Who tells your story?

A maxim of the public relations business is ‘tell your own story or someone else will tell it for you. And you may not like what they say.’

Anyone who has written a memoir has chosen to tell his or her own story. Readers make their own interpretation of those stories. I couldn’t help but think of memoir writing as we walked through Tuscan cemeteries this week.

Each grave is a small bit of personal history – some attempt to tell a story. These graves are all above ground vaults, each decorated with large, fresh, floral bouquets and often an eternal flame. The names and dates of those interred are engraved on the top of the vault. Frequently, religious statuary also tops the grave.

The stories cemeteries tell are cultural, familial and personal. The most personal aspect of each grave was a framed picture of the deceased. It’s these pictures that had me thinking.

Almost always the faces reflected the person near the age that they died. So there was the incongruous image of a 40-year old man with his 70-year old wife. This would not have seemed so unusual except that the images had been merged – not Photoshopped, but very close to it – to appear as though they were taken at the same time. The result appeared as though the man was posing with his mother.

Sometimes, the pictures depicted people of like age, even when the death dates would have indicated images quite different. I imagine the person who chose the pictures – the surviving spouse or the children? – wanted to remember a time when the two were alive. Together. And younger.

Some graves also departed from religious icons. One replaced a religious statue with a set of organ pipes. The picture showed the deceased playing an organ. His story of a life love of music is clear.

The statue on another grave was a bust of the man deceased. His bust looked exactly like his picture. The grave commemorated him. But what about his wife? He had one. There was a small photo of her.

I could not help but recall the graves in my hometown cemetery for Ed Black who was the editor of the local newspaper for 50 years. His tombstone includes his full name and dates of birth and death. His wife’s tombstone is smaller and says simply: Mrs. Black.

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