In the last several months I have had to visit the funeral home too many times for visitations and services for friends and family.
Going through the receiving line, listening during the funeral service and standing graveside for the final part of the ceremony the one emotion I saw, heard, and felt was love. Yes, there was grief from those present. Smiles and laughter was shared as stories were told of the life of the one we were laying to rest. However, the one feeling that prevailed was LOVE.
Often, because of the hectic schedules we all seem to maintain, we may see and visit with people we know only during occasions such as this. In fact, we may not have seen the deceased or their family for quite some time. We are drawn together in our sorrow but also in our love for the person we have come to view for that last time. A seemingly sad occurrence can still be tinged with love. Family members are often told affectionate stories of the one being honored… stories of love. When my parents died, I was lucky enough to have some of their friends share memories of them that I had never had the pleasure of hearing before. When I pass, I hope that I have as many stories of love shared with those I leave behind.
At most of the funerals that I have attended in recent years, there have been displays of pictures and mementos of the life of the deceased. They were posed alone, with those they loved or doing the many things that gave their life meaning in these snapshots. One of my cousins, an avid deer hunter, even had a mounted deer head on display at his viewing. That was a bit of a shock to see when I walked in, but very fitting for his service. The way we say goodbye to someone we care about should be a reflection of what and who they loved. The funeral is often said to be as much for those who are mourning as for the person who has passed. I tend to agree with that but it always should be an act of love to share what is unique about the person we are honoring.
Generally, in my neck of the woods, (yes, I am a country girl) a meal is prepared by a church, civic organization or some such for those who attended the service. What better way to honor the one we loved and lost than by breaking bread and continuing our walk down memory lane. Food nourishes our spirit as well as our bodies and the time spent with like-minded people starts the healing of our hearts. Besides, it seems harder to fight and argue when your mouth is full!
I have often spoken of my love of cemeteries. They usually are a place of peace and most have a certain beauty about them. Whether it is a simple country graveyard or a busy city “garden of final rest;” there are usually bits of beauty throughout. Trees surround the area and sometimes flowers are planted. Stones are displayed that are meant to convey the essence of the one lying beneath it. Etched on the stone are words that illuminate the emotions of those left behind… their pain and longing they felt when the deceased passed from life into spirit.
In my cemetery hops I see the more traditional remembrances of flowers or angels but often find incredibly unique mementos that could only have held meaning to the person interred there. No matter what it is, these offerings are meant to show the continuing love that is held for the one who has left us. In one old country cemetery, I saw a monument of a kind I had never seen before. Above the grave of stillborn twins stood a simple hand carved double marker. Although crudely done, it was obviously carved with much love and care. I imagine that these sleeping babes were forever held in the hearts of their parents and others who had anticipated a lifetime with them. So many dreams lay under that simple block of wood. Whether a humble handmade marker or an ornate and towering stone, these are symbols of love that is lasting.
The monuments laid out in cemeteries have always made me think of family. In essence, they are family trees laid out in stone. Our grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and… sadly….sometimes our children or grandchildren surround us in death just as they did in life. Often, lying close by will be those who were our family of the heart, our friends. We are joined in life and once again death by the love we have for each other.
Many people I know will never visit a cemetery willingly but I find them fascinating. Like the strata excavated by archaeologists, the different sections of cemeteries hold the history of the surrounding area. In some of the older graveyards in this area, separate sections were set aside for children rather than burying them in family plots. Too many of these older sections (I call them the nurseries) hold areas where numerous children from the same family are buried. Think of all the love and other emotions that rest there with these tiny graves. Then there are the joint graves of long married husbands and wives. By the dates on their stones you can gather that they lived together long and hopefully lovingly for many years. Even those solitary graves of men and women who did not share a name and stone with anyone have always made me wonder; was there a story of lost love or broken promises within their pasts?
Walking through an old family cemetery one day I came to a realization. While most people feel that these places of final rest are only places of sadness, I find them to be places of great love too. They are the final home of the love of family and friends who chose to share their life as well as their death. When we lay someone to rest in them, we choose a monument that is fitting to their personality. If possible, we follow their wishes in where they would like to be buried (by a stream, under a large oak tree, etc.) These are our final gifts to them, just presented after they have left us.
We who linger a little longer on our path can continue to show love for those who have journeyed further by visiting them. Leaving gifts or flowers or mementos can continue the love we still hold in our hearts. Whether we visit their grave site or not; remembering them with love and reminding others of our shared memories, keeps them alive. The next time you visit a cemetery or just pass one by, please remember… LOVE NEVER DIES.