Sunday, July 17, 2011
Symbols and Signs
Recently I went to visit my dad’s grave for the first time since his funeral. I’ve actually never visited anyone's grave before, except to stand beside it as we laid to rest the remains of another family member.
I’ve heard some people say that it can be peaceful or healing to visit the grave of a loved one. Because it’s the location on this Earth where the last bits of cells of that person are, it seems logical that one would be likely to feel some kind of connection there.
My dad's body - or his ashes, rather - is buried next to the plots of my maternal grandparents. The cemetery is a beautiful place in the country, with big trees and rolling hills. Their headstones are very nice, and they have colorful silk flowers in the grave marker vases.
I vaguely remember meeting with the guy from the funeral home (Mortician? Undertaker? Funeral director? Salesman?) with my mom and my sisters the day after Dad died and being asked what inscription or symbol we wanted on the front of the Dad's tombstone. “How about ‘What the hell just happened?’ ‘Hell, no, this isn’t happening!’ or ‘Cancer sucks!’?” I remember thinking at the time. I was holding on so tightly to the conviction that the night before - and, actually, the entire 75 days before - had all been just a really bad dream, one from which I would awaken and be shaken by but then go on with my Real Life.
Many of the big decisions about the burial had already been made: Dad and Mom had made most of their own “arrangements” (what a freaky term) years in advance, and Dad had said for as long as I can remember that he definitely wanted to be cremated when he died. The three things we had to decide on that terrible day were about the urn, what would go on the tombstone, and what would be written in the obituary.
For the urn we chose a basic wooden box; we thought that Dad would think the vase-type urns were too “girly,” too fancy for his taste, or - as he sometimes termed things - "a waste." We convinced the funeral home guy to let us use his computer and then we somehow found a way to type up the obituary for the newspaper. Once that was done, the decision of the grave marker was all we had left to do there, and, for some reason, it seemed like the most important of the three to me.
We flipped through the “Marker Manual” and, in much the way Dad picked out many of the things he bought for as far back as I can remember, we were able to make the decision because we knew what we wanted when we saw it: a winged foot, which is the symbol of Mercury, the messenger, the Greek god of trade, and a commonly used logo for the sports of track and field and cross-country running.
The day I went back to the cemetery, I stood for a while in front of my dad’s grave and waited. I looked around in search of some kind of Sign. I found myself thinking, “Come on, Dad! Give me something!” Finally, I sat down on the grass in between the plots of my dad and my grandparents and decided I would try to just breathe, just take in the scenery, just sit there and pay my respects to them. A little voice in my head kept butting in and saying, “This is crazy! Dad’s not dead!” but I kept at it anyway.
After about 10 minutes, I decided it was a little crazy for me to be sitting there waiting for something; while the cemetery is a pretty piece of property, it certainly isn’t where I spent any time with my dad or my grandparents, and I didn’t feel any special pull or connection to them there. As I stood up to leave, I felt tears forming in my eyes and then spilling over to fall down my cheeks. I looked around one more time and then started walking towards my car, feeling lost and alone and so, so sad. I don't think the cemetery is a place of peace for me right now; I don't think anywhere really is.