i never typically do anything for memorial day, except the standard bbq. there was a picture floating around facebook of a woman laying on a grave with the caption, “memorial day: in case you thought it was just national bbq day.” this year it’s different. i still wasn’t sure whether i would visit graves or not, but after the gym and running to the grocery store, i kinda felt like it so i decided to make the rounds.
fort snelling was kind of a zoo, but it was pretty, it was nice. they had flags everywhere, many flowers, lots of cars and people milling around, traffic cops, opportunists selling flowers across the street. it was interesting. until i got there i wasn’t aware of how it would feel on a national day of mourning. i just got really curious and wanted to look at people’s faces, their rituals, i wanted to know how they felt to be there. i noticed that one family had laid out a blanket on the ground and appeared to be having a little picnic by the curb. i walked over to grama’s grave, i was just here last week with my sister to mark what would have been her 95th birthday. every time i look at her name on that stone it just looks surreal. i still get that feeling of unreality looking at it. i teared up a little bit. laid hands on their stones and went back to my car.
after grama and grampa’s graves, i drove down to the cemetary where barb and rick are buried. i’d been there a couple times recently when i was in the area. i’ve been waiting for barb’s headstone to appear. it’s a bit of a sore spot in my heart, but i can’t seem to address it anymore. it’s my counsins’ (her children) responsibility to get her stone placed. but somehow, 8 months later, it still hasn’t happened. during the last visits, there looked to be a space carved out and a little red flag marking the area so i just knew it was coming soon! on the way there, i imagined that of course they would have it up by today. today is a big day. well i got to the site, and there was no stone, but there was what looked to be a fresh patch of grass seed with that garden netting stuff on top. i looked over at a fresh casket sized grave next to their plot. that one had the same grass and netting, but still had a space carved out for the new stone. it had a 2012 death date.
i just went blank and kind of confused. the realization set in pretty slowly as i stood there. they weren’t preparing it for a headstone. the flag and the outline was for a fresh planting of grass. i didn’t stay long. i admired the two pretty plants placed on rick’s stone, and noted another pot of fresh flowers a few yards away, marking rick’s dad’s grave. his family had been here already to pay respects.
i walked back to my car slowly and noticed a man close to my age had come up on a bicycle. he leaned it against the tree and we made brief eye contact, and he went on to visit his loved one. there was a family a few yards away from my aunt and uncle’s spot. i realized that’s the closest i’ve ever been to other people in a graveyard.
i got back into my car and started to cry. hard. i’m trying to be patient with my cousin. we don’t communicate much, he’s not a talker. i don’t know how he is emotionally handling the death of his mother. it has felt like a taboo subject, one we gloss over with jokes and distractions and small talk. but i’m angry that he hasn’t gotten it together and ordered the stone. i know my uncle’s family comes regularly, i see their offerings. i don’t leave anything, but i come. seeing that the cleared area and flag were only there to make way for fresh grass kinda fucked me up a little bit.
my aunt is under there.
don’t just let it be a place where the grass is greener, fresher. in this fucked up turn of events, this is where barb and rick live now. that’s traumatic enough, but to have them cover her baren spot where the grass didn’t grow, to make it pretty and uniform and for the goal to be for that piece of ground to look like nothing happened?? that was more than i could handle. i want to shout in his face, “get it together, give my aunt a fucking headstone! she is here! this happened!” but i can’t do it. i feel like i’m gagged on this situation. it’s frustrating.
i’m waiting for her stone. i’m waiting to see how it feels to look down and see her name and her dates. what it will look like next to rick’s. if it will take me to the next level of grieving. if i will lose it right there in the graveyard. i guess it’s just not time yet. (giant sigh)
anyway, today was my first memorial day where i decided to go out and do what the people do on memorial day. it was strange. i’ve been thinking over these past 8 months about the way grief is such an isolating experience. even when you grieve with others, your timing never quite matches up. it’s something you have to go through in your own time, on your own schedule, based on your willingness to delve into it. how deeply? how often? how much surrender? or based on your avoidance. or healing. or backsliding. it’s such an individual process, so lonely.
but. on memorial day, looking around at the many people who were there to mark the day, and seeing the flowers coloring a typically barren place, it reminded me that there are only a few things as universal as grief. unless you die young, you will experience the loss of someone you loved so much. on this day, i understood the contradiction of this lonely process coupled with the universal experience of it. it was humbling and kind of beautiful.
and i’m probably not the only person whose loved one is not marked.