Essays on Faith: Memorial Day rituals provide a chance to reflect and mourn

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With Memorial Day behind us, and the thermometer hitting the 88 degree mark today, summer seems to be in full swing.

I’m already yearning for fall.

Last weekend, many people visited cemeteries to place flowers on the graves of their loved ones. Mr. H. and I have always done this, too, but not because it’s enjoyable. In fact, it makes my heart ache.

It takes two days for us to get to all of the different cemeteries where our loved ones are interred. My son remarked that it would be nice if we had a family cemetery where everyone was buried instead of having to go to several different locations. But that’s not the way it is, so we continue making the rounds, just as our parents did before us, and theirs before them.

Braving near 90-degree heat and intense sunshine, we walked the grounds of one cemetery for 30 minutes or more, looking for a marker that didn’t seem to be where we thought it was. But once we located it, we placed our flowers in the vase while sweet memories of this person I loved swirled around and around in my mind.

No matter how long my loved ones have been gone, when we’re finished with this dreary task, I always leave with tears brimming, and the rest of the day is “different” for me.

But this year, a little levity was helpful.

On the way home, Mr. H. started a conversation about our yearly routine. “It’ll probably end with us,” he said. “The younger generation doesn’t take these things as seriously as we do.”

“You’re right,” I said. “You and I will probably never have a flower placed on our graves, but I guess it really doesn’t matter, does it?”

“Guess not,” he said. “Our bodies will be in those crypts we bought years ago, lying head-to-head and our souls will be elsewhere. Nothing on this earth will matter.”

“Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up. I’ve been thinking. I really don’t like that arrangement very well. What were we thinking when we agreed to those head-to-head crypts?”

“Probably that they were cheaper than the ones like your parents have, where they lie side-by-side,” Mr. H. said. “The ones like ours take up less space. Whoever passes first goes in feet-first and then the last one to pass will go in head-first. Lying head-to-head for eternity — that’s not so bad, is it?”

Pondering his remarks for a few moments while enjoying the view of the shimmery sunlit river we were crossing, I finally replied, “Well, we’ve been going head-to-head for more than five decades; guess it’s only right that we do the same throughout eternity!”

We both laughed and the day was saved.

After we got home, I spent some time reflecting. The past month hasn’t been easy for us, but the fog is starting to lift somewhat and it felt good to laugh.

Maybe laughter really is the best medicine.

Recalling both good and bad times elicited both laughter and tears, and revisiting the early years when Mr. H. and I were first married was like a beautiful dream. We both still had our parents, grandparents and lots of aunts, uncles and cousins. It was a happy time.

We thought we’d never grow old.

“Will you still love me when I’m old and gray and chubby like my grandma?” I’d sometimes ask Mr. H.

His answer was always the same, “You’ll never be old, but yes, I’ll still love you, no matter what.”

We’d laugh, but neither of us could imagine ever being old. The world was our oyster!

Then, God blessed us with children and many chaotic, but joyful, years of parenthood followed.

However, it was during those wonderful years that we began to lose people we loved. Some, like our grandparents, were ordinary, get-old-and-die departures. Although difficult for sure, those that were not ordinary were the hardest. We had several premature deaths: sudden heart attacks at 40-something, two suicides, a senseless murder and an accidental electrocution. There was leukemia, an unnecessary death during surgery and premature babies that didn’t survive.

A close relative has been stricken with Alzheimer’s and, in the past month, we had to give up a beloved son.

In an ideal situation, we’d learn to manage the endings in our lives with appreciation for all that has been and to see the beginnings with an expectancy of good unfolding.

No one knows what will happen next. Life is filled with unexpected surprises, some treasures, others challenges, but one thing is certain, we learn to cherish every minute of every day.

“Time is like a river. You cannot touch the same water twice because the flow that has passed will never pass again.”

Essays on Faith may be submitted to gazette@wvgazettemail.com.

Find more Essays on Faith at www.wvgazettemail.com/life/religion.

Funerals for Thursday, July 9, 2020

Ankrom, Vada - 1 p.m., Bartlett-Nichols Funeral Home, St. Albans.

Dillard, Helen - 11 a.m., Gatens-Harding Funeral Home, Poca.

Greenlee, Margaret - 10 a.m., Bellemead United Methodist Church.

Harper, Carl - 10 a.m., Matics Funeral Home, Clendenin.

Humphrey, Connie - Noon, Restlawn Memory Gardens, Victor.  

Justice, Thelma - 1 p.m., Evans Funeral Home, Chapmanville.

Lanham, Kathy - 1 p.m., Long & Fisher Funeral Home, Sissonville.

McDerment, Randall - 1 p.m., Leonard Johnson Funeral Home, Marmet.

Russell, Michael - 4 p.m., Morris Funeral Home, Cowen.

White, Thomas - 11 a.m., St. Anthony Catholic Church, Charleston.