What Working At A Cemetery Taught Me About Living


It was an overcast May day with a piercing chill in the air. I gazed out at a jumble of concrete headstones, all of which seemed as colorless as the darkened sky. I was immediately sobered, struck by a deafening silence, which was occasionally punctuated by twittering birdsong. The solemnity of the moment struck me, even through my sheer disbelief that this was my reality.

Why had I decided to do this?

What had I gotten myself into?

I walked into the cemetery’s office; a cozy building cluttered with a myriad of stray paperwork. A kind woman, who was to be my supervisor, briefed me on the office procedures, describing my job duties with the sort of jocular enthusiasm typically reserved for those who are not routinely touched by death.

The message was clear: This was to be an ordinary administrative temp job.

But it wasn’t.

It was more than a job.

It was a lifetime of lessons.

It was often easy to forget that I was surrounded by death, but occasionally, I received stark reminders of my own mortality. I fielded phone calls from grieving family members. I alphabetized an entire file drawer of index cards laden with birth dates, death dates, and grave locations. I filed burial certificates, sifting through long lives and lives cut short, feeling deeply for the loved ones of the deceased.

I witnessed life in that office, too — close-knit families coping together, tears and occasional bursts of laughter. A somberly beautiful tapestry of life and death.

A reminder to appreciate everything life has to offer.

When I arrived in the snug office on that overcast spring day, however, I was not sufficiently appreciative of my life. I was grateful to be working again — if slightly apprehensive of the unfamiliarity of my surroundings — but I was trapped in a battle against my own mind. I felt anxious over a bright future that seemed to fade dimmer with each passing day. I was exhausted, my lust for life gradually dwindling as I struggled to cement myself a place in the world.

But I was alive. Living. Breathing. Laughing. Loving. Struggling. Succeeding.

As the days flew by, I became keenly aware of the beauty of life — and how fortunate I am to be alive. I realized that tomorrow is never guaranteed, so I decided to savor every moment of every day. I danced through each day with a gleam in my eye, cherishing the warmth of the sun on my shoulders and the cool breeze against my skin. The sky seemed bluer, the flowers more fragrant, the grass greener, the world more beautiful.

I was no longer alive in the way many are; standing on the sidelines, begrudgingly stumbling through life. I was truly alive. I was happily alive.

Three months later, I still am.

Life can be uncertain. Life can be challenging. Life can be messy. But life is a gift, full of love and laughter, adventure and opportunity, excitement and joy.

Sift through the trepidation, the struggle, and the mess — and discover life’s beauty. Notice the subtle intricacies of nature. Savor every flavor, every aroma, every sound, every sight, and every feeling. Appreciate every opportunity, every failure, every success, and every defining moment. Live out your wildest dreams. Love yourself. Show everyone around you how loved they are.

Life is the most precious, fulfilling gift you will ever receive.

Appreciate life for all it is.

Love life for all it can be.