I have been thinking a lot lately about my connection to cemeteries. I recently read Death’s Garden Revisited, edited by Loren Rhoads. It’s a collection of 40 personal essays by people from all walks of life, regarding their own connections with cemeteries. I saw a lot of myself in those essays, and it has encouraged me to look back on past events in my own life that have attributed to my love of cemeteries.
One of those moments that stand out, is a family story that has been passed down by my mother. I was too young at the time, so I have no memory of it, but my mother has told me the story many times.
When I was a child, I saw an angel in a cemetery.
Now you may be thinking, well yes, there are lots of angels in cemeteries! And yes, this is very true. Angel statues are a very common sight in Catholic cemeteries. Children are also known to have overactive imaginations, and I was no exception. I did have an imaginary friend growing up. But I am curious and wanted to learn more about the circumstances of this cemetery visit.
One of my earliest memories is of attending my uncle’s funeral in Elliot Lake. I was very young, maybe 5 or so, but I vividly remember the funeral parlor. I remember the smell of the parlor, as well as seeing many somber family members, sitting in dark leather armchairs. I don’t remember the cemetery though. Was this the same moment? Were we visiting the cemetery after the funeral service?
In 2021, my mother and I took a drive to Elliott Lake to do some hiking and cemetery wandering. We visited my uncle in the cemetery. I had no recollection of being there, but my mother had vivid memories of the place. She said it looked a lot different; there had not been as many graves in the section where my uncle was laid to rest. Over the years it had become a very popular section. It was so full that the cemetery opened another section at the back, which was now about half full. The cemetery has no standing gravestones, only flat grave markers. No angel statues here. My Mom confirmed this was not the cemetery where I saw an angel.
It turns out there is MUCH more to this story.
In the summer of 1987, My mother, father and I were visiting my uncle in Quebec for a family reunion. I would have been about 3 years old. It was planned to be a big reunion of my father’s side of the family. Unfortunately, only we showed up. My uncle was a bit dismayed but decided to not let that ruin our visit, so there was a change of plans. Since we were close to Quebec City we would visit some old stomping grounds and visit some cemeteries to visit family. There was one family member in particular that my dad and uncle wanted to find—their uncle Joseph Larochelle.
The story goes that my great-uncle, Joseph Larochelle who was blind, went out into a snowstorm with his dog. His Family members told him not to go out, because of the blustery winter weather—but he went anyway. He said he would be fine since he had his dog with him. Unfortunately, he lost his way in the storm and went missing. Tragically, both he and his dog perished in the storm. He had gotten stuck on a fence and was not able to break free. He was not found until the late spring.
My dad and uncle did manage to find the grave of Joseph. They took a picture with the gravestone that has some details of what happened to him. The gravestone states he was blind, died February 18, and was found June 4. I don’t know the year, as the photo is a little hard to read. It was while visiting this cemetery that I saw an angel.
The gravestone reads: “Joseph Larochelle / Blind / Died February 18 / And Found / June 4, 19_1 / Aged __ Yrs. / R.I.P”
I have reached out to my aunts and uncles to see if they have more information, or know which cemetery he is buried in. I have not been able to find anything much so far. My searches on Find a Grave and Ancestry have not turned up anything yet. I have an idea where to look—Quebec City, but I don’t have much more than that at the moment. I would love to learn more about my great-uncle, as well as the cemetery where he is laid to rest. Is it filled with stone angels?
When I started looking into this story, I didn’t expect to uncover a cemetery mystery. I love a good cemetery mystery, and it’s even more intriguing to have a family connection to one. I will keep researching and maybe will have an update on this story in the future. In the meantime, I will continue to go down cemetery rabbit holes looking for answers. Maybe I’ll also get closer to answering my question about my cemetery angel.
Thanks for reading!