same spot at the same time every day. Some would pray first. Others
would busy themselves by fixing the flowers in the bed. They found a niche and
formed a routine. They brought lunch, chairs and friends. They sat, they prayed,
they talked, and eventually, their visit was over.
It is this aspect of death that many people do not get to see. It is the birthday
parties held between two gravestones or the golf balls placed in front of a crypt
entrance. It is the pace of the living preparing for the dying. It was almost
as if we were a purgatory, lying somewhere in-between. Some were content in this
waiting room, while others were ready to die. There was a method, an order, and
a strategic plan to deal with death. I just observed, never judged.
Death affects every person in a uniquely personal way. Armed with nothing more
than themselves, they force their world to keep moving.
On any given day, a sea of colors streamed out across the grounds. The land was
flat and the headstones perfectly even. Flowers and vigil lights dotted each plot.
However, the colors did not come from a candle, nor did they come from a rose.
Instead, the beach chairs helped fill in that space. As I walked out of the office
on my last day it finally occurred to me where some beach chairs go, and the closure
that a single chair can help bring about.
Desiree DiAngelo is from Bayville, New Jersey. She is a senior Communication
Studies major with a minor in Professional Writing. She will be graduating in