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April 22, 2014

JUST VISITING

 

The day before Easter I took flowers to the cemetery where my parents, grandparents, and some of my great-grandparents occupy their final resting places.

 

It’s a country cemetery on a gentle slope dotted with trees, extending outward to open space beyond the grave markers. Over the hill on one side, out of sight, is an Amish farm. On the other side, at the bottom of the hill, is a winding two-lane road that crosses over a meandering trout stream. It’s a quiet, serene spot.

 

Once, after my dad died and my mother was advancing into dementia, I took her there to visit the mausoleum where dad and her parents were entombed. It was warm, the sun was shining, and a mild breeze skimmed the trees and ruffled the green grass. My mother remarked on how beautiful the setting was. “We ought to buy a plot here,” she said. I did not remind her that she already had. I thought of the day many years before when she and my dad took me to the then-unfinished mausoleum. They said they wanted me to see the place they had chosen. 

 

A representative of the mausoleum developer had parked a camper in front of the partial structure to serve as a sales office. There was a big sign and strings of colorful pennants flapping and snapping in the breeze, not unlike a used car lot. We took a little tour and the salesman gave an encouraging progress report on crypt sign-ups. As we walked back to the car, he called after us, “Talk it up, now! Talk it up!”

 

Enthusiasm failed to catch, apparently. The finished mausoleum is downsized by more than half from the original grand plan. It sits off by itself in that open space outside the perimeter of the headstone neighborhoods. But uptown or downtown, there is no exclusivity here.

 

As I contemplate the shortening road ahead, I feel a bit guilty that I do not plan to eventually repose in the same cemetery with the people I loved and who loved me. My grown children are off on their own life adventures and not as tied to place as I am or those before me. I propose to end up scattered in a place TBA—to be announced—perhaps selected at the last minute, perhaps not by me. Beliefs and attitudes have changed and certainty in such things has given way.

 

As I look at headstone engravings and crypt nameplates, I realize they are intended as declarations that these people once passed this way. But eventually who will remember the people who carried the names? To leave some goodwill behind or to be held in living memory for a generation or two is pretty much all one can reasonably hope for.

 

When I go the cemetery to leave flowers, I am not seeking comfort or chasing religious reassurance or hope; rather, I am simply engaging in an act of remembrance and offering gratitude to the people who were important in and to my life. I try to remind myself I need not stand before a physical grave to do that.

 

Copyright 2014 Editorial Enterprises, Inc., and Donald C. Sarvey 

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