During my recent visit to my beloved brother, I made a stop at the cemetery where my parent’s ashes are buried on my way home. I had been doing a lot of thinking about my mom and my relationship with her, and realized that, for all of the problems we had in our relationship, there were some good things and some special positive memories that I was choosing to ignore while I continually seemed to focus and lament upon the many negative ones. While I realize I’m merely standing upon a piece of ground that holds no real attachment to her as a living person, it felt like a good place to be to share those thoughts with a thank you for them.
During the subsequent drive home (1-1/2 hours), I thought a lot about cemeteries and what happens to all of those grave sites when there is an end to the line of lineage. My grandparents raised 5 children, 3 of them gave them each 3 grandchildren. My grandfather died first, my grandmother about 10 years after. Because our family was the geographically closest to them during life and to their grave site upon death, my older brother, Mark, took it upon himself to ‘take care of‘ their site and the area around their marker. Four of my cousins had never been to the gravesite, 3 because they lived across the country and 1 because she passed on before my grandparents. Other than my two brothers, then, the other two cousins both resided in Maryland. I guess it was more or less expected that the task would fall within our family, and I am pretty certain that my brother took the task on because he felt obligated as the oldest grandchild living geographically close. It was never discussed or talked about, he simply announced that he was doing so.
Well, Mark has been gone now for 6 years, and I know it with every beat of my heart that no one has visited their gravesite in at least that long, most probably longer. So I’ve begun to wonder about the purpose of cemeteries and markers as they will still be idly sitting there in 100 years with no one caring.
When my mom first died, I only lived about a mile away from the cemetery, and I would stop by fairly regularly. Yes, while my brain understood that she wasn’t there, that tangible sign that this significant person had existed and been a part of my life helped with the need to still feel close to her in some way. Maybe that’s why I kept all of those boxes of photographs, as a tangible marker of people and places and things that mattered to my past. My brother’s ashes, with my dad’s permission, are also buried there, but there is no marker for him.
As I stood there, I realized that it might be my last trip to the actual cemetery and gravesite. I no longer needed it to be a place of active referral of my parents as I had in the past. And I can say with a certain degree of certainty that there may well never be a visit to their marker from anyone else until the end of time. So what’s the purpose? I understand the tradition of burial, but is it time to change the tradition? The expenses are astronomical, as everyone with any sense knows. The cemetery where my parents ashes are buried has gone downhill in upkeep and maintenance (regardless of the sign that had been posted in front of the entrance saying, “Sites available). We had an instance after my dad’s passing which, although everything had been prepaid and planned, took several phone calls to make happen.
Don’t get me wrong – I am grateful that I had that place to go to when I needed to process my grief. I am thankful that I had an opportunity to stop by recently and say aloud the words I wanted to say to my mom. But as I looked out over that vast space of green grass, markers and some flower arrangements/flags, I did start to wonder what that area could be used for that would have an impact even 100 years from now. For example, when those markers mean nothing to anyone, imagine using 2 or 3 sites each to build low-income housing for our veterans, many of whom are homeless. They could be the equivalent of “tiny homes” and could serve a lot of people who served us! And I’m sure, if I wrapped my brain around it, I could find other equally as good ideas, all of which would benefit humanity and not just be another ‘make-a-buck’ idea.
This is going to sit with me for a while, I suspect. There would be opposition by those who are still actively visiting the grave sites, and I completely understand that. Right now it just feels like it’s a waste of space and money when our country is falling apart around us and could better serve us as united Americans in other ways.
I’d love to hear your thoughts!