During a recent visit to my sister’s home, she and I decided to take a trip to the local cemetery. As we made our way down the lane through pastures of headstones and monuments to the area where her beloved son Adam is buried, we remembered him with words and prayer. “It’s been over five years since he died of leukemia and I still miss him so much,” Betty said, losing herself in the past.
Standing beside her at his gravesite I felt connected in a very real way to not only my sister and her grief but my deceased nephew as well. As we admired his beautifully designed headstone, with its poetic etchings and youthful photograph, we both agreed that we continue to find solace and meaning in our visits to the gravesites of our dear ones. It is the sacred place where their earthly remains lie for us to honor.
I recall as a child, bi-annual visits to cemetery after cemetery with my parents to clean off headstones and trim the grounds around family monuments. It was a sacred time of remembrance for them as they swept off the names of ancestors and loved ones. Though those visits did little to connect me to those long buried family members I had never met, they did instill in me a reverence for the dead and their burial grounds, and a deep regard for the ceremonial ritual of visiting and decorating graves.
But over the years I have learned that not everyone finds grace in the cemetery. And that’s okay. A young man I know whose mother died after a short fight with colon cancer reflects that though he found great comfort in sitting by her grave, bridging the span between life and death, his father refused to take him there. “I think it hurts my dad too much to visit mom’s grave. It’s a visible reminder of all he’s lost,” said this wise young man.
There is a camp of thought that believes though our loved one’s mortal coil is buried beneath the earth, they no longer reside there. I too believe that their spirits rest in the arms of God forevermore. But I also believe that the body’s resting place is a sacred place of connection for those of us who require a tangible link to our loved ones.
How many of us labored over just the right headstone or monument for our loved one’s gravesite? And why? The only sane answer to those questions is that we hoped to honor our deceased loved ones, marking their burial ground so that they will never be forgotten.
Marking Adam’s burial site is a rich granite monument carefully designed by his loving parents with etchings of Adam on his tricked out motorcycle as well as a photo of his forever-youthful face.
His brother wrote a stirring farewell poem that is etched on the backside for all to read as well. Anyone who visits the site will get a real flavor for who Adam was in his short life. And that is comforting for his family to know.
I have known countless men and women who visit their spouses’ graves on a regular basis just to share their lives with them as they once had done in life. Many parents tend to their deceased children’s graves with tenderness and care. And adult children plant blossoms to commemorate their beloved parents at the gravesites.
There is no right or only way to remember or honor our deceased loved ones and a visit to the cemetery is definitely a personal choice. Some find no solace there. But those of us who do, know that, though we are certain we will forever carry our loved ones in our healing hearts, we have a tangible place at the cemetery where we can connect with our thoughts and memories as we honor the sacred resting place of those we’ve loved and lost.
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