52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: Week 5 — So Far Away

A few years ago, there was a Pagan or polytheist writing prompt challenge that I wanted to do, but that I didn’t have spoons* for at the time. I can’t remember where I saw it, either, and I don’t want to get distracted by rooting around for a link. Maybe someday I’ll track it down and try to do it. But I do remember that one of the prompts was something like, “If you could go anywhere in the world on a pilgrimage, where would it be and why?” Most people replied with religious and historic sites in distant countries, or the lands where their ancient ancestors hailed from. I get it, I really, really do. I don’t actually like to travel, which is fortunate because it usually isn’t feasible for me for a variety of reasons, but I would love to go to Ireland, and that was the second thing I thought of. I’d like to visit Stonehenge, and also certain sacred sites in Greece. And there are certain religious and cultural artifacts in museums and at churches that I’d love to see in person.

But the first thing I thought of, and the places I’d still most like to go on pilgrimage are the cemeteries where many of my recent generations of ancestors are buried. At the time, I was only aware of three or four, now I know of six, though one I’m not entirely sure about. Two are in Philadelphia, one is in a town directly next to Philadelphia, two are in central New Jersey, and the one I’m not one hundred percent sure about is in Bucks County, Pennsylvania (which is just a little north of Philadelphia). There are a couple of other cemeteries I’d like to visit that have relatives and/or ancestors who are not related to me by blood buried in them, but I am not sure of the names of those, nor of exactly where they are — and I don’t feel as strongly about visiting them as I do the others.

The cemeteries aren’t technically very far away from me. The farthest is about a hundred miles and two hours from where I live by car. The closest is about sixty miles and an hour and a half away by car. But neither my partner nor I drive — primarily for medical reasons, though financial and environmental reasons are part of it, too. The very few people we know well who drive all live out of state. We also usually can’t afford to take cabs or Lyft/Uber (though the past few months we have been doing that more than usual, partly by cutting into other expenses, and partly thanks to very loving and generous relatives who want us to stay well. It’s also been made more possible by the stimulus checks and the fact that we aren’t going out nearly as much as we used to — which wasn’t much to begin with, and was mostly to see doctors and run errands). So usually, I’d say about ninety percent of our transportation is on public transit, about five percent walking, and the remaining five percent is a combination of rides from other people, taxi cabs, Lyft/Uber, and the possibility of insurance covered medical transit, though we try to avoid the latter when possible for a variety of reasons. Because we both have several medical issues, it’s also not usually practical for us to travel farther than our county or an adjacent one, and it’s something we rarely do.

Travel on public transit is time consuming, and travel in general is also exhausting for both of us (often to a temporarily debilitating degree), and when we go farther than a certain distance, it gets very expensive, sometimes prohibitively so.

On top of those concerns, the cemeteries I most want to go to (which are also fortunately the ones that I’m most likely to actually be able to get to on public transit) are also in what are now extremely dangerous neighborhoods. We don’t live in the safest neighborhood, but we don’t live in an extremely dangerous one, either.  With all of our illnesses and disabilities, wandering around a truly dangerous neighborhood that we’re unfamiliar with is not something I’m comfortable doing.

Yet, I desperately want to visit these cemeteries. I want to pour out clean water and maybe coffee for my Ancestors. I want to brush off their tombstones, and make sure the area is clear. I want to leave them fresh and beautiful flowers. I want to find out what other relatives I have who are buried there. I want to take pictures of the gravestones that I don’t have pictures of and take updated photos of the ones I do, and I want to put them all on find a grave so others can have an easier time finding and honoring them, and so I can see them more often. I want to kneel and pray at the resting place of the bodies of my Ancestors. I want to thank them. I want to tell them I respect them. I want to tell them I love them and I appreciate them. I want to tell them how much I want to honor them. And yes, I can do many of those things from here, and I don’t need to go there in person to do them, but I do so much want to do them from there, at least once before I die.

I remember being astonished when I realized the number of my relatives who are buried in two of the cemeteries in the Philadelphia area. I think I actually gasped out loud. And I still don’t think I know the full amount — I strongly suspect I am related to many more people who are buried in those cemeteries, as well as many people in the third Philadelphia area cemetery that I mentioned. I was also elated. It is an incredible gift and blessing to know where your Dead are buried. And I can’t really articulate the feeling of knowing that you are related to so many of the people who are buried in one place. Any words I can come up with would be inadequate and incomplete, but it was a wonderful feeling for me.

One of the cemeteries is Mount Moriah, partially in Philadelphia and partially in Yeadon. The cemetery closed in 2011, with no living members on the board of directors. A non-profit called “Friends of Mount Moriah was formed in order to tend to the cemetery, which had become overgrown and fallen into neglect. They clear, restore, and caretake what areas of the cemetery they can, and they have fundraisers to restore buildings, such as the gatehouse and office. They update maps and help people find the tombstones of their Ancestors. Volunteers open and close the gates. They keep track of the history of the cemetery. They petitioned to have it added to the National Register of Historic Places, and then later into a Wildlife Refuge (the latter of which worries me, to be honest, depending on how they go about it). Apparently, the President of the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery died in 2019, and they are petitioning to have her be allowed to be buried there. I hope they succeed, as it is a fitting tribute. I only just found out about this portion, but I plan to add her the list of Dead I seek to honor. Her name was Paulette Rhone. I hope the nonprofit is able to continue with another to lead in her stead. Friends of Mount Moriah is definitely one of the nonprofits I want to donate to when I am able to. I love what they are doing in general, and I love it even more because so many of my relatives are buried there. I don’t know if they consider what they are doing to be sacred work (though they probably have a plurality of opinions on the matter), but I certainly do.

To find out more about Mount Moriah Cemetery, here is a short summary.  This is a link to the homepage for the Friends of Mount Moriah Cemetery. For those of you on Facebook, they also have a group on there. I don’t really use Facebook myself, but I followed the link, and the group is public so you can see what’s posted there. Right now there’s a very moving post about those buried from the Presbyterian Orphange up at the top of the page. Finally, here is a Wikipedia page for the cemetery that has a considerable amount of both information and references.

My Ancestors and Beloved Dead whose bodies are buried in these cemeteries:

Holy Cross Cemetery in Yeadon, Pennsylvania

Old Cathedral Cemetery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Mount Moriah Cemetery in Philadelphia and Yeadon, Pennsylvania

Highland Cemetery in Hopewell, New Jersey

Saint Alphonsus Roman Catholic Cemetery in Hopewell, New Jersey

Line Lexington Mennonite Church Cemetery in Bucks County, Pennsylvania

You have living relatives who care about you. Many of you have living relatives who remember you. Many of you are remembered. Those of you whose names we know, we speak.

Blessings upon you.

*spoons is way of describing units of energy and mental, physical, and emotional resources devised and written about by Christine Miserandino. It’s a term used in chronic illness, chronic pain, and disability communities and associated with the knowledge that those of us in those communities usually have less of those resources than abled and/or healthy people, and that we go through those resources faster just by the nature of living with our illnesses, disabilities, and/or chronic pain. If you aren’t familiar with it, I highly recommend reading Christine’s full essay here. It’s long but well worth the read. Also, just to be absolutely clear, the author of spoon theory and I do not know each other, I just think it’s an excellent resource.

#52 Ancestors