A Visit To Mount Olivet Cemetery In Halifax, Nova Scotia

Paying respect at my great grandfather’s grave on the Titanic’s 100th Anniversary

April 14, 2012

With mild trepidation albeit greater conviction, I booked a last minute round trip ticket from New York to Halifax this past weekend. After landing, I hopped in a taxi asking the friendly driver to stop at a flower shop on my way to the Mount Olivet Cemetery. While he was patiently waiting for me outside the store, I fretted over what kind of flowers to lay at my ancestor’s grave. For a moment, I thought of purchasing beautiful white orchids, which would last longer after I had left. Wondering if orchids existed in northern Lebanon, I opted to play it safe and get white and yellow daisies, reminiscent of the wild marguerite flowers found in my great grandfather’s village of Hardeen.

As I arrived at the Mount Olivet Cemetery, daisies in hand, I walked towards the plot where the 17 Roman Catholic victims of the Titanic laid to rest. A tour guide addressing a group of about 20 people was standing just behind tombstone # 312 with the engraved name of my great grandfather: Youssef Gerios.

Hearing the drum of my own heartbeat and overcome with emotions, I kneeled in front of my great grandfather’s tombstone with tears rolling down my face.

Standing behind me, I could sense the surprise of the tour participants, astonished by how ingenious the tour operator was, to include in the visit, a very realistic re-enactment of a bereaved Titanic family member!

After a moment of reflection and prayer, one of the group participants gently asked me about my connection to the Titanic victim. “This is my great grandfather”, I replied. The surprise on the woman’s face and the interest generated by my response would be the first of many similar reactions during my weekend journey to Halifax. The kind lady then proceeded to comfort me by stating that she often came to Mount Olivet Cemetery and now that she knows about Gerios Youssef, she was going to look after him. She patted his tombstone like one would pat an old friend’s shoulder and quietly walked away leaving me to my own thoughts.

Another younger gentleman of Greek origin was curious and inquired about my presence. Noticing that the engraving of the name Youssef Gerios had somewhat faded away, he suggested I sprinkle some pulverized white chalk left at the base of adjacent tombstones. Grateful for his clever advice, I scraped bits and pieces of remaining chalk in an effort to highlight my great grandfather’s name. Mission accomplished, we chatted and before leaving, he respectfully asked if he could take a picture of me in front of Gerios’ grave, to show his wife he had met a descendant of a Titanic victim!

And so it was, a recurrent theme in Halifax this past weekend, meeting complete strangers, who showed compassion and great interest in the story of my great grandfather who perished on the Titanic. Besides, noticing that Gerios’ grave stood between Titanic victims John. F. P Clarke, the ship’s notorious Bass Violist, Henri Jaillet, a French Pastry Chef and a few other ladies, I felt comforted that he was in good company.

Before leaving Mount Olivet, I sat quietly by my great grandfather’s resting place. I felt the weight of history and reflected on the spiritual magnitude of ancestral legacy.  A quote came to mind by Saint Charbel, a revered Lebanese monk and hermit, who lived in the mountains not too far from Gerios’ village:

“ Dans le silence et la solitude, on n’entend que l’essentiel”

  (In silence and solitude, one only hears the essential).

In that moment of solitude at Mount Olivet and echoing the sentiment of all his descendants, I felt compassion, pride and deep gratitude for my great grandfather.

In life and in death, Jeddo* Gerios showed great dignity, courage, resilience and self-sacrifice.

* Grandfather in Arabic

7 comments on “A Visit To Mount Olivet Cemetery In Halifax, Nova Scotia

  1. Glenda Sherrill says:

    Josyann, thank you for sharing the story of your visit to your great grandfather’s grave. I visited the Titanic exhibit here in Kansas City just yesterday (810/12). Although I knew many of the facts surrounding the tragedy, I was still struck by the magnitude of the event. My heart goes out to you as you grieve your loss – even 100 years afterward. I’m now 67 yet did not know any great grand parents. I can only imagine my grief if any had died in such a tragic situation. My heartfelt sympathy is with you and my profound thanks for your willingness to share your experience.

    • Thank you Glenda for your thoughtful words. It warms my heart to know that my great grandfather’s story still resonates today with many kind people such as yourself. Best wishes.

      • MC Ronayne says:

        Dear Josyann,
        As I began a search for a tombstone for my beloved son, the first page that came up was a picture of your great grandfather’s tombstone. I live in Nova Scotia and had typed in something such as ‘tombstones, nova scotia’. The picture was plain but the flowers, name and especially the # 312 caught my attention. My son was born at 312 on an early April morning of 1985. I felt compelled to read on….your beautiful tribute to your great grandfather is lovely Josyann…I think all of your ancestors, in this world and the next, must be very proud of having you in their ancestry. The Quote from St. Charbel is spiritual and simple, yet significant. Solitude is something our son highly valued. In the Silence of our mourning him, our son teaches us the essential. I will remember your love for your great grandfather Josyann. Thank you for sharing your story and letting us join in the sacred with you…Much Peace!

      • Dear MC Ronayne,
        Thank you for your kind message. I am very fond of Nova Scotians and Haligonians for their immense efforts in recovering the bodies of the Titanic victims and for the reverence they showed in their burials. Nova Scotia will always have a special place in my heart. But I am mostly touched by your comments and the poignant circumstances which led you to the story of my great grandfather. Hope you continue to find peace and solace in the special life of your son and in the healing power of love. A quote by Stephen R. Covey comes to mind: “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey. We are spiritual beings on a human journey.” Best to you & your family.

  2. MC Ronayne says:

    Thank you Josyann for your reply. It is comforting and lovely. MC

  3. David Colchamiro says:

    My visit to the beautiful cemetery last month was very moving. Our guide explained the numbers on the stones. They represent the sequence that the remains were found and removed from the ocean. The numbers at the cemetery are not in sequence since some of the remains were laid to rest elsewhere.

    • Dear David, I can understand how moving the visit to Mount Olivet was. It is a peaceful cemetery charged with the memory of the tragic event of thousands who lost their lives. Thank you for taking the time to write.

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