I found some surprising peace and serenity at the cemetery

I’m not big on cemeteries. I’m sure it has everything to do with my feelings about death. I admit I don’t understand it. I’m not ready for it. The whole idea of it scares me to ….well…death. A cemetery is just a stark reminder of all of those things.

My father died in 1982. Forty years ago. Shortly after his death, I moved to California. I lived there for close to fifteen years. Each time I returned to Chicago for a visit, there didn’t seem to be time or a reason to head to the cemetery. I was fine with that.

When my family moved back into the area, I didn’t feel any urgency to go there. A few years later, when my wife and daughters were out of town for a weekend, I thought it might be a good time to pay my dad a visit. I didn’t tell anyone; I just went.

It wasn’t so bad until I accidentally found the grave of one of my cousins. She died when she was only fourteen. Leukemia. It shook me up more than a little. I decided it would be my last visit for a while.

A few years later my family thought going to the cemetery would be a good way to spend Father’s Day. My mother had died since my last visit and they wanted to visit. Plus, they had never seen my dad’s grave and were kind of…okay…more than kind of pissed off that I had gone before without them. This way they visit both at the same time. I told them that I felt going to brunch was a better Father’s Day activity. I was outvoted.

Again, seeing my parent’s graves was fine. However, as we were leaving we ran into one of my oldest daughter’s former teachers. When I asked why she was there, she told me she came every Sunday. She cleans up the grave and has a talk with her daughter, who also died of Leukemia at a young age.

That was enough for me. As I walked away with tears in my eyes, I made a vow to myself that I wasn’t returning. I pretty much kept that vow. Yeah, there was an occasional trip for a funeral, but on those occasions, I was in and out of the facility as fast as possible.

But that changed on Tuesday. I mentioned earlier that it was forty years since the death of my father. That milestone was yesterday. I took it as a sign that I should visit the cemetery. It was time. It was past time. Way past time.

At noon, I started the journey. It took only fifteen minutes to arrive at the destination. My first stop was the main office. I needed directions to my parent’s graves.

When someone came to the front desk to help me, her first question was who was I looking for? After I told her, she looked up my father’s name on her computer. After finding it, she looked at me and said, “Boy, he’s been dead for a long time.” How f’ing comforting.

She followed up with what seemed to be convoluted directions to their graves. I was starting to rethink the entire thing. I got back in the car and in less than one minute I reached the gravesite. Okay…there’s another sign. This may not be as bad as I thought.

When I decided to do this my plan was to have a chat with my parents. I was going to catch them up on everything that had occurred over the last ten or so years. Plans change. I looked at their headstone for a couple of minutes and decided to move on. But, I wasn’t quite ready to leave.

I started to look around and noticed how pretty the grounds were. Lots of green grass with plenty of trees and bushes. It gave me a sense of peace and serenity in a location that usually fills me with doom and anxiety. I then decided to take a walk and check out some of the other graves. If the woman at the office thought my dad had been gone a long time, I could only imagine what she would have to say about those who had died fifty and sixty years ago. There were plenty of those.

I also wondered what she would say about the final stone. Someone named Debbie. She was born in 1957. She died in 1977. Debbie was only twenty years old. Damn. There’s always one.

Before leaving, I took one last look at my parent’s stone. It looked fairly dirty. I ran my shoe over it and dried mud started to come off. I was thinking about how to clean it but I didn’t have any supplies. It was also too cold. As I left I thought I should come back and do that. I am going to come back and clean it. Sooner than later.

I was calm and at peace when I was making those plans. These plans aren’t going to change.

Related Post: On the fortieth anniversary of my father’s death, there’s still room for gratitude

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    Every five years or so I decide to update this section. I can't believe I've been doing this for close to ten years. The last time I did this I was close to sixty years old. Now I'm just a few months away from the big 7-ZERO. Scary AF!!! I'm pretty sure I won't be doing an update when I hit 80, but you never know. But until then, lets just be grateful.

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