Local News

Life from letters of death: Historic Oakwood Cemetery encourages end-of-life conversations

Posted January 14, 2019 6:00 p.m. EST
Updated January 14, 2019 7:24 p.m. EST

— Talking about death can be tough, writing down those thoughts even tougher.

Robin Simonton's letter about death starts simply, “I don't do death.” It's an odd way to start a letter written to no one in particular, especially for a woman who is the Executive Director of the Oakwood Cemetery.

“We're all going to do it,” Simonton said while trying to hold back a slight laugh, “We're all going to die.”

Simonton sat down to write her letter just recently as part of the cemetery's Death Letter Project, a way Historic Oakwood Cemetery is marking it's 150th anniversary, asking people from all walks of life to hand-write their perspectives of death.

“Talking about death as a shared experience with others, kind of gives comfort,” Simonton said. The Cemetery published the first letter on Jan. 1.

“What we've seen from the first letter released is how many people were moved with just one person's perspective on life and death," she said.

Amber Smith penned the first Death Letter published through the cemetery's website.

“My relationship with death is binary sometimes, I feel like a child, afraid of the monster in the closet...” she read aloud from the missive she wrote May 19.

She grimaced a bit when she said it was the most personal feeling she has put in a public forum in a long time. “It scares me like it scares anyone else, I have a very human reaction to the idea of it.”

Smith is the Executive Director of Activate Good, an organization which matches volunteers to causes in need of help. She believes considering death can give you inspiration for life.

“It gives us a chance to decide to live life meaningfully, because you never know when death is going to happen. And so you're forced to think about how you can make every day meaningful.” No matter the journey, smith said, the finish line is the same, “Death is the ultimate thing that connects everyone, not matter who you are or where you're from, it's the one thing we all have in common.”

Robin Simonton has read all of the 28 letters so far chosen for publishing. But writing her own letter was something very personal. “I don't think my high school grammar teacher would say it's a 100 percent well-written letter, but it is from the heart, and it sure helped me put my own life together.”

The project will publish a new letter the 1 and 15 of each month. Simonton believes each unique letter has the potential to touch the lives of the readers in different ways.

“Death is the one thing we have in common, what happens after you die is up to you, a lot of different options, but the fact that we will all die is something that will happen," she said.