“We’re gonna see my Grandpa’s gravy stone?” Four-and-a-half -year-old Talia asked. With eyes round with wonder, she seemed to identify with her great grandpa, though she’d never met him. She was seated in her safety seat in the back section of the van and was heading to the cemetery.
I wasn’t there as I’d opted to walk but I imagine that Rachel giggled at her daughter. It must have set just the right mood because when we all converged at the cemetery, the mood seemed festive.
Talia stared at him and asked, “Are you digging up my grandpa?” Dave didn’t call her a goofball or laugh. He responded honestly to her question. “I’m plantin’ flowers for grandpa with this shovel.” I love it that Talia asks the questions on her mind.
We waited six years to get this stone. I’m not sure why but I know that God’s timing is right so I just relished the moment. Grandma walked around the site with her cane. I wondered what she was thinking as she viewed her husband’s gravestone. How did she feel when she saw her own name next to dad’s on the stone? Looking at your own mortality can be frightening. But Mom seemed serene. I attributed that to coming to the grave with family—my sister, her husband, their daughter and three grandkids.
Mom had said, “I want the stone there by Memorial Day.” She had conviction behind her words this year. I championed her renewed determination. We all needed finality. I knew that getting dad’s stone this year would bring healing to our family. We were all excited to have it ready for the holiday. We’d all faced the loss differently and coming here gave us a focus and a purpose. Planting flowers. Watering. My friend, Gail, told me the day before, “You feel good planting flowers. You feel you are doing something for them.” Gail lost her mother last year and had done her own grieving.
It was interesting going to the cemetery on Memorial Day. This holiday will never be the same to me. I remember Memorial Day mostly as a girl scout marching in a long parade. Hot weather and long delays punctuated the memory as we marchers ended up the cemetery. But what I discovered this year, apart from those memories, was that the cemetery had its own culture, holiday or not. People were out and about sitting in a lawn chair near their loved one or fixing up the gravestones. The stones almost seemed to be an extension of their homes and reflected distinct personalities. The words on the stones, themselves, said so much either about the family, the relationship or the one who had passed away. I also noticed the environment aound the stone. Some stones had large, flowering bushes surrounding them; others had statues and stones with words. Yet others had flags, potted plants. Some had nothing at all.
My parents’ gravestone looked perfect to me. On one side, it had my mother’s first and middle initial. In the center, the stone had a simple carved heart with my parents’ anniversary date inscribed inside. On the right, was my father’s first name and middle initial. Underneath that was the month, day and year of my father’s birth and death. Underneath my mother’s name was her nickname, Kitty and underneath my father’s name was the name people knew him by: The Tree Man. A gold cross is engraved over each of their names.
I looked up to see my sister carrying water from a small pump directly across from my dad’s grave. He would like the water being so close. Dad had put a pump in the back of our yard for convenience in watering all his trees and plants. It felt so right. It also felt right having the kids here, leaning on the stone, and chasing each other around the nearby flagpole. The girls looked at it like a playground. Dad loved his family and kids just seemed to take to my dad. He would be grinning and perhaps making comical faces to entertain the kids. In fact, I felt his presence with us there. It just felt so peaceful. Everything was as my father would have liked it.
We girls took a walk while Dave planted the flowers. Grandma slowly made her way to her sister’s grave. She pointed out a few others in the family. I liked seeing names of people in my town and even found the newly-installed gravestone of the brother and nephew of a close friend. The cemetery had a good neighborly feel to it, and I’m sure my dad would have liked that, too.
The girls romped back to Dad’s gravestone, now sporting two flowers. We gathered around it and talked while we packed up the tools.
I looked at the grave next to ours. It belonged to Joshy, my younger brother’s stepson. He had tragically died just two months before my dad in a train collision. It’s comforting that the two grave sites are side-by-side.
My dad liked being in groups. He always had a smile, a joke, a funny face, and a story to tell. So today, it feels right to tell this story. And I’m asking God to help each family member to come to terms with his death. This gravestone is a positive step in that direction.
Thank you, Lord, for this blessing of providing us with the perfect resting place. Thank you that the two crosses on their gravestone remind us that we will gather together again, swapping stories, in a beautiful woodsy place somewhere up there in heaven.