Grave Thoughts

“I dunno, maybe scatter my ashes up in Michaux.” That’s Michaux State Forest. When I think of the most peaceful place in my life, Michaux’s got to be it. Once, the beach topped my list, but now I believe peace is synonymous with solitude, and there’s just too many people on the beach. Plus, I might wash into someone’s open mouth.

Over the past week, Susan’s father has been planning a cemetery memorial service for his wife, Jeanne. She died around Christmas. Everyone cautioned that northern burials don’t happen in January. We decided to push it to summer. The plans are coming together. It looks like a nice event.

Last week, as Susan and I ate dinner with her dad* we discussed Jeanne’s headstone.  Al said something that caught my attention. “I’m trying to do what your mother would have expected.” And then I started thinking about what, if anything, I expect.

A few weeks ago, I visited the Memorial Garden at a local medical building after an appointment with my doctor. Shortly after I moved to Gettysburg, I read in the newspaper that the garden was under construction. They described it as a place for quiet reflection. To fund the effort, the nonprofit medical system sold etched memorial bricks to be laid in the garden. On a nice day, it’s lovely. Neatly landscaped with a small pond and a bench. Surrounded by bricks commemorating deceased loved-ones, it’s very much like visiting a cemetery.

We buried my mother in Rockville, Maryland in 1984. At the time, my father, my brother Dana, and I all lived within ten miles of the cemetery. My brother David had already moved out of the area. By the time I moved to Gettysburg in 2005, my father had remarried and moved to Virginia. Dana was talking about moving to Manhattan. David settled in Rhode Island. And I lived ninety minutes away on a light traffic day. Everyone was moving on or moving away, I worried that my mother’s grave would sit abandoned and unvisited. It seemed rather sad.

When I read about the Memorial Garden, I bought my mother a brick. If I couldn’t easily drive to the Rockville cemetery, I would have a local spot to visit. I envisioned frequent meditative sessions in her presence, an artificial waterfall gurgling in the background. Only I rarely visited. I’ve been maybe four times since it opened. I’m always in a rush when I leave my doctor appointments. I either need to get back to work or home to start my evening. I’ve been planning a visit since Jeanne died, but it’s been cold, and the garden is in the shade. Excuses!

It occurs to me that a person’s religious beliefs weigh heavily on their motivation to visit a marker. Because I believe in reincarnation, there is no spiritual reason to visit my mother’s grave. She’s not there, and she’s not monitoring from afar. My mother doesn’t care that I visit any more than I care if someone from my last life visits pre-Jeff’s grave—which in truth, is something I never even thought about before I wrote this paragraph. The only reason I visit my mother’s grave or the Memorial Garden is to inspire memories of someone I don’t think about nearly enough.

So what do I expect for a final ‘resting’ place? I told Susan that who ever I leave behind should do what’s right for them. I don’t want a gravestone and a plot, but if my kids want one for me, they should get one. It’s none of my business what happens to my remains, but right now, the thought of Sophie and Eli one day returning to Michaux State Forest to hike our favorite paths and scatter my ashes comforts me. From my perspective, anything that happens after my death is to benefit someone else. It’s a future course of events I don’t want to influence at all.

Another cemetery post about my mother:

* For dinner, Al made my chili recipe:

  • 2 cans of black beans
  • 1 can of garbanzo beans drained
  • 1 large can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 pound of hot Italian sausage
  • 1 large white onion

Pan fry the onion and sausage
Combine all ingredients in a pot
Simmer for a while
Season to taste (chili powder, salt, pepper, Cholula)

(Make this chili)

17 thoughts on “Grave Thoughts

  1. I’ve written about ‘The Great Escape’ approach to burial but really the idea of consuming lots of energy to burn a body to dust is questionable these days. Australian law prevents using what I jokingly call the ‘fertiliser solution’ to reincarnation but I think that’s worth thinking about.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Smiled reading that it was none of your business what happens to you after you die, bless you Jeff. You’re awesome. As a Christian, I believe the people we love go to Heaven so that gives me comfort in the wake of unexpectedly losing my Dad just under 2 years ago. Mom wants to scatter his ashes in the sea. I was appalled by that as I wanted Dad’s ashes kept with us – somewhere we could visit and talk to him. Like you, I imagined frequent visits and times of meditative state – maybe with birds tweeting and the sun shining as I shared deep thoughts with my Dad’s urn. Like you, I didn’t follow through with that. I still have yet to see it. In my case though, I feel a huge sense of FEAR about my Dad’s urn. I can’t bear to see it.

    Thankfully, Mom let me keep a little of Dad’s ashes in a tiny urn my husband thoughtfully brought for me. I plan to add them to the rich soil of our large Magnolia tree and construct a ‘memory garden’ for Dad – somewhere I can go (at home which is awesome because then I don’t have to travel to see him) and chat away to Dad whenever I want to. I still have yet to do this. Our Magnolia tree stares at me wistfully from the window…

    I’m so sorry for your losses and for your friend’s loss, too. Sending you lots of love xx

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think I’d be pretty uncomfortable having someone’s ashes in my house. While I disassociate the ‘soul’ (maybe the essence) from the deceased, it still seems creepy to me to have remains close by. One of my problems is that my mother died so long ago it’s hard to remember much concrete about her. I wish I was a writer back then. The memories I’ve captured over the past ten years of blogging have really turned into a pretty cool data repository for me. I can pretty much pop back to any week over this period and see what was important to me at that time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I had a conversation about this today at dinner with my kids. My dad’s ashes have yet to be interred, and we wondered if he’d want some here on our end of the country to be near us. My husband was of the opinion that my dad would want to be “all together” 😂 Who knows. I think I’d like my kids to ski or ride my favourite trails and leave a bit of me on all of them, whether I’m composted soil or ashes, but I guess it doesn’t really matter, ’cause I’ll be dead!
    Guess I’m going to try making chili in the next little while…

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s