Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Kindness of Cemeteries





I went over to the graveyard. … This grief had something in it of generosity, some nearness to joy. … This country would always be populated with presence and absences … the living and the dead.    

                                                Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

Fingers brush the rough stones and find names my eyes cannot. Faint chisel marks and lives have eroded to sand in this old part of the cemetery—syllables of Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the last. Reminders of what has been. Hope for what might yet come. Their bones are now a paler shade of white. The cold, tattered scraps of sorrow drift away on the wind. The knock, knock, knocking on Heaven’s door.

Cemeteries reiterate for those who won’t pay attention that passing of breath will come to all, and bodies return to welcoming earth.

            *
On the knoll, my grandparents lay. I visit them when I’m in town, and find comfort in knowing that they will always be where I can find them. They died when they were old, the light having drawn back in their eyes, their movements slow and hesitant. I remember grandma’s concentration as she cooked and put up her jams and jellies. Grandpa sweating as he tended his large garden. Their interest in hearing about our young lives when the family gathered around the dinner table. Their memories come back because I am standing here. There is kindness in this.

            *
At Gethsemani Monastery in Kentucky, close to where Wendell Berry lives, Thomas Merton lies under a simple white cross in the monks’ cemetery. Berry sometimes came over to talk with Merton. When I was there, I sat by Merton’s grave, thrilled that his bones were only a few feet away. I’ve been inspired by his words for a long time, words about listening to the silence in the woods and the silence inside, calling me to be aware of the Presence.

I felt close to him at his grave, and at the latch our hands both touched to open the gate as we left the monastery’s walled enclosure to walk in the woods. At night, as I watched stars drift overhead, I felt him sitting beside me, looking up. There is kindness in this.

            *
My wife Evelyn has no headstone and no grave. She was cremated and her ashes scattered in places in nature dear to her. Some were taken by dear friends to Scotland where her ancestors lived. There are several places I can go to feel close to her. There is kindness in this.


The places our loved ones rest are frontier’s last edge of shifting worlds, its crest the shoreline of the next. Memories of their dear lives still etch our hearts; their lights slant angles of the afterlife.



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