THIS IS US

4 Lessons From the Death Year

In a time of mass unwitnessed death, I hang out in cemeteries. It’s more comforting than you’d think.

Jude Ellison S. Doyle
Published in
10 min readOct 6, 2021

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A cemetery. It’s not that spooky, really.
Pictured: My social life. Photo by Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash

I’ve been sitting out in cemeteries lately. It’s not an affectation. I knew someone, once, who was followed by Death; their partner died, and then one of their parents, and then another parent not long after. Grief became their ordinary condition. They’d go to cemeteries on their lunch hour. Not necessarily places where they knew anybody, just whatever was nearby. They’d wait, for what time they had, to understand why any of this was happening.

Death has never taken that sort of personal interest in me. Yet it’s following me around; it’s following everyone, thanks to the plague that shows no sign of ending. So I go out. A cemetery is a very quiet place, I’m learning. The proximity of the dead disturbs people. They stay away unless there’s urgent need. There are trees, and wind in the trees, which is the only sound there. You never have to explain your own sadness. If you cry, no-one’s going to ask what you’re upset about. They figure they already know.

I can’t tell if it’s selfish to use the space this way. I do try not to cry on anyone’s grandma. There’s a soldier named Shane who died on my birthday, nearly a hundred years ago; I don’t think anyone visits him, so he’s my silent partner. I tell myself there’s a circle-of-life quality to it: See, cultivate a spirit of fearless sacrifice and one day an overwhelmed stranger will come and cry on top of your dead body. Things have a way of working out, Shane!

I do cry for the dead, though, even if those people aren’t buried near me. I cry for people I’ve known, and people who would otherwise be statistics. I’m in treatment for PTSD, so I cry sometimes for my own deaths, the ones that don’t get funerals: The death of the person I was before my first sexual assault. The queer child I was, and the queer adult I could have been, if that violence had not made me so afraid.

It’s useful, in moments of self-pity, to be surrounded by people whose deaths were not metaphorical. They enforce a certain perspective. It’s useful to encounter death as a tangible fact. We are all surrounded by invisible deaths — queer teenagers who…

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Jude Ellison S. Doyle
Human Parts

Author of “Trainwreck” (Melville House, ‘16) and “Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers” (Melville House, ‘19). Columns published far and wide across the Internet.