When the Birthday Cake is a Funeral Cake

The ancient Celts believed that Samhain (sow-in) was a chaotic time when the world of the flesh and the world of the spirit mingled. I suspect that's true every day but that on Halloween we make a deliberate attempt to notice. Though the spirit world to many may be the life beyond this one, I think it's the heart of this life and that death is just a fact of our physical world.

To my way of thinking, then, it's not at all odd that I made a confection called a Victorian Funeral Cake in honor of my daughter's birthday. (It has more sugar in it than flour, which is really the main thing.)

Nor would it be too strange that after she opened her gift of a digital camera, I suggested we take a ride over to the cemetery for a few photos. Pictures of family grave markers dot her photo albums; they are reminders of the loved ones who preceded her.

Before she started kindergarten, we would go to my grandparents' cemetery from time to time to pull away the grass growing around the edges of this flat stone, dust and polish it, and clear away the fake flowers and other debris that would blow in from from others' graves. We'd have a picnic lunch, toddle around, check out my grandmother's old neighborhood, and roll over the hills home again. I'd tell her about my grandmother.

When I find these places strangely comforting because they invite me to remember good people and to remember that life itself is part of a great and wonderful mystery. When I was growing up in Danbury, I would take walks around our side of town. I found a cemetery behind an old farmhouse that we all knew was haunted because some kid said so from the back of the bus one dark autumn afternoon. I would go further down to the road to visit the historic Great Plain Cemetery with its gloomy, ancient trees looming over the weather-worn stones.

I'm still fascinated by these places. They stop time and surrender all life to it. At St. Paul's Episcopal Church here in Woodbury, the pines and the cypress are several stories tall, and their roots are heaving up the stones at the bases of their trunks. These trees will outlast the slabs of stone and poke through the heavens to toss down a little starlight in the sap that glistens from the branches, in the glossy shine of their needles. Life itself will outrun our individual lives. That's good to remember.

Some of my maternal ancestors are buried in the North Cemetery here in town. Whenever we pass the Isbell stone, my daughter says Isbell, my mother's mother's maiden name. I hope that the first names connected to this one will find their way into the fore of my daughter's mind from time to time, that she will know she is a loved part of a family that's never far away whether they're in this world or the next.


  1. Anonymous3:52 PM

    I think cemeteries are very beautiful places. Even those that aren't taken well care of. It's the wings of history I think.

    There is a nice song and a Halloween treat for you in my post here:

    Blog Love Dove

    Don't forget about the big Halloween Party the 31th, we would be ghostly pleased if you come :-)

  2. hey babe, had to do a tag and didn know who to tag. wanted to tag someone whose comment was beautiful to me and so here i am at ur blog. :)

    do check out the tag at mine.

  3. Anonymous3:56 PM

    Enjoyed your post. The Celts were such a mystical people.

    Thanks for the beautiful quote, and letting me know about such a great book. Look forward to reading.

  4. Anonymous6:41 PM

    It is good to remember those before are not far away. i heard a priest talk once about where people go when they die. "They go to be with God" he said. "And where's God? He's everywhere, all around us. So our loved ones are everywhere because they are with him." Or something close to that.

    Cemeteries are something, but the older ones. The newer ones, though full of characters, to be sure, have little character in their modern, perfectly cut, and nearly symmetrical marble stones.


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