Sisterhood of the Spirits

There is little hard scientific evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, but I hold firmly to the belief that women communicate far better than men.  As a researcher in the field, I have heard with my own ears, women  talking for hours about lipstick.  Men, on the other hand, can sit for an entire NFL game and say only such things as “oh, crap” or “‘another bud?”.  It is widely accepted, women have an open heart and bond much quicker then men.  Women have close friends and they tend to bond with their sisters with a solidity that is beyond belief.  Men, on the other hand, tend to have fewer friends.  They have locked themselves down and lost the key when they were mere children.  Most men spend their lives trying to find that key again…but it’s usually a fruitless search. I have often wondered if this intuitive nature that women possess can extend beyond the boundaries of the physical world.  I admit that death can impair ones ability to articulate the most rational attempts to communicate (although, I had a date once…).  More research in the field is called for.

–Professor John Cecil Wadd, Worthingstone Professor of Gender Communications (Ball State University).

Reprinted with permission from “Girls Talk Too”, 1971.

I photograph gravestones.  Over a year ago I ran across an Internet link to a website that provides a clearing house for those interested in locating a relatives headstone.  It is a great help in genealogical research.  The group functions somewhat like

I volunteer my services as a photographer to look at the requests for pictures in my area and go out to snap the images.  I get grateful thank-you emails from people who live six states away and will never know what the stone marker for their great-grandfather looks like.  What do I get out of it?  I get to wander cemeteries all over northern New York State.  I have been in beautiful locations…some are sad, some are badly vandalized and some just sit lonely, on a hill, bordered on three sides by cornfields.

Doing this for over a year has given me a chance to get to know the names of important people in the early history of this and nearby counties.  I start to see relationships.  He is married to her and there is their child, buried between parents, who died in infancy.  It can be a sad afternoon, sometimes, to stand and contemplate the interwoven marriages, probably divorces and early deaths of those who walked these hills a century ago.

But some are not of historical interest.  These are just modern-day people who have passed on in more recent years.

So, there I am, wandering the graveyards in fields and towns near where I live.  When I go “graving” I first look through the website for requests.  I choose those that are nearby and easy to find (I hope).  Sometimes, when walking the cemetery, I have problems finding the correct stone.  This can be the result of spelling errors, location mistakes and general misinformation.  There are times (these are frustrating) when the family name will appear on a large hunk of granite and nearby are footstones that simply read “Mother” or “Our Father”.  No names, no luck.

But a strange occurrence one day, left me very tired and quite discouraged.  I had a problem: The request was for a woman named Joann (I’m not revealing the last name), who was said to be interred in a cemetery very close to where I live.  Her story intrigued me because according to her obituary she was jogging on the road that leads to our house.  She went home, and while taking a shower, she collapsed and died of a massive heart attack.  I checked the dates.  She died in 1987.  She was 28 years old!

This is a very small graveyard that holds about 200 residents.  I felt that this was going to be easy…but, search as I might, I simply could not locate this Joann.  After two hours of walking back and forth along the rows, I was getting out of sorts.  I took a deep breath.

I then tried to communicate with her.  Joann, I said with my eyes closed, please.  You died young, way before your allotted time here.  You were a vibrant young woman, newly married.  You were full of life.  You tried to stay healthy.  Please, Joann, lead me to you right now so I can put closure in someone’s life who requested your grave picture.  Joann, call me to your final resting place.

I turned and opened my eyes.  I took a step and tripped over a small headstone.  I thought…good job Joann, you were right here all along. I looked down and saw a name that was NOT HERS.

Around this time, I enticed my wife to join me on my graving trips.  She enjoyed the scenery and liked the walks when the weather was fair.  It wasn’t long before she began to demonstrate an uncanny ability to find the names I could not find.  Look for the maiden names, she’d say, some women are buried with their parents if widowed, or with the husband if married.  But, my wife explained, it gets complicated.  You have to figure out familial relationships to find many names.  It’s not simple sometimes.  She was finding graves faster than I was.  My wife was a great help, to say the least.

It was after a few graving trips that I began to wonder if more was going on with my wife than meets the eye.  Was her “female intuition” helping her?  Was she hearing things that I, as a man, simply couldn’t hear?

I took her to the nearby cemetery and told her about Joann.  Maybe she’ll speak to you, I said.  You know, the woman to woman thing.  She walked off in a direction I had gone a dozen times before.  I leaned against the car and looked over the other names on the request sheet.

Pat, over here!  I heard my wife’s voice.  I looked over, cupping my eyes against the glare of the sun.  She was standing near a small headstone, pointing to it.  I grabbed by Nikon CoolPix and walked over to her.  And there it was.  Joann’s stone.

I was very impressed, to say the least.  I snapped the photo and walked back to the car.  I turned around a few minutes later.  My wife was standing over Joann’s marker, looking down.

Were they communicating?  I wondered if they were talking about nail polish.


3 comments on “Sisterhood of the Spirits

  1. I found this story intersting, Growing up in the country my brother, sister and myself would often go down to Nichols riding our bikes and stop at the cemetery in Lounsberry and rest or perhaps have taken a lunch which we ate while we rested. I loved to look at the gravestones as I still do today as I live “a stone’s throw” away from a small cemetery here in the town of Maine, N.Y. I was very fortunate that my parents raised me not to think of cemeteries as places to go to grieve or remember our loved ones who have passed away as only the physical remains of our bodies lay underground-their spirits are in heaven!! Take care. OFA class of ’66


  2. susan detwiler says:

    Susan again. I’ve been in many, many cemeteries. Besides finding many interesting stones etc. they are some of the best places for bird watching. You are such a great writer. I have forgotten many of the people I have buried. I wore the part of my brain that is the bank for names. Too many
    stored. It got too full


  3. Patrick, I find it interesting that my son’s “significant other” is interested in geneology and she has found out quite a bit more about my father’s family from the website plus she and my son have been out to Warren Center, Pa. to the cemetary there where a lot of the Allyn family members are buried. I was very fortunate to be given a copy of a book which my Father’s brother and his wife made after going up to the New England states and researching thru cemetaries and clerk records. What I wish is that more communities would have historians who would write books chronicling the various families and the history of the homes that they lived in. I am presently trying to find out the history of the old home that we live in which is over 100 yrs old. Well, I tend to ramble on so I’ll close for now. Take care and God Bless. Phyllis Dodzweit (


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