My husband and I are at that time of life when we are considering how to best honor God through the release of our bodies when it is time. In so doing, we have looked into various options.
Today we visited a local cemetary. It brought various memories to life. I have decided to share a few in the coming days.
My parents used to regularly visit the graves of their parents. They placed flowers on their graves in all four seasons. It was, for them, a way to honor their memories.
When ground keeping was not offered, they spent many hours at the cemetery cleaning up not only the area around their parents’ graves, but also other grave sites.
They stood reverently by the tombstones and enjoyed the memories of the times they had shared. It was clear the cemetery was not just a place of death to them. It was a focal point for remembering.
As a sweaty little girl, who had just baked in the South Carolina sun to help in this venture, I was less than sentimental. I was also too busy looking behind each tombstone for rattlesnakes that frequented the area.
In their latter years, my parents realized there was no one left to clean up around their graves. All their relatives had died or lived in places far from the cemetery. There were long discussions about what to do.
My mother told me at one point, “Don’t bring up the subject of cemeteries. Your father has imagined himself being buried all over the southeast!”
Besides where perpetual care might be provided, there was also the issue of how to be, as the Bible says, “buried with his people.”
Like many families, the backgrounds were different. My father had grown up on a farm in South Carolina, my mother had grown up in a small town near Savannah, Georgia, they had lived much of their lives in Charleston, South Carolina and then settled in a small South Carolina town. Both of their children lived in different places. So where was the best place to leave their bodies?
Eventually, they decided to be buried in a perpetual care cemetary in Savannah, hoping to be buried near my brother and his family. It was also near the small town where they had gotten married. So there were connections.
Etched forever in my memory is the tender scene when my mother was buried. My parents had been married for 71 years. They were affectionate with each other openly for all those years.
My father said he read somewhere, if men kissed their wives goodbye, they lived longer. Each time he left, even for a short ride uptown, he would kiss my mother. He would wink and say, “I’m just prolonging my life.” She would laugh and joyfully receive his kisses.
He never considered a world where he could not kiss her. He was devastated when she died first. He stood over her casket and openly wept, something I had never seen him do. And he kissed her … undeterred by the fact she could not kiss him back.
The day of the graveside service, as they were getting ready to lower the casket, my father, who was decidedly weakened by the experience, struggled to his feet and walked over to the grave. As he bent over, the cemetary worker ran over and whispered, “Don’t let him lean on the casket. The whole thing may fall and he will fall with it.”
I gently told Daddy he needed to step back. He told me through tears he just wanted to kiss her one more time. Telling him he could not, was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.
He lived another five years without her. Several times he said, “Just think of your Mama lying out there under all that dirt.” I reminded him of what he already knew — that she was not there — she had risen. But it troubled him.
He never wanted to visit her grave. Cemeteries were never his focal point for remembering after that. Even when offered other living arrangements, he chose to continue living in the small town where he last kissed my mother.
He was finally buried next to her in Savannah. After the funeral, all our family sat around my brother’s kitchen table and remembered. Because my father told his stories over and over again, one of us could start one, another pick it up and finally all of us were repeating it in unison. And we laughed until our tears of grief became tears of joy.
None of us go to the cemetary much. We discovered what my father ultimately came to know. Our parents are not there. They live on in each of us!