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Leaving a trace: How objects left at graves tell a story


For some, leaving a memento at a grave is a way of grieving or saying goodbye.

University of Newcastle PhD candidate Genevieve Graham, however, has used these objects as her area of research.

“I was travelling through Europe where I visited some cemeteries,” she says.

“I love visiting cemeteries on holidays, it’s just habitual, they’re full of history, culture and art.

“I started to become really interested in what people were leaving on the graves and was surprised that no one was really talking about it.

“They’re so important, they help us mourn and say a lot about the deceased.”

What followed this trip was Genevieve’s realisation that she wanted to help fill the gap in knowledge and research these objects.

Through her studies, Genevieve focuses on Victorian memento mori practices and rituals – things that are an artistic or symbolic reminder of the inevitability of death.

“By examining contemporary trace objects, I hope to demystify funerary rituals and use artistic discourse to reconceptualise death,” she says.

“A lot of the practices we have today within the Western culture is from the Victorian era and I am really interested in that connection.

“I aim to bring attention to this ritual, which is an overlooked yet important form of mourning and grieving.”

She adds what is left behind at graves tell a story about the deceased and their family.

Next Wednesday, 26 August, Genevieve will share her research during a free webinar that discusses honouring and remembering the dead.

The event, hosted by Rest Assured, will feature Genevieve and another presenter, Allison Ockenden, who will explore DNA Keepsakes for families who have lost a pregnancy, child or loved one.

Rest Assured is a partnership project between Sandgate Cemetery and Newcastle Compassionate Community.

Genevieve says she is excited for the seminar because it will provide people with a space to explore an often-taboo topic.

“I think, generally speaking, we say [death and dying] is something that people don’t want to talk about but the more I talk to people and share information, the more people have something to say about,” she says.

“They just need the time and space to talk about it.”

The webinar will go from 5pm to 7pm. Register by phoning 4968 3602 or emailing [email protected].

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