Memorial Day

12 Jul

This last weekend I spent some time with family. We didn’t fire up the grill or gather at the lake. I was at the cemetery. That might seem dreary or sad, but it really wasn’t.

Armed with lilacs, a trowel, a brush, and a big-ass shovel we set off in search of the relatives. Last year we lost my dad’s side of the family because the tree we used as a landmark by their graves had been removed. But this year we found them easily enough on a hill in the sunshine. My mom’s side of the family is easier to find, at least until the building we use as a landmark comes down.

Cleaning off the graves didn’t seem like a difficult task. I would just use my big-ass shovel and clean up the edges where grass had overgrown the flat headstone. But the dirt was dry and hard and it was funny how quickly it got hot on my sunny hillside. So there I sat, hacking at dirt and grass on my hands and knees because the shovel didn’t work nearly as well as I thought it would. And when you are there, on your hands and knees staring at a headstone it is hard not to contemplate one’s mortality.

When would I die? How long would it be? Would it be a surprise? Painful? Would the last thing I see be someone thumping on my chest and performing rescue breathing? Or, how long would it be before I was cleaning off my parents’ graves, or would they be cleaning mine?

And yet, for all that fatalistic mortality, I wasn’t really sad because I was also thinking of the people whose mortal remains were resting—what they meant to me. I hacked and cut at the stubborn grass, ants swarming over the warm, naked stone and I thought about how many pieces of these people were still alive in memories and stories.

My Grandma Lamon was always scared that people didn’t like her cooking if they didn’t have second and third helpings. My Grandpa Lamon would compare health ailments to different foods, forever tainting brown gravy and Caro syrup by association. My Uncle Larry stayed with me the night my sister was born and was the sole witness to the absolute worst tantrum of my entire childhood, and still liked me. My Grandma Sibinski let me and my sister watch horse races on television after church. My Grandpa Sibinski would call my mom Kid. My Uncle Jerry would study people all year so he could buy them something they would really love for Christmas. I brushed the dirt and debris off the granite headstone, exposing the names and the dates.

The ground was so hard and dry I had to pound a hole into it with the trowel to get the flower holder in the ground. We filled it with soft purple lilacs from our yard and poured water in to the rim. Those flowers won’t last long and the grass will grow over the edge of the headstones again and the ants will recolonize, but for now my flowers are blooming and the headstones are clean. Sometimes you just have to enjoy that one moment.


Posted by on July 12, 2009 in Family


Tags: , ,

3 responses to “Memorial Day

  1. jonathan

    July 12, 2009 at 2:43 AM

    I love this! Are your folks families buried in the same cemetery? I’m jealous you go out there to keep things in order. It’s so cool.

    • chinspeaks

      July 12, 2009 at 4:58 AM

      No, the family is not all at the same cemetery. Call it artistic license, but I didn’t want to bog the narrative down by explaining the back and forth between two cemeteries. Glad you like this piece 🙂

  2. johnnyviking

    December 9, 2010 at 4:26 AM

    as to your questions on your mortality (well sort of)..

    my former boss (a big, charismatic hawaiian dude, who since perished in 9/11) wrote this poignant memo to all his friends and co-workers regarding the passing of his was so moving to me, i saved it and still re-read occasionally, 12 yrs later!:

    “My dad died in Hawaii on Sunday night around 10 p.m. He
    was recovering from a pretty large stroke three weeks ago that
    had initially left him paralyzed on his right side. He couldn’t
    speak, his vision was impaired, and he was pretty unaware of
    his surroundings. From that he had pulled it together such that
    he could move around by himself, could communicate through
    a few words and gestures to get his point across, and was
    leaving rehabilitation to return home.

    Everyone in my family knew that his passing was in the near
    future. The doctors were pretty up front about that. He had had
    three strokes in the past half-year before this, and we knew
    something like this was on the horizon ever since he had his
    heart attack 10 years ago. Funny thing, it turns out that being
    prepared for the worst is no preparation at all.

    One good thing is that he knew that he was going to be a
    grandfather— Karen and I found out we’re expecting in
    November of this year, and I showed him the sonogram while I
    was in Hawaii. I do regret that my child will never know him,
    but I know he was happy about the news.

    I always figured that it’s a miracle that anyone is alive, and
    has consciousness and free will; just the idea of life is incredible.
    I never forgot that — I always tell people that a wasted day is
    a crime against nature, because you never get that day back.
    You can always have more accomplishments, or more money,
    or more notoriety, or whatever — but you can never get more
    time. You get what you get. And I’m glad that my dad had his
    time, and that I got to share that with him.

    I don’t know what the point is, I never have. I don’t know if
    there’s a bigger picture. I hope my dad is at peace, and I’m
    glad that I got the chance to tell him how much I loved him and
    how much he meant to me while I had the chance.

    I know now that wishing you had more time is a wasted
    wish, it misses the point. ‘More time’ is right now, and it’s all
    there is.”


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