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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Remembering the Dead

There is a little cemetery in Greenfield, Missouri where three generations of my family are buried near an oak tree. Actually, relatives of mine are buried in several little cemeteries all over Dade County, MO. Half of my father’s ashes are buried between his parents and grandparents, which I find comforting since he loved them all so. If I could go to the Missouri Ozarks this Memorial Weekend I would lay flowers and American flags on the graves of my father, uncle and grandparents. Alas. I don’t know if I will ever again be able to afford to make that trip and since I cannot this year our family is spending the weekend creating a memorial garden where we can remember our loved ones who have gone on ahead.
This is the Dade County Court House and veterans' wall in Greenfield where the names of my grandfather, uncles, and father are listed for their military service.

The last nine months have been hard on our family. I’ve lost two aunts and an uncle whose numbers added to the relative recent deaths of my father and another uncle. It had been a bit much to bear particularly since another aunt had a heart attack the day of her brother’s death. Thankfully she’s recovering now.

I took a day off from work to deal with all the emotions attendant on losing family. My oldest and dearest friend planted the seed in my head and I spent my day at home planning a garden of remembrance for the adults who are no longer in my life. It soothed me. I ordered plaques with their names on them and probably spent too much money. Thank goodness my father doesn’t know!—or maybe he does, but it went a long ways in comforting me to plan a place where I can go and remember the people who so influenced my childhood.

In Missouri Memorial Day is called Decoration Day and is not limited to honoring those who served in the military although the practice began following the Civil War. Before his death Uncle Dick used to load up on flowers and visit 70+ graves for Memorial Day some of which could only be reached by climbing through fences and crossing pastures. One tiny cemetery he and my father discovered when playing in the woods as children. Some scandal had allowed the cemetery to deteriorate and even though the incident is more than a hundred years in the past, only my uncle visited it. I have a cousin who this weekend will wash all the graves of my maternal family in Vancouver, WA and leave flowers. I am grateful for his efforts. For those of us that are farther flung going to the cemetery to pay our respects is not always an option.

For some Americans Memorial Weekend means either vacation or shopping. While my son creates a walkway the rest of us will be digging out sod as we begin our memorial garden. My father already has two rose bushes which my mother gave me when he died. I’ve decided on a lilac for Uncle Rex & Aunt Shirley and a Rose-of-Sharon for Uncle Dick & Aunt Mary. In time I hope to be able to walk in my garden and tell my grandchildren about the wonderful people they are descended from. I hope my grandchildren’s participation this weekend will teach them to value their heritage.

I hope that amongst the hot dogs and potato salad consumed this weekend that Americans will take time to remember not only those who have died defending our country, but those who helped provide the tether for each of us that holds us here. It is, after all, in our hearts where we build shrines to those we have lost. How will you be spending Memorial Weekend?

3 comments:

JosephMcG said...

Thank you Stephanie.

EmeraldPrincessOnline said...

You have the abundant, indomitable American spirit...your idea about the garden is inspiring.

Lorraine Hart said...

I can't think of a nicer way to keep the family love "growing" and the memories sweet on the air, my friend. I look forward to walking in it with you and listening while you tell me stories.

I'll be in my garden this weekend too...walking the labyrinth and speaking the names in remembrance.