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  • Kristan Higgins

What’s in a name

Updated: May 6, 2022


I took a walk around an old cemetery today. I love cemeteries, though I don’t want to be buried in one. I’m more of a cremation/compost type of person. But cemeteries tell the end stories of so many people. So many names.

On the Cape, Higgins is a very common last name. There’s even a Higgins Pond, where I love to go. It’s strangely comforting to see so many Higginses buried in these cemeteries. It gives me a sense of history, I guess. I didn’t know much about my grandfather’s family, but I adored him. I was so proud that we had the same initials—his name was Kyle. It felt so special.

hannah higgins

You go, Hannah. I didn’t change my last name, either.

Gravestones tell a lot about the history of a place. Snow, Nickerson, Linnell, Higgins, Freeman…the names are still very much in use here. Nickerson State Park, Snow’s Hardware, the Captain Linnell House. Sometimes, the families overlapped—the Freemans married into the Snows, and soon enough, there was a Freeman Snow. The Cape holds its families, I guess, because those names are still on businesses. Can’t swing a cat without hitting a cousin.

What’s carved on the gravestones is fascinating. Sometimes it’s just a name and date. For women, it’s often “Wife of” or “Widow of” or “Daughter of.” I find that irritating. Surely she was more than just a relation to a man. The men get more inscriptions about the afterlife. Hmmph.

no name

You are remembered even so, sweetheart.

Of course, the children’s graves are the saddest. You wonder how their parents bore it. One family plot had two sons named Aaron—an infant, and later, an older child. Sometimes, the smaller stones have no words on them at all. That tells a story, too.

Some of the graves just identify the person as Mother or Infant or Grandpa. I like that last one. I’d like to have mine say, “Mommy.” The memorial benches of the past fifty years are great that way…you can sit on a bench given in honor of someone and watch the sunset, perhaps with the ghost of “June, who loved this spot” or “Carl, who is sorely missed.” I’d like that. I’d like someone to sit on my bench and take a minute to soak up the view, the birdsong, the smell of low tide.


Those Snows. So many kids.

As it stands now, I hope to be cremated and be mixed with soil and fertilize something pretty. That whole “earth to earth” idea, but more literally. I think, anyway. Maybe my family could scatter some of my ashes at my favorite spots.

In my hometown, where my father is buried, the cemetery is absolutely gorgeous in the springtime, when the crabapple trees blossom. I go up there and sit and take in the view. I water his plants, and those of the friends and neighbors at Mica Hill. I don’t feel particularly closer to my dad there, but I don’t hate the place, obviously.


mrs. harriet s.

I couldn’t read your inscription, Mrs. Harriet S., but I can tell your family loved you so much.

Here on the Cape, where my last name is so common, I feel I truly am honoring the dead by visiting those who’ve been gone for a century or more. I study their names and make assumptions about them, usually very flattering assumptions. “That Harriet, you can tell she was a spitfire.” “I bet you were so loved, Annie.” Of course, only the rich people got to have carvings. It wasn’t cheap.

I like walking in the quiet, through the decades, the lovely hills and moss, the lichen and blackbirds. Sometimes it just puts life in perspective. We’re only here for a while. We have to make it count.

If I did have a memorial bench or something, I’d hope it would say how much I loved my husband and kids. That they were the best, and I felt so lucky to have them. That I smiled at strangers and loved children. That I was helpful whenever possible. Maybe, someday, someone will sit on my bench and say, “That Kristan Higgins. She sounds like a good egg.”


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