Almost twenty years ago, my husband and I embarked on our honeymoon. We drove up through Connecticut through Massachusetts and into Vermont all the while playing ABBA gold on our stereo. We stopped off along the way checking out roadside attractions and such. At one place a book on epitaphs caught my eye -Epitaphs to Remember by Janet Greene and I purchased it. It was a fun book. I have always loved checking out cemeteries and reading the stones. I find it interesting how people leave a final message on their graves. There is a stone in Hamilton, Ontario that gives passers by the advice to follow their dreams. I liked that one and would see it almost every time I would visit my in-laws’ grave. I saw one in a churchyard that read, “Hoping in the Resurrection”. As a Christian, that spoke to me. I’ve walked many a cemetery and I stop to read the stones to see if I can understand who the person from the information on the marker. Some of us choose to be cremated and have our cremains returned to the earth with no marker at all. Some choose a green cemetery that does not allow markers and they become part of the landscape. Those wishing to visit these graves can do so by GPS. Either way, they have chosen to leave behind a silent word. There are those who cannot afford a burial and so cannot afford a marker. I suppose there are many more of us who fall into this category than most of us would care to think about. I do not wish to convey the idea that having a marker is wrong. They give information about who you are and the times in which you lived. Markers are important for those seeking their families’ paths on earth. They can convey ideas you hold dear. Sometimes they are there to make the visitor laugh. Some stones even come with pictures of those who occupy the grave. If you are considering a marker, think about what you would like to leave behind for your family, others who might be passing by or even scholars in the future. Take sometime to consider what you would like to have as a final tangible word.
For Americans this week signifies the beginning of summer. Many of us throw a party, fire up the grill and commence our relaxation. Too few of us gather at cemeteries to remember the fallen soldiers. Memorial Day is about our society remembering those who fought and died so that we can enjoy our freedom of speech, to assemble, to bear arms, and to worship our god as we see fit, or not as the case maybe. We in this country enjoy an amazing freedom. This is the day we should take some time to ponder the fact that so many have died in order that we may live in freedom. This weekend pause enough to reflect on those who gave their lives for the sake of us all.
I enjoy movies and television. I love stories of all kinds. What I do not like is the way much of pop culture treats death. In Star Wars Obi Wan and Yoda become all spirit in death in much the same way Master Oogway does in Kung Fu Panda. I suppose with Master Oogway, a case might be made that it’s a children’s movie and maybe full on death is not what you might want to convey to small children. On the other hand it’s strange that he becomes a puff of smoke and flower blossoms. In the episode of Bones: Lance to the Heart, the cremains of the character Dr. Sweets becomes this lilting small cloud of ash as it dances on the wind. I have issues with some of this scene. Any one who has handled cremains knows that they are heavy. We do not become ash like a tree might in fire. We are heavy. It takes time for our bodies to either decompose of become cremains. We are of consequence. We are of substance. Our death has weight in people’s lives. We do not just blow away in the wind, no matter how much we would like to not look at or deal with the body. When we die a body remains. It is the body we with which have loved, laughed, and cried. It is the same body our loved ones recognize as ours. Our bodies matter.
It’s that time of year again when we all rush out to purchase flowers for our mothers to show them how much we love them and how grateful we are for all they do. Well, many of us do. My dad was a bit old fashioned. He would make sure that Mom and each of his daughters had a corsage for Mother’s Day. People would ask why we had flowers and dad taught us to say that we wore them to honor our Mother. Before the modern era flowers had a code. For Mothers Day you would wear a colored flower if your mother were still living and a white flower if she were not. Mother’s Day was about our mothers not necessarily about us as mothers. Mother’s Day is about honoring the women who have given birth, and nurtured humans throughout time. On Mother’s Day we look backwards to those who have come before us and have shaped our lives in so many wonderful ways. For some of us, we have lost our mothers and grandmothers and we miss them especially on Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day is for us to remember them all as part of the great chain of life.
There are mothers who have had to suffer the loss of a child. On Mother’s day, their pain might be great. Often overlooked on Mother’s Day are those who continue struggle to become a mother. On Mother’s Day the pain of not being a mother can become acute. Remember those who grieve for any reason on Mother’s Day and be kind.
Humans are funny. Maybe humans in North America are even more funny. Perhaps my topic brings out the unusual logic of North Americans. I do not know. What I do know is that once the topic of death comes up, I am liable to hear some unusual comments. I have heard many times “If I die…” From banker I heard, “Should you die….” I had a client once say to me while preparing for a burial, “I never thought it would come to this…” It is as if many of us somehow think that things will be different for us. Perhaps the order of nature will be overthrown and we will not have to face our death or those we love. I understand that the topic of death makes people feel uncomfortable. I understand that we do not like thinking that one day our lives will be entrusted to story and memory. I had a professor who often told us, “One day you will be as flat as the ground.” Granted, it is not a cheery message, but I was always glad for the reality check. Sometimes reality is not so cheery and from time to time we do well to look reality in the face. The truth of reality is we are born and we die. We just don’t always know the ending of our lives. We don’t always get the chance to do all the things we had hoped to do. We may not even die the death we hope for. One day we will die. That is just the reality of life. We may as well live our life well.