I read an article today about a woman who visits perfect strangers. For a fee. Dead strangers. In cemeteries.
It seems this 57-year-old New York woman, eager for more money in a tight economy, has advertised to help out family members who are unable to pay their respects in person to area cemeteries. She brings flowers, says prayers--though she is not religious--and takes a photo that she mails to the family, along with her invoice for $35 or so. Just in case anyone would doubt that she really got to the right "address." (It's all in today's New York Times, if you think I'm making this up.)
Does it sound too creepy for you to consider? Is there a market in my area--central Florida--for cemetery visitors for hire? If so, perhaps I should consider starting up my own surrogate visitors' service to bring in some extra cash.
My wife would be even better at this since she loves cemeteries, the older the better, and has introduced me to quite a few on our trips. At first, I wasn't too enthusiastic about such visits, but eventually I saw the beauty and the vivid sense of the past that comes alive, so to speak, in seeing old tombs.
Especially memorable were for us the old churchyard in Charleston, another in Bennington, Vt., and of course the creme de la creme of all cemeteries, Pere Lachaise in Paris. (I haven't seen Forest Lawn in California.)
In this home to permanent Parisians, there are lots of visitors--no need to hire anyone there--out looking for the tombs of Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, the American rocker who died in Paris; there's also Rossini and from the 13th century, the lovers Eloise and Abelard, together forever in marble.
You have to be Somebody to get buried in Pere Lachaise. It's a garden of elaborate sculptures (I like the weeping angels from the 19th century) and the ivy that climbs over well-cared-for crypts.
The great thing about such old cemeteries is that they are old, with tombstones, often half-illegible, that include moving bits of people's life stories carved in headstones, with names that could only belong to another era: "Sacred to the memory of Abigail, beloved wife to Ebeneezer Finch, age 32, died 1845." A typical New England inscription. I wonder what her life was like.
There's nothing gloomy about the cemeteries I've seen, and I think being paid to visit such places would be incredible, whether I need the money or not. If you're a poet, you might be inspired to write an elegy, even if you find yourself not in a country churchyard.
Or you might find some interesting material for a family history. That it's not your family would make it all the more valuable (the imagination can run wild). To get paid for going to such a place would be like icing on the cake (to use one of those cliches that I enjoy using now and then).
Who says there's nothing new to write about? Or that there are no new sources of income in a tough economy?