Browsed by
Month: January 2024

Remembering Roger F. Sweetman

Remembering Roger F. Sweetman

When a loved one dies, many go to great lengths to ensure their memory and identity—what made them special—is preserved. It’s a profoundly personal period of our lives. Even if a loved one would prefer not to be remembered with a headstone or anything serving as permanence, it still matters. “Just think of me when the crocuses you planted bloom,” they may say.

One day, I was wandering around in Mount Carmel cemetery on Placentia beach, a part of the Town of Placentia. As with many other cemeteries around the world, it identifies with the heart and spirit of the community. Sitting nobly on Dixon’s Hill in a spot overlooking Placentia beach, it’s surrounded by hills as well as the waters of Placentia Bay. And it’s here where I discovered the coffin of Roger F. Sweetman.

Image of Mount Carmel (Source: Lee Everts).

Someone had covered his coffin entirely in silver paint. It was obviously a best intentioned effort to preserve it, albeit not the best approach. The only reason I knew it was his coffin was because I could just make out the date of death which I knew. Otherwise, no one would ever know. Still, it put me in mind of the efforts we take to enshrine the memories of our loved ones in a cemetery.

Image of Roger F. Sweetman’s coffin (Source: Lee Everts).

Roger F. Sweetman, R.I.P.

Roger F. Sweetman was a notable individual in these parts. He was born in Ireland to a prominent family who owned a transatlantic fishing business, shipping their wares across the globe. Operating in the 19th century, it was one of several prosperous fishing firms in Newfoundland, as this former country was known at the time.

The Sweetmans played a big role in Placentia. Roger F. Sweetman’s grandfather was Richard Welsh, also from Ireland, who began the fishing business in the 18th century. While the business may have started as a humble effort, in no time, it became wildly successful. Its presence was powerfully felt throughout the southwestern part of the Avalon peninsula of Newfoundland, as well as across the world. In the end, it would survive for four generations.

Image of Avalon Peninsula (Source: Wikipedia).

I learned about him through a bit of research. He was actually Harry Verran’s father-in-law. Ironically, Harry Verran was a another person I would’ve loved to have met. Roger F. Sweetman was clearly an astute businessman. But, for me, what stands out about him, was his willingness to lend a helping hand, to step up and serve his community.

Much of it is circumstantial, but I remember reading how Roger F. Sweetman was defined as a “kind-hearted man” (M.F. 1930, 105). He was regarded as both generous and giving. He left Newfoundland, returning to his homeland of Ireland, in the 1840s.

It seems he was in Ireland during the potato blight which resulted in a mismanaged debacle leading to an horrific famine. In 1845, Roger F. Sweetman also served as President of the Waterford Chamber of Commerce. While in Ireland, he also served as treasurer for the local relief committee.

When I discovered his coffin, I could just make out the date of his death, the 27th November, 1862, which I knew. Believing him to have been an upstanding citizen, kind-hearted to those around him, my first thoughts were that an injustice had been committed. It seemed wrong any proof of his presence amongst us decades ago had been so diminished on his coffin.

The Function of Burial Marker

Whether a headstone, tombstone, or coffin, each are used to mark someone’s grave. They are often embellished with symbols of meaning reflecting the nature of the person who is buried in that spot. At other times, a grave marker is just that, simply stating where someone is buried, their name being then humbly engraved on the stone.

Certainly, there are beliefs that what is buried with those who have passed away will assist them in their afterlife. Notable examples would be the Vikings or the Amesbury Archer in Britain who had one of the richest Bronze Age graves ever discovered thus far. Still, nowadays, most of us mark our passing with a headstone, embellishing it with various symbols that define our understanding of death.

Image of the Amesbury Archer, an early Bronze age figure found near Stonehenge during excavation for a housing development, now called Archer’s Gate. This image is of the display in the redeveloped Wiltshire Archaeology Gallery at Salisbury Museum (Source: Wikipedia).

Stone is customarily used nowadays, as it’s permanence and durability reflect how we choose to see our loved one—going on forever. And we’re right, who they are in our lives will go on. When headstone, coffin or other burial structures are made, our eyes are often firmly fixed on the future.

In the past, wood was the choice. After all, it was likely more ready at hand. Regardless, whether wood or stone, it is inscribed with the name of the deceased, a brief description of their lives, how they died, and perhaps a poignant quote or poem. The goal is for these expressions to ease our way through the loss of a family member or a friend.

What Really Matters

For Roger F. Sweetman, it was impossible to see whether anything had been written on his coffin. Most likely there had been something, given his place in the community. Not choosing wood, the hope was for it to last. Regardless, it failed against the rigours of time. Again, upon first encountering his coffin, it seemed wrong, nothing seemed to remain of him.

Still, in the end, I thought, does it matter? Whether or not his name emotes some feeling in the decades or centuries following his death, has little bearing on the kind of person he apparently was while alive. And that’s when it matters.

To him, what was of value were the decisions he made to help create a better place for people while he was alive. It’s at times like these when we’re reminded how all those burial markers and their myriad meaningful symbols, we leave are primarily for us, those who have been left behind. Without question, all these adornments are welcomed by family and friends who visit a grave.

Although, for people such as Roger F. Sweetman, perhaps we can be assured he’d already made a substantial difference in the lives of people around him. So, an unadorned coffin will have to do for the rest of eternity.


Cuff, Robert H. 2014 “19th century Newfoundland outport merchants”

Editorial Team 2022 “5 Reasons Why People Put Headstones On Graves”

Huang, Eric 2024 “Graveyard symbols: architectural markers of life and death”

Johnson, Daniel 2021 “The True Story of the Potato Famine”

M.F. 1930 “Women’s Section – Christmas Hospitality in an Outport” The Veteran 9(2)

Mannion, J. 1986, “Irish Merchants Abroad: The Newfoundland Experience, 1750-1850”
Newfoundland Studies 2(2), 127−90 2022 “Headstone Symbols and Meanings: A Guide to Cemetery Symbols”

Viking Style 2024 “Did Vikings Bury Their Dead?”

Wikipedia 2024 “Headstone”

It’s Never Too Late to Make a New Year’s Resolution That Works

It’s Never Too Late to Make a New Year’s Resolution That Works

Image Source: Photo by Nik on Unsplash

At the beginning of the new year, many of us eagerly make our resolution. We look at our lives, seriously attempting to divine what we need to change. We do so with the best of intentions. But as we’ll see, our success may hinge on the nature of that resolution.

Origins of Making a Resolution

We come by the idea of making New Year resolutions honestly. It stems from ancient Babylonia, several millennia ago. At the time, their calendar began in the spring in March. This was known as Nisannu, the first lunar month of the calendar.

At this time, around mid-March, they’d hold Akitu, a huge religious festival. At the time, they’d crown a new king and as part of the celebrations and they’d make promises to the gods to live a good life—paying their debts and so on. These promises, would eventually become our resolutions.

Stele of Hammurabi” from the Louvre Museum (Image Source: Wikipedia).

Although, we understand New Year resolutions as something undertaken in January rather than March. So, fast forward to Roman times.

In time, the Romans had adopted Babylonian New Year. They continued the tradition of making resolutions at the top of their year, in mid-March. The Roman Calendar system was also initially based on a lunar calendar.

However, in c700 BC, a funny thing happened. King Numa Pompilius altered the calender. He added two additional months—Ianuariusi and Februarius—which were intended to account for the winter. Further decisions moved these two months to the beginning of the year. Now, the beginning of the year was in January rather than March, hence the timing of the New Year’s resolutions we all know and love.

How Things Have Changed

Naturally, the early pledges of the Babylonians and Romans were closely tied to the harvest. Thus, intentions to pay debts related to farming or other promises were tied to the harvest. This would’ve been common practice.

Times change and centuries later, in mediaeval times, noted resolutions were tied to the world of knights with the “Peacock Vow.” This was a pledge to uphold the values of knighthood.

Taking the Peacock Vow. Jacques de Longuyon of Lorraine is the author of a chanson de geste, Les Voeux du paon (“The Vows of the Peacock”), written for Thibaut de Bar, bishop of Liège in 1312. It was one of the most popular romances of the 14th century, and introduces the concept of the Nine Worthies, the ideals of chivalry (Image Source: Wikipedia).

Still later in the 18th century, there was a religious flavour to the remembered resolutions. It was merely a determination to live a good life in the coming year.

Fast forward again to more modern times and we’ve seen a curious trend in the resolutions. Many are linked to some form of self-improvement. A poll completed by Forbes Health/One Poll in 2023 noted how the top resolutions focussed on improving fitness, improving finances, improving mental health, weight loss and improving diets.

Where Things Go Wrong

Everyone has the best of intentions when they make their resolutions. However, for the vast majority, these new year’s resolutions tend to only last for two to three months. Indeed, many people fail to succeed with their New Year’s resolutions.

There are various reasons why people may not be able to uphold their pledges. Some explain how the idea of change needs to be more deeply explored. Terry Bly, a clinical psychologist has stated how “the pain of not changing has to be greater than the pain of changing.” Only then can we maybe find real change.

Maybe we also fail to realise the true nature of the change. For instance, anyone can say they want to lose a certain amount of weight. But it’s not simply about eating less. It’s also about exercising more.

Moreover, it’s about not getting up at night and having something to eat or maybe not snacking and so on. In this sense, it’s tied to the fact changes require a change to our lifestyle. That’s no small endeavour.

That small insignificant resolution to “lose weight” rattled off on the 31st of December must involve a much larger change to our entire lifestyle if we have any notion of succeeding.

Still, there’s another reason we may be failing in our resolutions.

Maybe It’s Not All About Me

What we note about the majority of the most popular resolutions is there focus on ourselves. “I” want to improve my level of fitness or “I” want to improve my finances. Now, no one’s saying the wish to improve these aspects of our lives aren’t admirable goals.

Although, there’s another option. Say we choose a New Year’s resolution tied to others. For instance, we may say we want to explore what’s involved in setting up a community garden. The wisest first move is to arrange for people to sit on the board. In so doing, it’s a goal that moves from “mine” to “ours.”

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Moreover, we’ve now got a resolution intended for the community. This involves more than just “me.” It involves all of us. In so doing, it brings in the notion of oneness. And when we feel a sense of oneness, we feel connected to everything and to all.

The tendency is then to work closely with others in cooperation and collaboration. We are all at one with each other, recognising the myriad interrelations and interconnections that bind us together. So, ultimately, to help another is to help ourselves and everyone for whom we care.

In so doing, the likelihood of accomplishing our resolution greatly increases. There are unquestionable gains to our mental health when we help others. Essentially, most of us are hardwired to do good things for others. When we do, our levels of stress diminish. Practising altruistic actions can also lead to what some refer to as a helper’s high.

Benefits of Helping Others

When we help others, it places life in a new perspective. Sometimes when we help others, we gain an understanding of the seemingly insurmountable challenges some face. As the old saying goes, there always is someone worse off than we are. Such a perspective is invaluable.

It’s always worthwhile to give a helping hand (Source: Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay.

Helping others also broadens our world view. For instance, as a resolution, we may say we’ll volunteer at a homeless shelter. It’s possible our only previous understanding of homelessness was walking past people begging on the street. Although, with this experience, the “homeless” become people, ones we may just as soon like. Experiences similar to this one would undoubtedly broaden our world view.

Some Final Thoughts

Hopefully, with a little thought, we can make a resolution at the top of the year with more assurance of being able to see it through. As we know, whatever we choose to do, it’s always best to start small. However, if we really want to meet with a winning resolution, not to mention, make a difference, our resolutions can be centred on others.

And if things aren’t looking great in terms of our success with the various resolutions we made at the beginning of the year, there’s still hope. Some look to the 17th January as a time when we can provide that extra push we need to find success. And what the heck, if things are really not looking good, then come the 17th January, we can make a change and throw our efforts behind something that will truly ignite our personal fires. There’s always hope.


Boeckmann, Catherine 2023 “The Interesting History Behind New Year’s Resolutions”

Davis, Samantha and Alexa Hall 2023 “New Year’s Resolutions Statistics 2024”

Goal Mastery 2024 “19 Surprising New Year’s Resolution Statistics (2024 Updated)”

Kedia, Surabhi 2020 “Oneness: Becoming Whole with the Universe”

Pruitt, Sarah 2023 “The History of New Year’s Resolutions”

Sexton, Chrissy 2021 “New Year’s resolutions are more satisfying when they’re focused on others”

Trovato, Tegan 2022 “Here’s why summer may be the perfect time to revive your annual resolutions”

Tsipursky, Gleb 2016 “Is Serving Others the Key to Meaning and Purpose?”

Vinney, Cynthia 2023 “The Psychology Behind Why New Year’s Resolutions Fail”

iThis is January in Latin.