Strange Goings-On in the Cemetery

I wonder if we’re the first people ever to film a music video in our local cemetery? Has anyone else ever stood next to one of the old sandstone headstones and sung a song from The Phantom of the Opera? I doubt it.

Did the people driving by early last Friday morning see us? Maybe they wondered what we were doing amongst the graves with two tripods and three cameras? Did they think something strange was going on in the cemetery?

The cemetery is one of our special places. Does that sound weird? Our son Thomas is buried there. Way down the back, there’s a baby section. Horses peer over the fence at the row of little graves.

“Perhaps we can include Thomas in our video,” someone suggests. And so that’s what we do.

But before we give Thomas his cameo role, Sophie films Imogen singing the song multiple times. Gemma-Rose sings it more than once too. Silently. She mimes along. While Imogen sings to the camera, Gemma-Rose gives the rest of us her own very dramatic rendition. She throws back her head. She clutches her heart. She flutters her eyelids. She sighs. She pouts. We giggle.

“I hire you to work,” Imogen says. in between takes. She tries not to laugh. “I could fire you.”

“But you don’t pay us anything,” we point out. “And anyway, how would you make videos without us?”

So we’re allowed to be silly. It’s all part of the fun. And giggling distracts us from the cold.

“We’d better take coats,” I’d said as we were leaving home at 5.45 am. When the cold air hit us as we stepped out of the warm car, we were glad of our extra layer of clothing. Of course, Imogen couldn’t wear her coat while filming. She had to show off her outfit. She had to shiver. That’s the price you have to pay if you want to be the star.

While Sophie was adjusting the cameras, I wandered among the graves, reading the inscriptions. Headstones: book covers for ended lives. What are the stories hidden behind the words? I wonder.

Mary Ellsmore died when she was 34. Two sons died before her: a 1-year-old and a 6-year-old. (I ran my fingers over the number 6 to determine what it is.) And the extra months of life are mentioned too. When you’re only 1, or even 6, every month, week, and day counts. I understand this.

Our son Thomas lived for 28 1/4 hours. Those extra 15 minutes are very important, though we didn’t mention them on his headstone. Why not? Did ‘one day old’ look better?

The words on Thomas’ pink granite headstone are fading. The golden letters are wearing away. It’s only been 16 years since he died. In a relatively short time, the words will become illegible, My heart sinks. In 20, 50, 100 years’ time, people wandering through the cemetery will no longer know our son rests beneath his small sandstone slab. Every trace of his story will have worn away. I’ve got to do something about that. Perhaps Thomas needs a plaque.

I saw a few graves with two inscriptions. Words are inscribed into marble or granite or sandstone headstones. They’ve also been added to bronze plaques. When the old words fade completely away, the new ones will still be visible.

On the original headstone: Accidently Killed. Sorrow twisted into two short words.

But when the plaque is made, Accidently Killed becomes Taken From Us.

I wonder why. Is ‘killed’ too strong a word? Does it lessen the horror to transform it into ‘taken from us’?


Passed away.

Passed into eternal life.

Called to Christ.

Resting in peace.

Called home.


The angels carried him away.

 So many ways of saying the same thing: He died.

How do you feel when someone says, “He died”? Or “I’m sorry to hear your mother/brother/friend died”?

Died: Short and simple and to the point. Blunt?

Many people say Thomas passed into eternal life.  It’s true. I always say, “Our son died.” (Perhaps people wish I didn’t.) I don’t soften it. Death hurts. It involves grief which never really passes away. Never really dies? Death can’t really hide behind gentle words.

Phillip Aidian Ellsmore died. Died, not passed away. 1 year and 11 months. One month before his birthday. His deathday is my birthday. Not that I was born when he died. Phillip died 113 years ago. There’s no one left alive who’d remember him. No one to make him a new plaque if the stone words wear away.

Two people in the cemetery didn’t die or pass away. They’re not resting in peace. But they’re not alive because they have matching modern pale standstone slabs. On each one: a name, a date and three words.

I wonder about these words.



Not wife? Not husband?

Three words to describe a life. How is that possible? I wonder who chose the words. Did they choose them themselves before they shuffled off the mortal coil? Is that a irreverant way to describe death, or is a bit of Hamlet appropriate for a scholar?

If you could choose only three words for your headstone, what would they be? Maybe…


Unschooler? I wonder if anyone has ever had that word inscribed on a headstone?

Unschoolers singing the song Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, at 6.30 am on a cold autumn’s morning…

Strange goings-on in the cemetery.


This post led to one called Unschool Cemetery Maths.

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  1. Reply

    If Imogen's dress is anything to go by, this is going to be good!
    While I'm reading your words on death I have my own thoughts, but I don't really feel qualified to voice them here. Yes, my Mother is gone, my niece died way too soon, but I have not felt the pain of losing a child of my own or my husband.
    Isn't it interesting walking in a cemetery and reading the gravestones?
    For my own headstone, to be honest, I don't care at all. It sounds a bit blunt, but my eyes are on Heaven and it doesn't really matter to me if I'm forgotten in this world πŸ™‚
    My Mum took me to "The Phantom of the Opera" when I was a teenager and bought me the album as well. I spent a lot of time singing along to that song, I'm looking forward to hearing Imogen's version.

    1. Reply


      You know grief too. I'm sorry. It hurts to lose anyone we love, regardless of the relationship.

      I also love walking around cemeteries! There are so many stories recorded in the headstones. There's lots of maths in them too! I find myself doing mental additions and subtractions as I work out how old a person was when they died, or how long ago they died etc.

      I don't care about my own headstone either. I do want to be buried rather than cremated. I don't know why! But I do mind about Thomas' stone. I suppose it's a sign we care about him still. We haven't forgotten him. And I'd like him to be a visible part of our family's history. Headstones become important when families are putting together their family tree. I spent many days walking around cemeteries as a child while my parents researched our family history. Our ancestors' stories are fascinating!

      Thank you so much for your interest in Imogen's video. We love The Phantom of the Opera too!

  2. Reply

    Beautiful words Sue, you have the heart of a writer :-). I think a plaque for Thomas would be a wonderful idea, maybe for his 18th birthday?

    I know I am going to sound irreverent but I have often said to Dave that on my headstone I would like, "all she ever wanted was a quiet life!" Life is a pilgrimage journey and sometimes the thought of no suffering and pain in heaven seems a blessed relief! Until then I know that we are being asked to walk the Calvary road, thank goodness we do not walk this journey alone πŸ™‚

    Imogen looks beautiful and I am so looking forward to her video and the footage too of sweet, sassy Gemma Rose!! I reckon that wee gal keeps you all on your toes πŸ˜‰

    Love to you all

    San xx

    1. Reply


      I do like your 18th birthday idea! Oh yes, we must do that. Thank you! That will make the day very special.

      I wonder how our pain and suffering is being used. When we get to Heaven we will find out! But until then, yes, it's hard, especially for you. Maybe we'd choose to walk the Calvary road with our loved ones if a quiet road was only possible without them. Dave sounds like a real treasure, a blessing. One day I hope to meet you both.

      Oh yes, we shall post Gemma-Rose's video, but we can't do that until everyone gets a chance to see the real one. We don't want her stealing the show! Gemma-Rose keeps us smiling with her antics. Maybe she should think about becoming an actress!

      Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you stopped by.

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