Monday, July 19, 2010
There’s nothing like visiting a cemetery to remind you that life is fleeting.
Everywhere you look there are memorials to people who were once living and breathing just like you and me.
My sister and I visited our parents’ grave on Saturday, one day after the eighth anniversary of my mother’s death.
It was brutally hot, just like the day we buried her. I remember riding in the limousine that day and watching people on the street in shorts and t-shirts walking around as if it were any other day. And for them, of course, it was.
Now eight years have passed. It sounds strange, but I never thought I'd be in this situation. Obviously, nobody lives forever--that's why we have cemeteries. But the thought of my mother and father being gone from this world was something I could never accept.
I thought we’d be the only ones there on this bright summer day, but a man and his son showed up a short time after we got there and went to a nearby plot.
The son, who appeared to be his twenties, told us his mother had just died in November. As he spoke, I looked over his shoulder and watched his father lean forward, grip his wife’s tombstone with both hands, and bow his head. He clearly wasn’t used to being alone yet.
Cemeteries have been cropping up in my life lately. During a recent sermon at Trinity Church, Rev. Mark told us about a visit he had made to a hospital on Roosevelt Island.
His driver had once been homeless and told Rev. Mark about the day he came to the church in desperation to pray.
A priest saw this man crying and told him that there was no problem so big that God couldn't help. Since that day, Rev. Mark told us, this man has turned his life around.
In addition to getting a job, he also met a very special woman. She regularly visited her parents’ grave and the driver said he took great comfort in this.
“I’ve lived in fear of dying alone and being forgotten,” he told Rev. Mark. “And now I’m with a woman who remembers the dead.”
It was a very touching sermon and it came back to me while we stood there in the heat. I haven’t found that special person yet, which is largely my own fault, but a story like this gives me hope.
If a man can go from being homeless and alone to being gainfully employed and happily married, then I think I have a chance at finding contentment.
My reflective mood was spoiled when I heard my sister gasp. I thought there was something wrong with the tombstone, but this was much worse.
“The dog statue is gone,” she said.
She was referring to a small statue of sleeping dog that we had placed on the grave as a tribute to Casey, our family dog who went to his reward years ago and whom my mother loved so dearly.
We thought that the cemetery staff might have removed it, but a visit to the front office confirmed my darkest fear: somebody had stolen the statue right off our parents’ grave.
The man at the office told us that several cemeteries have been experiencing this problem: people just take statues, freshly-planted flowers, or anything else they want.
He suggested that we could look at some of the nearby graves and see if we could find it, but my sister nixed that idea. What if we make a mistake, she said, and unjustly accuse someone of theft? And I frankly didn’t feel like playing Junior G-Man.
I ricocheted between rage to disgust. How low do you have to sink to do something like this? I wonder how these people can sleep at night. Stealing from the dead? You have no soul—or at least one not worth saving.
There is no way that you couldn’t know that this statue had sentimental value. The simple fact that we put it on our parents’ grave tells you that loud and clear. The perpetrator just plain didn’t care.
“I hope something bad happens to the person who did this,” I said on the drive back.
But my sister said that wouldn’t change anything and she’s right, of course. But I’m still angry.
I told my other relatives about this atrocity. My sister-in-law said I should act like a Buddhist. Yes, this was wrong, but the person who took it must need it and I should let it go. She said my spiritual connection with my mother was much more important than this.
“Mom would have said to move on,” I told my brother, “but Dad would have said to cripple the son-of-a-bitch with a tire iron.”
“You should always listen to Mom,” my brother said.
And he’s right. I am going to listen to Mom. I refuse to let this callous act ruin my day of peace with my parents. Whoever did this has to live with themselves and that sounds like punishment enough.
I have more important things to worry about--like finding someone to come visit me on hot summer afternoons.