We spruced up and decorated our loved ones' graves between showers the day before Memorial Day in spite of the weatherman's prediction for high winds and rain the next day. Ordinarily on the day we decorate we also wander around among the graves remembering those gone before us and visiting with some of the folks there for the same reason we are. This year it was different. We saw only one person and he was hurrying to get back into the shelter of his car just as we were. The cemetery was ablaze with the colors of all the flowers placed there but some were already tumbling toward the road.
The weatherman's prediction was on target. Ceremonies were moved indoors because of the high winds. The avenues of flags set up along the cemetery drives, the main street of town, the walkways to the churches, and around the nursing home were very showy, mostly because of the wind. The red, white and blue banners waved and snapped gallantly, defying the soaking rain.
Each year we plant containers of begonias, sedum, geraniums and assorted vining fillers hoping they are heavy enough to stay put in front of the tombstones. We like to leave our loved ones' graves decorated for a week or so but this year Mother Nature is telling us that is not such a good plan. We had storms two nights in a row with tree damage all over town. We were sure even our heavy pots of flowers could not withstand the strong wind. We checked on them today and found the ditches were now filled with colorful artificial sprays but we were pleasantly surprised to find our pots were where they were supposed to be and the plants in them looked none-the-worse for wear.
The farm home where I was raised was only a city-block's walk from the cemetery and we currently live even closer to a cemetery. My wandering through burial grounds has never been relegated to the Memorial Day weekend. The headstones and the stories they tell, the memories of friends and family stirred and the feeling of peace I gain are the reasons I choose to walk there often.
Recently I read about a move to simplify and cheapen our last trip on the earth - the one to the cemetery. The monks at New Malory, Iowa, work hard to keep up with the demand for the plain wooden coffins they build. In addition, more people are making their own caskets or having something made for them. A priest friend told us he had a simple wooden box built for use as his coffin. He stores it in his living room but it is masked by the cushions placed on it. For the time being it serves as a bench with storage inside. This piece of innocent looking furniture will eventually be used in the way he intended. He says that when the time comes for it to house his body, some books and junk may have to be emptied out first. He added an after-thought, "...or they can just plop me on top of the stuff I have in there - I won't complain." I suppose this would work for a single person but I can't imagine a wife or children agreeing to give dad that sort of sendoff.
Many folks in our area have made preparations for the inevitable in an effort to spare their survivors some of the decisions that must be made following a death. In many cases this includes having a headstone placed on their purchased burial site. It is a very thoughtful and generous act. The sight of a tombstone with names of living friends already chiseled into the marble is a gentle reminder of one's own mortality. I did have to smile when I noticed fresh decorations on one of these stones with the names of a couple who are both very much alive. I wanted to say, "Hey kids, take the flowers to the house. Your parents are still there. firstname.lastname@example.org