A week ago, my Mom, sister, and I went to New Orleans for a short trip. We love to travel, but often money holds us back, so when an opportunity, like your sister being sent to New Orleans for work, appears you snatch it up. New Orleans was definitely a bucket-list trip. The people, the culture, the food…it’s enchanting.
You might ask, then, why I have a morbid gravestone marking this post? I could head this with pictures of food or the French Quarter’s iconic buildings or alligators slinking through the bayou, but I chose an old, faded gravestone with dying sunflowers. Well, some of the most amazing and beautiful features of New Orleans are the cemeteries. We toured Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District our last day in town. That picture is one that I took. Something about the age of the plaque, the contrast in colors, and the sad beauty of the dying flowers spoke to me. In fact, I didn’t take many pictures in New Orleans (I was too busy experiencing), but I took the most of the cemetery. It was peaceful, gorgeous, and sad. And for just a little while I forgot about the heat and my annoyance with people.
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 is the oldest in New Orleans, I believe. Some of the stones and plaques we looked at were from the early 1800s. The aboveground vaults that can house so many graves from a single family are interesting in an eerie way.
Even the walls around the outer rim of the cemetery hold small square vaults with plaques indicating the entombed. One of these struck me so hard, I had to get a picture:
Vault number 162 is in memory of 8 children from one family that all passed away. There is no year, so we’ll assume they didn’t all pass at the same time. But still, as a mother, I couldn’t imagine the pain of losing 8 children. They were all different ages, ranging between 7 years old and 2 days. When we saw the vault, we were all silent in surprise for a moment. None of us could imagine what that must have been like for that family. Then we started contemplating what could have happened to cause so many children from one family to die.
The previous day, we had taken a paddlewheel boat tour and the guide had mentioned that the wealthy of New Orleans left the city in the summers to avoid Yellow Fever outbreaks. In researching further, I found statistics that say around 41,000 people died in New Orleans between 1817 (the first year with reliable statistics, but not the first year of Yellow Fever outbreaks) and 1905, almost 8,000 people died in the 1853 outbreak alone. Our best guess was that most, if not all, of these children died from Yellow Fever. How incredibly sad.
When we think of inspiration, we often think of positive, happy moments, quotes, or events. As an author, I know that inspiration strikes from anywhere and often not from happy places. Seeing this vault, theorizing about the circumstances, and imagining how this family and mother felt, I was inspired. Don’t think me morbid, I wasn’t inspired in a dark way, more in a creative way. That’s how writing works, after all. We ask ourselves “what if?”, we watch the world around us, and, most importantly, we put ourselves in the place other others. We walk the figurative mile in another’s shoes. I was inspired to imagine what this mother went through losing those children. I wondered if she had other children or if these 8 were all she had and she lost them all. If she did have other children, what did they go through? What did they feel? Was their existence enough to pull this mother through the worst time of her life? What was their life like before, during, and after the deaths of these children? Is there a point where you just become numb to more deaths? The last child listed has a different last name? What happened to the father of the first 7 children? Did he die too? Was divorce a likely thing to happen during this time? Did she remarry and try to build her family again only to lose another child?
As they say, “curiosity killed the cat.” I fell down the rabbit hole of questions and I wished I could go back in time, meet this mother, ask her questions and hear her story. It was bound to be an interesting one. Since time travel is still not a thing, I suppose I may just have to contemplate her story and write it myself.