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Month: September 2017

Crossbones Cemetery – Londoners Refuse to Forget Them

Crossbones Cemetery – Londoners Refuse to Forget Them

Traveling through London with my family, I stumbled across a book, HAUNTED LONDON. During an hour of down-time in the hotel, I read it cover to cover. Inside the author mentioned a place called, Crossbones Cemetery. A quick Google search and I found out it was a stone’s throw away from our hotel. I was determined to see it for myself. Click here to book a haunted London walking tour!

The Crossbones Cemetery holds somewhere around 14,000 women and their children, but you will not find a single tombstone here. Sanctified prayers were never uttered over these bones. Once treated as London’s castaways, it is the cemetery of the forgotten. Women of the night or Churchill’s geese for the orange hoods and white cloaks they were required to wear, these women were seen as too steeped in sin to warrant niceties like church rites and grave markers. That was two centuries ago.

Modern Londoners are atoning for the mistakes of their forefathers. On numerous occasions, developers have attempted to morph the property into a parking lot or some other profit-churning venture. It’s always been fought and defeated. And now, well, what’s happening leaves me speechless.

Names written on ribbon, offerings of love tied to the fence

Once a month, Londoners come together at Crossbones Cemetery. They are reclaiming the dignity of those buried within the gates. Researchers are unearthing the names of the women and children. Then, they write those names on pieces of ribbon and tie them onto the surrounding fence. Slowly, they are remembering, honoring and reclaiming lost souls.

I visited the cemetery two years ago with my older daughter. My younger child would have nothing to do with our field trip. As I tied our flower offering to the fence, I stood in awe. There was an overwhelming sense of peace at Crossbones. And love. And forgiveness.

The commemorative plate, posted on the gates of Crossbones Cemetery

This week, not because it’s nearing Halloween, but because history lives and breathes in these sacred spaces, walk a cemetery. Take a photo. Tidy the leaves off of a grave. And maybe utter a name etched into a tombstone. Who knows what this simple act will do for you or the person buried beneath your feet?

Sending you my love. 

Makoto Okamura – Wanted to Help Developing Nations

Makoto Okamura – Wanted to Help Developing Nations

Tombstone of Makoto Okamura, courtesy of NHK Documentaries

Makoto Okamura was born in Japan and was educated as a  traffic and urban planning engineer. His career goal was to serve developing nations to improve their infrastructure. His work took him to Dhaka, Bangladesh.

A Life Cut Short

On July 1, 2016, five ISIS terrorists stormed a popular bakery and killed twenty-two people, seven were Japanese nationals, including Makoto Okamura. He was 32-years old and engaged to be married. 

Makoto Okamura, courtesy of NHK Documentaries

Grieving Parents Speak Out

Makoto’s parents want his story to be told again and again. On the one-year anniversary of the Dhaka terror attack, they spoke about their son to NHK Documentaries.They were the only family that accepted the invitation for an interview. Here’s the link to the NHK documentary.



Their Greatest Fear Was Assuaged

Makoto Okamura, courtesy of his Facebook page

Though nothing will ever completely erase the Okamuras’ pain, they found a small bit of comfort, thanks to the crew from NHK Documentaries. You see, until the NHK crew came to their home, the Okamuras believed their son was tortured before he was killed. Their greatest fear was that Makoto faced his death alone. That wasn’t so. During the making of the documentary, NHK heard of a man that helped one of the victims. They tracked him down and interviewed him. When they showed the young man pictures of the victims, he identified Makoto as the man he was with during the attack.

A Guilty Heart

The man that was with Makoto is a Bangladesh citizen. At the time of the attack, he worked at the bakery. That night, he heard the gunfire and hid inside the walk-in fridge. As he closed the door, a hand reached out to him. A voice asked for help. That was Makoto. The two hid together in the fridge for hours in hopes they would survive. At times they did squats to keep from freezing. Other times they held hands for comfort. Hours later, ISIS terrorists forced the door open and ordered both men to lie on the ground. ISIS killed Makoto, but spared the Bangladeshi when he was able to recite a verse of the Quran.

Makoto still haunts his thoughts.

He wishes there was some way he could have saved Makoto. He lives with great guilt.

But, Makoto’s parents are grateful he was there, and that Makoto didn’t die alone. It is a small thing that is everything.

The Tombstone

Seven stars for the Japanese victims and a paper crane for world peace

When the Okamuras had Makoto’s tombstone carved, they asked that it include a paper crane to symbolize world peace. Seven stars hover above the crane and stand for Makoto and the other six Japanese that were killed that July evening.



The conji read, “death by terrorists” and have stirred controversy in Japan

They had words carved into the stone that have caused some controversy. They say, “death by terrorist.” The Okamuras felt those words were important. They want people to remember their son and why his life ended. This was a big deal because such proclamations are frowned upon in Japanese culture. You don’t dwell on the negative. You avoid speaking about unpleasant things. That’s why writing “death by terrorist” on a tombstone has stirred such polarizing feelings in the country.



One final note:

The police shot and killed the five ISIS terrorists. When authorities attempted to return their remains to their families, they refused to claim ownership because they had brought shame to them and their religion. The terrorists were buried in a potter’s field without markers.


In-depth article that focuses on victims:é-tragedy-1249711

New York Times story on the attack and victims:

Japan Families Fly to Bangladesh in Shock:


Tombstone Stories Debuts Tomorrow

Tombstone Stories Debuts Tomorrow

Tombstone in Lakeview Cemetery, Seattle, Washington

Those that know me best, know how much I love cemeteries. The graves hold the remains of people that lived, struggled, met some challenges and failed at others. It is the story of us. The tombstones themselves not only bare names, but hold history, culture, politics, tragedy, and love on their carved faces. 

Tomorrow my new blog begins. I will share a tombstone with you, and more important than that, I will tell you the story of the person buried there. Tomorrow I begin to show you how the dead still live, still teach and still force us to confront complicated issues.

Nothing is black and white. Maybe that’s why most tombstones are gray.

<3  Jennifer


Tombstone in Boulder, Colorado
Welcome to Tombstone Stories

Welcome to Tombstone Stories

Steeped in history and symbology, cemeteries make for an amazing place to visit. As I researched my first novel, I walked upwards of thirty cemeteries across the west coast of the United States. I learned about burial customs, religious rites, epidemics and cultural difference, all from walking through headstones. 

Each grave holds a person, and that person had a story. I plan to use this blog be a voice for the dead. I will snap a picture of a grave, research the person buried beneath and share their story with you here. I hope you enjoy the journey we’re about to go on together, and it inspires you to visit your local cemetery.