When I visit graves and niches to photograph them at the request of families, I often bring my assistant. He's spent more hours in cemeteries and memorial parks than most adults, and yet he's three years old.
My son came with me today as I documented a new marker for a young woman. She has a place that reminded me of a backyard, under the cover of a large tree with a small bench for long chats. An angel stands nearby with a bowl of flowers.
In this particular memorial park, the children's area is nearby. I visit the little ones when my schedule is flexible. I think they call me to them. I find myself with the children in every cemetery I visit, even if it's my first time and I have little idea of the layout.
My son and I walked through to talk to the children. Earlier in the week I photographed an infant's funeral and visited the little boy in his new place. I visited with the other children I've come to know and introduced myself to others. I tell my son what I know about these children in ways that make sense to him. He gives me lots of hugs.
We walked by a little boy's space who had a car engraved on his marker. A kindred spirit for my son! I pointed his out to him and told him this was another little boy who really liked cars. My son squatted down and admired the granite.
"Mommy, may I play with him?" he asked.
I didn't know what to say. I didn't know exactly what he meant, so I asked him to explain.
"I have cars in your truck, Mommy. I can share and we can play."
And so we walked together back to my truck. He stuffed his pockets with vehicles and carried a few more in his hands. On the way back to the boy's marker, he shouted, "I'm coming! I have cars!"
He laid in the grass and played with his new friend while I wandered the grounds, meeting new people and imagining stories. I'm sure he had stories of his own to tell. He chatted nearly the entire time of his visit. I'm not sure what he saw or felt.
When it was time to go, he packed up his cars and said goodbye to his friend. I believe we'll be back to visit and play again.
I see a lot of incredible moments of the human experience while being with families in love and grief. From each family I learn, and those lessons and points to ponder are what I wish to share with you here.