This summer will fly by, especially for those who are still pursuing their studies. So, before Memorial Day retreats out of our rear-view mirror, and Labor Day is in our sights, let’s pause and reflect for a moment. The perfect spot for such an activity? A cemetery.
I can remember my first experiences in those gardens of remembrance. As a small girl, my next-door neighbor, who served as a bonus grand-parent, used to take me to tend to her family’s graves. I loved hearing the stories about the relatives she was honoring as we placed fresh artificial flowers for each one. Of course, I hung on everything she said in her lovely Italian accent, anyway. But it struck me at an early age that honoring family was a worthwhile way to spend a summer morning.
Another obvious reason for visiting a local burial ground is the treasure trove of family information. Names and dates on the headstones can fill in so many blanks on a family tree. When I was becoming more interested in my father’s side of the family, I asked him for directions to the family’s plot in East Central Kansas. He said, “There’s only one cemetery in town, you’ll find it. It’s just around the curve after you get off the main highway.” That man was not one to waste words.
My dear husband had his doubts that we would find anyone I recognized. We followed the sign from the main highway, rounded the curve, and there was the cemetery. However, it was larger than I had anticipated. “You’ll never find them.” Poor, doubtful hubby. I directed the car to what appeared to be the older part of the graveyard, and the ornate arch over the entrance. We parked the car, walked a little way down the main road, and (cue the fanfare music) There It Was! The marker was obviously purchased sometime after my second great grandmother passed away in 1945, and it commemorated the couple that emigrated from Scotland in the 1880’s, along with my third great grandfather, who had joined them shortly after, to spend his last years in America.
My aunt had chronicled all of the names and dates in her research. But standing here, I began to put details together that really gave me a feel for these people who were part of my DNA, but that I had never met. The marker mentioned a daughter who had died at the age of five. Nearby, another grave belonged to a daughter with the same first name who had survived to adulthood and was buried next to her husband. Had she felt the burden of “filling in” for her older sister? Fascinating.
The older I get, the more I appreciate spending time in these havens of rest and peace. They allow me to feel a kinship with the others who stood in the exact same spot, on the day of a sad funeral ceremony, or on a past Memorial Day when they came to decorate the graves of loved ones. Overwhelming and calming at the same time.
My husband’s family is buried in a beautiful old graveyard that is miles from the highway. After traveling over rough logging roads and navigating without the help of signposts, the well kept memorial garden is like an oasis of peace. Families have been gathering here for generations, using the pavilion to share a picnic lunch. It is a place of beauty and beautiful memories. Because of the effort involved in arriving, no-one gets in a hurry to leave. Stories of the people who are honored here, and of the past gatherings make for a joyful way to spend a day.
I don’t understand people who think cemeteries are creepy or sad. Of course, lots of emotions emerge when we spend time honoring the memory of someone we love. But, for those of us with an understanding of what comes next, the peace that surrounds us should always push away any sadness. These monuments help us remember that a journey is complete, a victory is won, and we can look forward to our own future with confidence. It’s a welcome break from the madness of every day life. God is with us everywhere, but standing here, I sometimes feel like He is just a little closer.