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Finding Life with the Dead

Sarah Katreen Hoggatt
On Place (May 2022)
Inward Light

My sanctuary is my favorite cemetery. It’s easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there. Shielded by shrubbery, it runs down a slope to the river. Outside, my life is rushed and I lose the bigger picture. Inside, I walk with ghostly companions, listen to their wisdom, and find perspective.

I started walking among the gravestones after a deep loss. Spending time with those who have died, soaking in the peaceful silence, and listening to the wisdom I found there, all gave me ballast in my grief. I have since returned there again and again, in the different seasons of my life, whenever I am hurting, grieving, or need to hear the advice of those who have far more life and death experience than I.

Much to my delight, over time, I discovered three generations of my family buried in various locations throughout the grounds, making this sanctuary even more dear to me. From my great-grandparents to my great-great-great grandparents, I like to spend time with them all. Sometimes I sketch their gravesites or write poems about what I learn there. No matter how much I may be struggling with my writing on a given day, words always flow when I’m on those hallowed grounds. It’s as if I am diving into eternal energy and letting it run out of me onto the paper.

I imagine the dead have a wide view of life now that they are beyond it. They love that I come to walk among them to share a morning or afternoon, admiring their gravestones and the flowers left by loved ones. The problems I carry into the cemetery rarely stay with me. The dead, who have had their opportunity at life, now tell me to not waste my time on worry, but to experience each day as an extraordinary gift. They teach me our losses shape us as much as our gains, and both are precious. These lessons I take home with me after every visit.

As I walk the road back to my car this day, I pass an older gentleman who carries a white plastic bag with red petals peeking out. We silently smile and nod to one another – fellow parishioners in our sanctuary. From the light in his eyes, I know we will both be back.

Sarah Katreen Hoggatt is a writer, poet, workshop leader, and spiritual director whose work is described at sarahkatreenhoggatt.com. She is co-clerk of Sierra Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends.  ~~~


Long Gone

The voice is silent.
I haven’t heard it
for a long time.
The dead stand there
with it staring
as if they could
in their lack of words
but I don’t know
what they are
trying to say
or what the voice
is not saying.
I lay back
among the gravestones
knowing my faith
in a being totally
outside myself
lies with them long gone
and I am here
past the death
before the resurrection
grieving, loving,
wondering, questioning,
looking up beyond
at the sky.


death eternity eternal wisdom

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