She sells seashells

oyster shells on graves

From water we came
To water we shall return
Baptism and death

Submitted to Haiku Friday for LouCeeL

*At every cemetery I’ve visited, seashells are a common grave decoration. Not in that the shell motifs adorn markers, but actual shells define the grave site – either lined up along the top of the gravestones, or along the edges of the plot.

What little I could find about this custom, it appears that shells are a traditional southern practice. Some traditions say shells represent baptism, or the glory of the sea.

In black cemeteries the shells are often a remembrance of slaves being brought to America over the sea and in death being taken to the afterlife over the sea.

Other mythology says shells, downturned, enclose the immortal soul and help keep wandering spirits in the grave.

Whatever the meaning, seashells are an important element in southern burials.

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15 replies »

  1. that is so interesting and such a beautiful way to adorn a final resting place. I love seashells, I have them all over our house and they remind me of the one place that makes me smile no matter what my mood.

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  2. I’ve lived my entire life on the west coast, so have never heard of this custom. Interesting. The photo is wonderful and eerie. Shell sentries, standing guard, watching. Thanks for sharing.

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    • I always wondered about the tradition and am glad I finally researched. It makes sense being so close to the Gulf that shells would play a significant meaning both in life and death.

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    • The cemeteries I’ve visited are typically very old and not so particular about how family decorate their dearly departed’s final rest. At this same cemetery, there is the grave of a young man who died in a car accident several years ago. His gravesite looks like an extension of a teenager’s bedroom. There are even Christmas ornaments hanging in a tree beside the grave. It’s an amazing sight, and an indication of how loved and missed he is.

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    • Thanks! This particular cemetery is especially festive. Many of the plots are decorated with beads, small angel statues, toys, benches, just about anything and everything.

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  3. I live in New Orleans, but you won’t find seashells by the above ground cemeteries… Interesting to read this though! Then again, in a lot of the older New Orleans graves, where they think the person was involved with Voodoo, you might see markings on the graves and strange little offerings. Weird…

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    • It was a tradition that I’ve taken for granted, just because I see the shells everywhere, but until now never researched. It is fascinating, and rather pretty.

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    • In this particular cemetery, it appeared that every plot in the garden was decorated with shells. This cemetery, I should point out, is on the Gulf with a beautiful waterfront view. I could have walked to the beach to find a shell to add to the decorations.

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