Head Stone


Sometimes I adopt graves. Her mom has the urn with her ashes. It’s just as well as I would probably treat it with a worshipfulness best put in the past. My great aunts and great uncles made me visit the family grave plots when I spent childhood summers in Wisconsin. I thought it creepy and, what’s more, boring. The pull to place gaudy plastic bouquets of flowers at a hunk of rock by a specific mound of dirt beyond my fathoming. I preferred to catch sunfish off the Atlas bridge.

Sometimes I am in need of a good visit. That’s why I now find calm communion in strange cemeteries beside strangers’ gravestones. There are almost always sparrows. Rarer times a bluebird or a towhee scratching through freshly mowed grass. My favorite cemetery in Murrieta is bordered by firethorns with clusters of hot orange berries in the autumn. There’s another in Beaumont with ancient cyprus trees the tour guide in Greece called the trees of sorrow.

It’s nice to read the lovely ways loved ones are memorialized. I wonder what would I have chosen to be chiseled for her. “Wife” but it wasn’t legal. “Partner” but it can sound like a business transaction. Soulmate, best friend, beloved… Maybe the most encompassing sentiment simply her name. Yesterday she would have been fifty.

Yes, it’s best the urn with her ashes is elsewhere. The name and the all of her better carried within me. Sometimes it’s nice to visit strange graves. To pay respects and to leave fresh bouquets of roses from my garden like a secret admirer. So also is it reverential to go home and harvest garlic–to close the cemetery gate and leave the headstone behind.


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4 thoughts on “Head Stone”

  1. Odd, if you think about it. Embalm, stick in a box, then in the earth, mark with a stone with name and endearment. I used to be overcome with emotion each Christmas when I put a fir wreath and festive red bow on my parents’ graves in the little country cemetery where they are buried. Now I am strangely devoid of feeling about it all – a ritual that I wouldn’t dare to ignore, but yet it never stirs tears or waves of grief or even pleasant memory.

    On the other hand, I used to live near a large Jewish cemetery and I would walk my Molly through the paths there quite often. Many of the headstones and markers were grandiose, others quite plain and devoid of finery; some tended, some unkempt. Many so old I felt sure they outlived the living who might have known or cared to visit. I would think – who has thought of you lately except for me and my dog, straining at her leash? Young mothers from days when childbirth was harrowing, small children perishing before the days of antibiotics and vaccines. Husbands and fathers, parents gone and the wonder of who could or would care for the family.Memorials for ancestors lost in the Shoah. The old and rich lives, hopefully well lived. I would think of the tears, the gut wrenching gasp in the reality of loss and then the amazement of some sort of balm in Gilead that lets us somehow keep on in the face of what seems unspeakable and unsurvivable.

    More oddity then – those unknown lives and headstones cut infinitely closer to the bone than the familiarity of the known.

    It’s hard, hard to give up the physical body of one we have loved. But I want to be cremated and my ashes scattered at Lake Haiyaha, high in the Rockies. I’ve been sure of that for a while

    1. I want to laminate your contribution to this discussion. Thoughtful. Beautiful. Real.

      The interaction with the stranger grave is vividly philosophical and spiritual.

      Spread me anywhere so long as there are lupines.

  2. Every memorial day my parents, brother, and I trek out to this remote cemetery in Cherry Creek to scrub down the headstones of my paternal grandparents, great grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Some, like my grandparents, I never met. Others, like a few scattered aunts and uncles, I remember with only fuzzy awareness. But I still go, help fill a bucket with water by using an old hand pump, and take a handleless wooden brush to the moss and lichen-like fungus in hopes of preserving a few names and a handful of dates.

    Mostly, I go for the view. There’s a clearing behind one lawn for plots, and it overlooks a plowed field, a barn, and the pretty rolling hills of the northernmost Alleghenies. I’lll stand with my back to the rows of headstones and stare out at this space for no apparent reason. Well, maybe stand there because I can turn my back to the stones.

    It’s all about the stones, and yet it’s not. Right?

    …And sometimes the most complete and loving reverence is bestowed in the absence of a body.

    1. Goodness, this discussion proves the talents and insights of my friends.

      Lovely descriptions transport me to your family’s cemetery. And beyond. To vistas seen only by that which is innermost.

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