Five years ago this week, I went to visit my grandparents. They aren’t alive anymore; they’ve been gone for years but, I was reminded of this event compliments of Facebook. A picture of their headstone popped up, and it reminded me of how much I miss them. They have been gone for years, but when I was living in New York City for a job five years ago, I took the opportunity to hop on a train and head to the cemetery on Long Island. I hadn’t been there since 1997, when my grandfather died. I had a lot of catching up with them, and I was glad I had a place to visit them both. I ran my hand over the headstone and stood there for a long while, just talking to them. When I was finished, no lie, a cardinal came out of nowhere and sat on the headstone. I just knew it was my grandfather, and it made me smile as I walked to the car.
Now, if you know me or read my blog with any consistency, you know my love of cemeteries. You know I visit them when I need to feel calm or when I just need a quiet walk. I’ve written more than one post about my trips to cemeteries, like Delivering Mail to a Cemetery, If we were having coffee, sort of, Somedays you just need to scream it out, and my favorite How do we touch people’s lives. When the topic of cemeteries comes up in my house, my husband and I have very different views. He will almost always comment on the amount of high-dollar land they seem to occupy and sometimes for hundreds of years. I will almost always comment on how I should have gone to Mortuary school.
This time of year is always weird for me because we are coming up on my father’s death anniversary. Our relationship wasn’t ideal, but I do have some fond memories; you can read about those in this post and this one, but as I sat on my perch on the couch with warm coffee in my hand looking at the snow out my window, I thought about all the people who were not buried in cemeteries. How did people visit their families? My dad, for one, and my husband’s father both died the same year and were both cremated. I know where my father-in-law’s ashes are, but I have no clue what happened to my father’s ashes. I assume an Aunt or an Uncle have them tucked away in a closet or maybe on a mantel. I have my favorite dog Lucy’s ashes in a drawer on my nightstand, and sometimes I’ll open that drawer and give the box a little rub, just like I did when she was alive. But, what about those people whose ashes have been spread in the ocean or off a cliff somewhere. What about all those poor people who died from Covid in the beginning and are buried on Hart Island just off the coast of the Bronx. How do families visit those people? In the case of the people on Hart Island, I know those are supposed to be unclaimed bodies, and that is even sadder to me.
I use to think I wanted to be buried in a cemetery under a big tree, with a comfortable bench where my children could visit me every once and a while. I use to think I wanted them to plant tulip bulbs over my grave, and every Spring, my favorite flower would bloom, and I would smile from (hopefully) up above, and it would make me happy. But now, I’m not so sure; what if my kids move away from Nashville? So maybe I’ll be cremated, and they can take turns sitting me on their mantel. In reality, I know ultimately, I’ll have no say in the matter, but those are just a few of my thoughts, thoughts that I usually have around this time of year.
I got up to put my coffee cup in the sink and looked out the window. Honest to God, a Cardinal was sitting on the snowy ledge looking right up at my window. I just knew it was my Grandfather to tell me not to worry, it all works out in the end. I went on with my day with memories of my Grandparents and Father floating around in my head and a smile on my face.