I have often admired people who make regular visits to the cemetery and spend time with loved ones there. I recognize the peace this brings, the healing from loss. I have, however, never felt compelled to do this. In fact, I arranged Grammy’s entire service, helped her choose everything for her funeral, and I have not once in 8 years stepped into the cemetery since her interment. Don’t judge me, I just don’t see her there.
Not that I am not fascinated by cemeteries. I love going to our hometown cemetery with my twinsie and spend hours reminiscing about this person or that, and how they helped shape our lives. Without that spark of memory–seeing their names– those stories would not be evoked.
At this same cemetery, my mom’s urn is tucked behind a little plaque bearing her name on a monument that holds the remains of the cremated, and when I touch those letters, I do not feel her there. I feel her presence more when I hear a song, see a smile, feel a hug, say a prayer, hear a story.
I stopped struggling with my desire to be like those who find such great comfort at the graves of their loved ones, or feeling bad that I don’t have that same pull. That perhaps something was lacking in me that I didn’t “pay my respects” like others did.
Even as a child when we’d go “home” to the tiny town that our mom grew up in, there was a parade of McCoys that would walk to the cemetery to spend time with grandpa, truly a man I never knew, and I tried to stand still, my feet itching to run with my cousins, but then the stories would come from my parents and aunts and uncles and I would stand spellbound for that time where the grandpa I never knew came to life in their faces, and their voices and their laughter and their tears. A real living person come alive in them.
A few years ago, our world lost a great man whom I adored. A writer, actor, friend. When I went to his service, I wept and wept and could not control it, and I was embarrassed by this, he had been sick a long time, he really was in a better place, and yet, I could not stand up and say how much I loved him, I could only watch our friends, and listen, and feel their loss in my own loss.
I still miss my friend, and think of him often while I am walking the trails to the river, and along it, with Eugene and Lily Belle, and smiling at his antics (they were EPIC) and just feeling him with me asking me to write fiction instead of nonfiction, because my nonfiction was too raw, and hurt too much. I could soften the blow by using fiction, and of course, he was right, he wrote many fictional books that merely softened his nonfiction life. But, I stuck to my guns and he to his, much to his chagrin.
Then, I saw his wife at the local grocery, and we hugged sharing that “I miss him so much” smile. And she asked if I’d been to his grave. I was astonished because he’d been cremated and I didn’t know that his ashes had been buried. She explained where he was and I stood there in utter shock, he was in the cemetery that I walked by every time I went down to the river. He was within arms reach all that time.
So, she gave me the directions.
Go up the drive, take the first left, go past the caretakers building and keep walking from behind it till you are lined up to the bedroom window of the ranch house to the left of the cemetery and look down.
So, I did exactly that, instead of walking over the road to the river, I turned right, and then right again, up the big hill, and then left, and the building was making weird clunking noises at dawn and creeped me out, but I walked on straight from behind it, till I was lined up to the window on the ranch house and looked down, and there he was staring back at me.
She’d put a plaque on his grave marker with his photo on it. His beautiful face and eyes and I was completely and totally with my friend for that second, and of course cried, and still cry each time I walk all the way up that hill breathless to get past the scary clunking building, and the breath catches a second in my throat and the tears come.
I love seeing him, I love scoffing at him, and even saying, “Hey, Sweetums, yah, that nonfiction thing, well, I’m writing a blog, and I’m having a good time with it, and I’m going to write about you, how about that? And I’m not softening it with fiction, heck no, you are too real, too raw, too honest to do anything but tell the truth about you.
And, it would figure you’d find yourself for all eternity behind a scary, clunking, banging caretakers building that creeps me out. That is just like you, now isn’t it? Even where you rest, there is a story.”
And then I walk away, wiping tears, maybe laughing a bit at a memory of my friend, and his wife, and our friends together. And I understand just a little bit better the grave dwellers, and even count myself as one.