Thursday, March 29, 2007

Article: Tombstone tales

Have you ever walked through a cemetery? There’s a special feeling in a cemetery, a connection with the past that you don’t get in museums. I think this is because people buried in cemeteries are ordinary people. Their lives mimic our own in ways the lives of the great and mighty do not. Although we may imagine our genealogy includes kings and queens, those lives don’t have the relevance to our own that the lives of common people do.

In western culture, most burial locations are marked with a stone. Walking through a cemetery, you might find yourself wondering about those interred below. What were they like? How did they live? Unfortunately, most tombstones give few clues. Frequently information is restricted to name, marital status, birth and death dates and religion. If there is an epitaph, it is usually generic or trite.

At one time, headstones were made of marble. Marble is a soft rock and easily chiseled, even so it took a skilled artisan many hours to make a truly unique stone. And over time, the words and art melted from the face of the rock, running with the rain into the soil below. You stop to stare at a child’s stone with a sleeping angel carved into it. You can see that it once displayed incredible detail. Now the fingers and nose are missing, the eyes filled with dark lichen.

As you meander through the newer section, you find a tombstone that includes a photo of the deceased etched on a ceramic oval. If you bend down, you can look into the photographed eyes to try to read them. You wonder why that particular photo was chosen. Did the deceased select it himself or did a bereft family member make the decision? Would the man, who died at 90, want that photo of his aged self or did he still identify with a dashing 20-something? You straighten your back and look down at the stone with its yellowed and already fading image. Why does this strike at immortality fall so short?

Then a shiny, dark stone catches your eye. You focus on it as you make your way along the narrow alley between the graves. There’s a color picture on it: a small ranch, a windmill, a barn and a family of deer. The field in front of the ranch house is filled with bluebonnets. The black stone shines behind the image. It is granite, a hard rock that will hold the etching for a very long time. These people were ranchers and the image is probably their own spread. You imagine they lived there many years and loved their land. A bit of personality has made it past the threshold of death.

If you’re like most people, you’ve been looking for your own family name on the stones. When you find it, you wonder if that person is some distant relative from a long-lost branch of a wide family tree. I do that too but my name is too unique. I have only found one this way and that was on my family’s home island in Greece. It was a beautiful piece with a mourning woman contemplating the names carved in marble. But my name was written in Greek and, while I recognized it, it did not make a real connection with me.

The only other tombstone I’ve seen with the name Typaldos on it is my brother’s. Stephen’s kids designed a black granite stone that should last nearly forever. My brother was a doctor and his children choose to prominently position the seal of the Fascial Distortion Model (FDM) on his stone. Stephen not only conceived and developed the FDM himself, he also designed the seal. His kids did a great job with a difficult task. The stone will always speak for him.

To learn more about the FDM go to:

Photo: A typical older generic tombstone from somewhere in Maine. Notice it contains only names and dates.
Photo: Another generic tombstone. This one is from Texas. I wonder if the grown children aren't also in graves marked "Mother" and "Father".
Photo: An angel statue on a child's grave in Fredericksburg, Texas.

Photo: A tombstone from Hamilton, Texas showing a ranch house.Photo: A Typaldos family tombstone in Lixouri, Kefalonia, Greece.
Photo: My brother Stephen's tombstone in Bangor, Maine. Note the seal of the FDM.
Photo: Stephen's tombstone on his 50th birthday.


Coral said...

I really like the stone with the landscape. It is pretty.

Sheldon said...

I think this article would be better if you had a headstone that said something like "Fairy Fort Phelps" or "Cpt. Battle Fort".

FarmGirl said...

Who took the picture of your brother's stone? That flippin' rocks!! I love the 50th b-day party items attached to it. What a great idea!!

Anonymous said...

Which gravesite in Bangor is this? I have been wanting to visit it. I was one of your brother's patients. It's a beautiful stone and unique, just like Stephen!