On Life,  Wander, Wonder, Write

Remembering the Dead

Monumental Cemetery of Milan
Cimitero Monumentale di Milano

In November, on our way from Palermo to the USA, Daniel and I spent a few days in Milan. We visited the magnificent duomo, of course, walked along the lively canals in the Naviglio district, and admired the walls of Castello Sforzesco. But what impressed me the most was the sprawling, art-infused graveyard known as the Monumental Cemetery of Milan or in Italian, Il Cimitero Monumentale di Milano.

Here are my best cemetery pictures and favorite grief quotes.

  • In honor of my mother who died this year in July.
  • In honor of Daniel’s mother who died last year in August.
  • In honor of my father who died nearly twenty-two years ago.
  • In honor of Joan Didion who taught me so much and died yesterday.
  • In honor of all the mothers and fathers and daughters and sons and sisters and brothers who died and who are extraordinarily missed in this season of togetherness.
  • In honor of the gifted artists and authors who dedicate themselves to the expression of grief. 

May the dead be surrounded by breathtaking art on graveyards worldwide.

Monumental Cemetery of Milan
“We are not idealized wild things. We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.” 
― from The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Grief Sculpture at Cimitero Monumentale di Milano
Cimitero Monumentale di Milano
“I had expected to see the town of my mother's memories, of her nostalgia—nostalgia laced with sighs. She had lived her lifetime sighing about Comala, about going back. But she never had. Now I had come in her place. I was seeing things through her eyes, as she had seen them. She had given me her eyes to see.”
— from Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo
Grief Sculpture at Cimitero Monumentale di Milano
Grief Sculpture
“Grief is like water—all water is wet; all grief is difficult. Though it’s one thing to wade into a small pool of grief, another thing entirely to drown in its sea. But water is water, and each drop adds up to become an ocean, even if it begins with a single tear.”
— from Animal Bodies by Suzanne Roberts
Grief Sculpture at Cimitero Monumentale di Milano
Tomb Art
“I sit on the floor, my legs buckled with the pure, ripe grief of an orphan, and the wind cries for me because my tongue cannot. It screams and screams and I sit on the packed earth floor, hard with cold, and smell the fish-heads, sickening, lacing the bland scent of winter with its stench of salt and dried bone.”
— from Burial Rites by Hannah Kent 
Grief Sculpture at Cimitero Monumentale di Milano
Tomb Sculpture
“Are you authorised to speak
For these trees without leaves?
Are you able to explain
What the wind intends to do
With a man’s shirt and a woman’s nightgown
Left on the laundry line?”
— from “Carrying on Like a Crown” published in Master of Disguises by Charles Simic
Grief Sculpture at Cimitero Monumentale di Milano
Cimitero Monumentale di Milano
“Griefs do not explain one another, but they may overlap. And so there is a complicity among the griefstruck. Only you know what you know—even if it is just that you know different things. You have stepped through a mirror, as in some Cocteau film, and find yourself in a world reordered in logic and pattern.”
— from Levels of Life by Julian Barnes
Grief Sculpture at Cimitero Monumentale di Milano
Expression of Grief
“I am my father’s daughter. It is an act of resistance and refusal: grief telling you it is over and your heart saying it is not; grief trying to shrink your love to the past and your heart saying it is present.”
— from Notes on Grief by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Mourning Sculpture
“Was it reassuring to be told that everyone sees ghosts? That everyone stops eating? Or can’t stop eating? Or that grief comes in stages that can be numbered and pinned like beetles in boxes? I read that after denial comes grief. Or anger. Or guilt. I remember worrying about which stage I was at. I wanted to taxonomise the process, order it, make it sensible. But there was no sense, and I didn’t recognise any of these emotions at all.”
— From H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
Grief Sculpture at Cimitero Monumentale di Milano
Expression of Grief
“To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”
— fromIn Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver
Writing is learning to die. It’s learning not to be afraid, in other words to live at the extremity of life, which is what the dead, death, give us. 
— from Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing by Hélène Cixous

Ready to visit another graveyard full of art? Come and see the Enzenbühl Cemetery in Zürich through my eyes!