On caregivers, faith, family, and writing…

What’s In a Tombstone

We took the motorhome to the RV doctor in Rockwall earlier this week. Some people think RVers are gas hogs who ignore environmental issues as we roll along the highway spewing emissions. I’m doing some research and some thinking about the greener side of RVing, but that will have to wait for a later post. For now, I’ll just say that we try to make the most of our miles. Rockwall is halfway to Dallas, so after we left the RV with the mechanic, we went the rest of the way to Restland to visit Dad’s grave. I wanted to be sure his marker had been installed and that everything was printed correctly.

It’s almost 60 miles from Emory to Restland, so I had lots of time to think about tombstones and other grave markers and what they mean. We watched a movie last week involving a few graves that were marked with piles of stones and two sticks tied together in the shape of a cross. Quite a bit different from the private mausoleum that sits just inside the entrance to the section of Restland where Dad is buried. It’s about the size of our walk-in closet, is made of polished marble, and has at least one stained glass window. It’s set on a small plot of ground separated from the rest of the cemetery by a wrought iron fence. Good fences make good neighbors even in death, I guess.

Dad’s marker is less elaborate – a LOT less elaborate. Like all the markers in his area, his is flat against the ground so the lawn mowers can go right across it. It’s an attractive brass plate, about 18” X 24”, give or take a few inches. It’s adorned with dogwood blossoms and has his name, date of birth, and date of death. Below that are the words “Together Forever” followed by Mom’s name and date of birth. They purchased a “duplex” plot, so she’ll be buried on top of him when her time comes, and her date of death will be added to the marker. It’s what they chose when they purchased their pre-need plan 40 years ago, and I’m happy with it.

As I thought about rough wooden crosses, elaborate marble monuments, and simple brass plaques, I wondered why we feel a need to mark the place where our last remains will slowly return to the dust from which they came. I guess it’s a way of saying I was here. Remember me. I’m not sure I want to remember Dad that way though. Standing in the Garden of Reflections with the fountain bubbling behind me, I remembered him in his casket. He looked as natural as the mortician’s arts could make him. They had even caught the hint of a mischievous smile on his face, like he was about to tell a corny joke. But his hair was too puffy on top, he had on makeup, and I could see the wire support holding his head in place. I’d much rather remember him by looking at photo albums or telling stories about him at family gatherings or seeing him in the faces of his grandsons.

There’s one other feature of his marker – a built-in vase. The vase is hidden below the surface, but we can pull in out, turn it over, and screw it into place if we want to put flowers in it. There’s a whole industry that has grown up around filling these little vases. Around Memorial Day and other national holidays, end caps spring up everywhere offering memorial bouquets of artificial flowers in patriotic colors, and cemeteries across the country are festooned with these bouquets, flags, balloons, and other objects of tribute. It has become our way of honoring and paying our respects to our departed loved ones. At the risk of sounding like the cemetery Grinch, who are we doing it for? The loved one is certainly not there to enjoy our tributes, and once the holiday is over, the grounds keepers are the only ones who see them. I honored and respected my dad when he was alive, and I continue to do so by living the moral and ethical kind of life he taught me to live.

I don’t know how often I’ll visit Dad’s grave or if I’ll take flowers. Restland is close to the intersection of LBJ Freeway and Central Expressway, so getting there is not much fun. His little area is attractive enough, but there are no benches or shade trees to make it an inviting place to linger and meditate. And since it’s a perpetual care cemetery, there won’t be a need for family “cemetery workings” to weed, trim, and otherwise beautify his site. But wherever I am, whether it’s at home, on the road in the RV, or looking at his little brass marker, I’ll carry his memory in my heart and honor the man I called Daddy.

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Comments on: "What’s In a Tombstone" (2)

  1. I think you’ve hit on an untapped market – video picture frames embedded in grave markers. Or maybe I have…

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