I adore cemeteries and have my entire life. Aside from just being who I am, I also think my having spent a great deal of time as a small child helping my mother and grandmother clean up the family plots in various cemeteries also encouraged this comfort I feel at gravesites. I get a sense of peace, of calmness, of a quiet serenity peppered with a bit of fear when, however briefly, I am faced with the idea of my own mortality. When I was younger, I used to fear being buried in the ground and made everyone I thought would outlive me promise to build me a small mausoleum in which to spend my eternity. But given my whole-hearted embrace of mother earth and all she has to offer, coupled with the fact that mausoleums are grandly expensive and I am but a lowly commoner, I've learned to make peace with the idea of sleeping beneath the ground. Being at one with the earth once again isn't such a bad thing.
Cemeteries are wonderful storyboards of people from the distant (and not so distant) past, with their headstones lichen-covered snapshots into the lives- and deaths- of those who went before. Buddhism tells us not to fear death but rather embrace it, meditate on it and learn to love the idea of it for in accepting our mortality we are able to understand more fully what it means to live. To vanquish this fear frees us to truly live in the moment. Be not attached to anything (including fears and worries) and you will end your suffering on this earthly plane.
Not too long ago I began keeping a photographic journal of very old cemeteries here in New England; honoring those who have passed before me and experiencing my own sense of where I fit in in this vast timeline of people (click on the link at the bottom of this post to see my photo journal). There's nothing quite like a quiet interlude in an old graveyard. A friend recently told me about a headstone in Connecticut of a family killed together during the summer of 1777 and the epitaph on that stone says it all:
"Death like an overflowing stream sweeps us all away.
Our Life's a Dream, an empty Tale, A Morning Flower, cut down and withered in an hour."