Yesterday Mark and I did our annual cemetery pilgrimage. Every year we plant flowers on our families’ graves. My mother & father and grandmother and uncle and his mother, aunt & uncle, both sets of grandparents and a family friend. It takes about 2 1/2 hours.
We bought the flowers on Saturday along with the flowers for our window boxes. We picked out the flowers in the rain and ended up needing to water them in the evening because the sun came out and it was a beautiful day. I was really happy with the way the window boxes turned out. We bought red geraniums for the house and pink ones for the graves. I knew the window boxes were a sign of how the cemetery would look.
On the drive to the cemetery I drank my coffee and listened to the 70’s station. (Mark and I had separate cars because we commuted from different places on Friday). I wasn’t nervous or anxious or obsessed with what I was going to do. In fact I distinctly remember jamming to “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell. Singing in the car is like singing in the shower; you can sing your heart out and not worry about anyone hearing you. As I approached the exit for the cemetery I kept wondering what it would look like after the winter. I arrived to find Mark standing outside his car and Roxy sniffing every inch of available grass. I had all the flowers and garden tools with me so he couldn’t start without me.
Four of the perennials we planted last year didn’t take. They were green but had no flowers. The other plants were doing fine. I removed the dead plants and began planting on my grandmother and uncle’s side. As I prepped the soil and placed the geraniums in their spots I wondered what my uncle Robby was like. He died before I was born. I have only heard stories about him. My grandmother lived a tough life. She lost her son, got divorced and then lost her daughter. My uncle died in his 20’s and my mother at 38. After my mom died she had a nervous breakdown. I remember when she “went away” to the hospital. It was kind of like when my mother went to heaven. They were both here one day and gone the next.
My grandmother had a smart mouth and I still smile when I remember her making comments about the people in the nursing home she lived in up to her death. I wouldn’t say she swore like a truck driver but she dropped the occasional bomb. I always laugh then I think of that. When I finished planting on her side, I stood up, stepped back and took a look. The geraniums looked nice with the coral bells that were planted in the middle. I was happy with the way it turned out.
I walked over to my mother and father’s side of the grave stone. I don’t talk much about my father’s death; that is a story for another time. I removed the dead plants, prepped the soil and began planting the flowers. When I finished, Mark and I mulched the bed and I watered the plants. Mark put all the tools away as I stood looking at the stone. I looked down at her foot stone. It is a granite marker with the Blessed Mother carved in it and the inscription, “Mother”. I felt my eyes well up and tears ran down my face. At that moment I really missed her. I missed having her there with me to plant flowers on her mother’s grave. I felt sad that her side of the headstone represented two of the most trying times I have experienced in my life. I stood there and wept without regard for anything around me; which I was unaware of anyway. After a few moments, I took a deep breath, exhaled, centered my thoughts and walked back to my car. Mark started his car and began to drive away. I started mine, shifted into drive and felt a sudden desire to drive to my father’s “other” grave. I drove up next to it and noticed there were no flowers on it yet. I wished I had bought plants for his grave too, but I knew then, like I know now, that I couldn’t plant anything there. “She” wouldn’t like that; they might even be removed. I turned my car around and drove home.
I drove home listening to the 70’s and feeling happy. I knew my mother was with me. She is always with me. She is in every smile.