Our society and our communities are changing. It wasn’t very long ago that people grew up in one community and then stayed in that community their entire lives. They worked there, they built a family there, they died there. They were frequently buried in a cemetery where their relatives from previous generations had been laid to rest. The cemetery was a central part of the village. It was a place for long-time residents could maintain a sort of residence. The living relatives of the deceased would visit the cemetery, tend the graves, plant flowers and remember the departed.
This is largely no longer the case. In our fast-paced era people are very mobile, often leaving the community they grew up in to go to college, or take a job and never returning to settle. For many of us, the very idea of community has changed. Certainly, the idea of going to a cemetery to look at headstones as a way of remembering our loved ones is fading out.
Remembering the loved and lost is important. It connects us to people that we cared for, and that cared for us. It connects us to our own mortality. If we’re not going to be a society that supports the idea of a central cemetery, what can replace the headstone as the artifact of remembrance? Something needs to fill that void. For some, geography works. I know of a family that scatters the ashes of every cremated family member on the same hill in rural Montana. That hill is their collective headstone. For others, it might be a 3D printed urn. My point is that it doesn’t really matter what the new headstone is, just that we realize that in our ever-increasing mobility we do not leave our dead behind.