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Grave Images: San Luis Valley
Grave Images: San Luis Valley

Museum of New Mexico Press, 2009
180 pp., $45.00

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Crystal Downing

Love and Death

Photos by Kathy Hettinga.

People often laugh when I tell them that I spent part of my honeymoon in a cemetery. Visiting a charming town along the rugged northern California coast, my newlywed husband and I realized we could learn something about its history simply by wandering through the graveyard. Indeed, the tombstones told us that the village was settled a century earlier by Russians who had lost many of their children in the same few months. Reflecting heart-breaking loss, the gravestones memorialized the love of the living—themselves long dead—still speaking to honeymooning visitors reveling in their own inimitable love. Death and love seem unlikely allies until one visits an old cemetery.

Decades later I am still married to the same man, our love well-worn around the edges—like old tombstones. And we still visit village graveyards, relishing them as containers of social history and of love. Occasionally I wipe away tears over a family that lost three children within several weeks—even though it happened over a century ago. The first time I saw fresh flowers at an 1856 tombstone, I suddenly realized that family love can embrace the never-met. I even take sad delight in cemetery fashion, some graveyards specializing in markers adorned with hand-carved lambs, others demonstrating a proclivity for draped urns. I am touched that many places in my home state of Pennsylvania put their cemeteries on the best real estate in town, often on a hill with a spectacular view. Location, location, location: the location of love.

I was profoundly moved, therefore, when I read Grave Images: San Luis Valley, by artist/designer Kathy T. Hettinga. Filled with stunning photographs, the book memorializes the valley in Colorado where Hettinga grew up, got married, and reveled in newlywed love until she lost her young husband in a tragic farming accident. Clearly a labor of love, Grave Images is an encomium to the beauty—for those with eyes to see—that graces death.

Kathy Hettinga ...

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