When I was very small, about 4 years old, my grandmother died. She had cancer. I don’t remember her very well, but I still love her to this day. My grandfather, her ex-husband, died almost a year later. They were buried side-by-side in a cemetery in their hometown. These were my dad’s parents. After my grandma died, we moved into her house, and lived there for about 6 years until we moved again. I spent a lot of my crucial growing-up time in that house, in that neighborhood, in that city. I still feel very close to that area, and so does my family.
Before we moved away from my grandmothers’ house, we used to visit the cemetery (which is right across the road from our old neighborhood) about once a month. After our move, though, we stopped visiting so frequently. Before today, in fact, we hadn’t been to that cemetery since 2008. (I know this because that is when my great-grandmother died. She was 99 years old! My grandmother was her daughter.)
Today, though, my family and I found ourselves driving through our old stomping grounds. As the familiar sights filled my eyes, I said, “Let’s go to the cemetery!” So we did.
I may have written this here before, but I am fascinated by cemeteries. I love to wander through them and examine the gravestones, reading names and dates and the quotes that loved ones chose to represent their family members. It’s the recorded-in-marble history of our people, and the people that loved them. Anyway, graveyards are interesting places all ’round.
I know I just said that the last time we visited the cemetery was back in ’08, but I think it must’ve been many more years than that since we visited my grandparents’ graves. I think I must have been 10 or 12 the last time we went together as a family, so at least 10 years had passed.
The reason I think this must be so is because today I read my grandmother’s headstone, and what it said seemed like new information to me. Like today was the first time I had ever really seen it. I hadn’t remembered it saying anything other than her name.
It read the following: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain” 21:4
Of course I realized this was a bible verse, which surprised me since I hadn’t thought she had believed in god.
Me: “Was she religious?”
Dad: “No, your uncle was.”
Then, I stepped to the right and read my grandfather’s stone.
“The most generous and loving father that ever walked on this Earth.”
Yep, that one got me.
I remember my grandpa just enough to know he was that. I’ve heard the stories from my dad and my two uncles, and I remember him bringing us kids grapes and cinnamon gum and reese’s peanut butter cups all the time.
I blinked away the tears that wanted to run free and knelt down at his stone to tear up the grass that had begun to grow over the corners. When the job was done I got up and brushed the dirt and grass from my knees and wandered over to read the headstones that belonged to my grandparents’ “neighbors”. As I walked, I noticed many of the stones were covered by grass as my grandpa’s had been. These dead had been left here. These expensive marble sheets were being retaken by the earth.
Before we left, I suggested we visit my great-grandmothers’ stone, as we had never been to visit her since her funeral. Her site was across the cemetery, in a much older section.
We found her headstone easily even though we hadn’t been to see it before. Both she and her first husband are buried together. He died in 1965, and their headstone has since turned the nice green color that bronze tends to turn when it is left out in the weather.
Again, I wandered nearby and examined the names and dates carved in stone. These dates were much older. One nearby read 1880 – 1955. Another, 1905 – 1989. Another: June, 1908 – February, 1991. My birth year.
Then, I spotted another bronze stone, just like my great-grandmas’. However, this one was almost entirely covered by grass. Only the first half of the last name could be seen. Again, I went to my knees and began uncovering. Who were these people? Why hadn’t anyone kept their stone clean? Were they forgotten?
The sod wasn’t easy to tear, but I managed it. Chunk by chunk, I tore it off and uncovered more of the abandoned stone. The woman had died in 1965. Perhaps this grass had grown over their stone since that day. It sure seemed like 50 years of growth to me as I ripped at those roots with my bare hands.
I wish I had had my camera. They had very unusual names, as it turned out, that pair – husband and wife. I believe the woman’s name was Aluna – her husband’s was much longer, and their last name was a gem. It must have been French. I suppose I could go back and find out.
My dad joined in on my digging as I worked on the other half of the stone – the man. When we had uncovered most of it, I pointed out how the original color of the bronze could still be seen where it had been covered in dirt and grass. Their history must have been covered for a long time.
My mom and younger brother stood nearby watching us. I don’t think they understood why we were doing what we were doing. I don’t think I knew why I was doing it, either. It just felt right.
As I headed across the cemetery to wash the dirt from my hands, I spotted another one. Another almost entirely buried plot. I stopped, again, fell to my knees, and began uncovering it. The only thing that could be seen at first was the date of death. It was a baby’s stone. It was small, and round. As I dug, I discovered the stone was actually in the shape of a heart. It belonged to a baby girl who had died after 7 days of life. 1961 was the year. Fifty years had passed, and the grass had grown. No one knew this story. No one visited this stone.
Cemeteries are our history. Our people are there. Our quotes of love and remembrance. Those dashes between the birth years and the death years that signify lives that were lived.
I don’t know why I tore at that grass with my bare hands. I just had to. It was just wrong. All of those people, all of those stories, all of those lives. There were many hundreds more gravestones that were overgrown with weeds and grass. I can’t imagine how many people have been forgotten. How many wonderful lives that are now lost to memory. How many names and dates and quotes that have faded away with time.