Saturday, May 28, 2011

Our Memorial Day Visits

I never really had graves of loved ones to visit until just a few years ago. At least not closeby. My maternal grandparents are buried a full day's travel away in a tiny out-of-the-way town in northern Wyoming. My paternal grandparents were buried in Germany.

I say, "were buried" because the common practice in that area is to turn over graves after a while unless families continue to pay fairly exhorbitant 'rent' for the spaces. If Oma's and Opa's graves haven't been turned over yet, they will be before long.

Until fairly recently the nearest grave of a close relative would have required significant travel. So we usually found little motivation to go to a cemetery over Memorial Day weekend.

Then four years ago my Father-In-Law died after a difficult battle with lung cancer. Having served in the Air Force as a young adult, he was interred in the veteran's portion of a local cemetery.

Dad's grave is inauspicious. The headstone is level with the ground. It's not far from the road that loops around and through the rolling green expanse. It's really quite a peaceful and beautiful area. We now make a sojourn to Dad's grave each Memorial Day weekend. The cemetery is festooned with many American flags. Many graves show signs of having been visited.

A little over a year after my Father-In-Law passed away, my Dad died of heart disease. Dad was interred in a cemetery that is only a mile from my home. It is a place I have frequented throughout my life. As a child I walked by or through the cemetery on the way to and from school. In the summer we would walk through the cemetery on our way to and from the community swimming pool.

When my kids were young my main workout was speed walking. We had a two-seat jogger stroller. I'd load up one or two kids and take them on a stroll that included going up and down the roads in the cemetery. Having lived in this area for a while, it is surprising how many names I recognized as we passed grave markers. My kids used to love to see the many rather unique monuments that are scattered throughout the cemetery.

Now I make a habit of stopping by Dad's grave each time I go for a bike ride. The headstone is upright. It sports my parents' names and basic info on the front. On the rear it has the names of their children, a graphic of the Christus statue, a graphic of a set of scriptures, and an engraved quotation of John 17:3; Dad's favorite scripture.

I have a little ritual that I perform when I stop by Dad's grave. Mind you, I am usually riding pretty hard because I am trying to keep my heart rate up. I stop my bike, get off, stand in front of the headstone, remove my helmet, and bow my head. I then don my helmet, re-mount my bike, and am soon on my way.

We always make it to Dad's grave over Memorial Day weekend. Usually we make it there more than once. It has been a tradition to have a family gathering on Memorial Day with some or all of my siblings' families. Usually as we get ready to wrap up the event, we make a quick trip to Dad's grave before everyone heads home. Each year the cemetery staff does a lot of work to beautify the grounds in anticipation of Memorial Day.

When we visit the graves of my Father-In-Law and my Dad, I recognize that the experience is different for each member of my family. Each brings a unique perspective to the visit. It is not really possible to convey to my children what I experience as I stand there, since they didn't share the same relationship with these men that I did. Nor do they have the same level of maturity. I suppose that the important thing is that we make an effort to honor our loved ones that have passed on.

As is the nature of life, the number of nearby graves of loved ones will increase as the years pass. We will do what is needed to visit those graves. I hope that my children will do the same if they are in a position to do so. Who knows where life will lead them and how far away they will end up living?

It has been said that the way a society treats its dead says a lot about its level of humanity and civility. My Dad and my Wife's Dad are gone. But the love I feel for them is not diminished. That is what I will be thinking about as I visit their graves this weekend.

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