Death is honored in different ways all over the world. In some places, burning the body is seen as a way to get closer to heaven, whereas for others cremation is disallowed by religion and is seen as desecration.
And in the land of the free, with many people from different countries and religions coming together, you would think that fairly wide latitude would be given in the way our dead are remembered. A fallen Army sergeant's family learned that this is not the case — the hard way. After the the family worked with a representative from the cemetery to create the perfect headstone for their daughter, (Kim Walker, an Iraq War veteran), the graveyard removed it. What kind of memorial was so offensive? A seven-foot-tall SpongeBob-themed headstone, dressed in an Army uniform with Kim's rank on the shoulder.
The family is understandably upset, since their daughter was a huge fan of the sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea; she had SpongeBob SquarePants bathroom accessories, stuffed toys and other paraphernalia of a die-hard fan — it was part of who she was. The parents who have lost their daughter knew the animated character was one that she loved, and in an honest remembrance of her (and in recognition of the fact that that is probably what she would have wanted), elected to do something that, while it might be a bit different, is certainly not that far outside of how others are remembered in a memorial setting.
"It is frustrating that you entrust a cemetery to have your best interest at heart and accommodate you and your family at a hard time ... and because they don't like it they're going to take it down," said Kim's twin sister, Kara Walker, 29, an information technician for the U.S. Navy stationed in Naples, Italy in an interview with CBS News.
Who decides what's appropriate for cemeteries anyway? I'd really like to know, because as a kid, the crying larger-than-life-sized angels that stood in the midst of my church's graveyard scared me so much, I had nightmares about them. What about the headstones that are just plain ugly? Should my opinion about their beauty (or lack thereof) disallow them from what is a collective resting place? What's tasteful when it comes to remembering someone who has passed?
Of course, private cemeteries can make whatever rules they want to, and enforce them however they like; but this decision strikes me a truly heartless one by a graveyard manager who is more interested in uniformity than in celebrating the unique and colorful lives of the people who find their final resting place at Spring Grove cemetery.
Turns out the Walker family's headstone is not the only one being changed against their will. At Arlington National Cemetery, the rule about disallowing personal mementos on gravestones, which was being widely flouted by distraught service members families (most from recent conflicts in the Middle East), has begun to be enforced. Envision previously colorful and photo-covered headstones stripped bare, now all alike. What's wrong with real personalization and memorialization in of all places — a cemetery?
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