Upcoming luminary at Trinity Memorial is a celebration of life

Published 10:41 pm Friday, November 24, 2023

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As we head into the Christmas season, it’s a time to celebrate life. And one luminary program coming up at Trinity Memorial will do just that.

Fancy cars, boats, maybe even a zoo. There are countless things someone approaching retirement could be interested in buying. But for William Barrett, there was just one thing he wanted: a cemetery.

But not just any old cemetery. He specifically wanted Trinity Memorial Gardens off Prince Edward Highway. And for good reason.

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“Go to any cemetery, and you’ll see row after row after row of stone,” Barrett said. “But with memorial parks, they’re designed with statuaries and landscaping.”

And amongst all that, one might find rows of bronze plaques, sharing a little detail of whomever is buried underneath. No one plaque stands out from another, and that’s completely by design.

“If we were not necessarily equal in life,” Barrett said, “we are definitely equal in death.”

Trinity Memorial not about the dead

Yet, surprisingly perhaps, cemeteries aren’t about the dead, but instead about those who are left behind. Memorial parks like Trinity aren’t intended to be visited only by those in mourning, but instead to be a quiet place for anyone to stop by, reflect and remember those who have passed on. 

“If you come out here, on every one of those bronze memorials, there is a story,” Barrett said. “Each story that is tied to every cemetery reflects on the history of the community it’s located in.”

And from that, Trinity’s Christmas Luminary was born. Set to take place just after 4 p.m., on Saturday, Dec. 9, Barrett and members of Boy Scout Troop 6516 will set out more than 4,000 candles next to each of the markers. Then, loved ones will come out to light candles just before the sun sets — creating a moment that will give visitors a chance to remember those who were lost while celebrating life at the same time. 

“You shouldn’t just have to come out on a sad day,” Barrett said. “The luminary is a time to remember, reflect and celebrate. There is an old African proverb that there are several stages of death, and the last one is that you actually die when there is nobody left to remember you.” 

Barrett says he’s grateful for the efforts the Boy Scouts put into setting up the event each year, and is also amazed at their speed and precision — they can set up all the candles in less than an hour. 

“One of the 16-year-olds who come out says he really likes coming out here,” Barrett said. “Can you imagine that? Kids wanting to come to a cemetery.” 

Some history of the memorial park

Trinity first opened in 1960 as part of a memorial park movement that was started by Hubert Eaton some decades before in Glendale, California. Eaton had purchased Forest Lawn Memorial Park in 1917, and decided he was just not going to be like every other cemetery owner at the time. 

“He had worked at an upright monument cemetery in California, and found them to be everything he didn’t want them to be,” Barrett said. “He referred to them as depressing stone orchards that did not celebrate the beauty of life.” 

So, he did away with headstones, and went with memorial plaques instead. He then landscaped the area to make it look more like a park, and less like a massive burial ground. The movement took some years to take hold — even as Eaton expanded the concept throughout California — but by the 1950s, it was spreading across the country. 

Including right here in Rice. The land had previously been a tobacco farm, and many of the buildings on the property are still up, including the main house, which was built in 1840. 

Barrett bought the cemetery in 2020 just as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, but he had made two other attempts to buy the property, beginning in 1996. 

“I’ve always been charmed by Trinity,” Barrett said. “Some people, they don’t do very well on focusing on their own mortality, and you will get some people who will drop somebody off (to be interred), and never come back again. And then you get people who you can set your watch by. 

No right or wrong way

“But there is not a right or wrong way. It’s all about the living. And when you have events like the luminary, it’s a chance to bring everyone else. And you can’t enjoy your life until you’re ready to celebrate being alive.” 

For more on this year’s luminary event — which is free and open to the public — visit TrinityMGVa.com.