Friday, February 24, 2006

Who's hanging out on your grave?

One of the biggest interests of my professional life is death: its rights and rites, preparation for, grief reactions, which undertakers wear what... the whole shebang. Notice I say, "my professional life." If I went back to bartending, teaching, catering, or any of the dozen other jobs I've had in my life, I would turn my back on my death interests. So, it isn't death itself, but our reactions to it that interest me as a minister. As a person, I experience death like everyone else.

In the personal vein, I was reading the superb blog "Octogenarian" today, and it reminded me of my grandfather. Grandaddy Cameron died 17 years ago. I did not get to know him as an adult, which makes me sad because I was quite fond of him. As a child I felt sorry for him because of his speech impediment. (Turns out, it was a Massachusetts accent, but I didn't learn that until many years later. ) On my most recent visit to my grandmother, we went to Grandaddy's grave to freshen it up. It brought back a lot of memories of his illness (asbestosis), his death, his funeral, and his legacy left upon his children and grandchildren.

Richard Cameron was a good and kind grandfather. I wish he had lived longer so that we could have laughed more, shared more stories, learned more about each other. I know all that I missed with grandaddy because I've had all of these years since his death to get enjoy these things with my grandmother. I'm grateful that she has gotten to meet my children. I have enjoyed hearing her stories about her life, what motherhood was like for her, how she remembers Grandaddy. As you can see, she has done a very nice job taking care of his gravesite.

During that recent visit, we visited a lot of graves. Grandmama Cameron has to be one of the most dedicated friends and family members who has ever lived. We took a huge box full of flowers to the cemetery so she could tend to dozens of graves of her friends, church buddies, and extended family. As a Unitarian Universalist, graveyards aren't really part of my tradition. Some people use them, but most people cremate and scatter, use church memorial gardens, or keep the urns. Watching my grandmother tidy up the cemetery and visit the graves of her old friends and family was a meaningful ritual for me, too. At each grave she shared memories of the person buried there.

I was particularly touched with the special flowers she had chosen for the grave of a friend's baby. Had she lived, the baby would be menopausal by now, but my grandmother still honors her and the friend who lost her. The friend, who became our inlaw, has Alzheimer's now and remembers none of her children, living or dead, so it is particularly touching that my grandmother remembers her lost baby for her.

While Grandmama was laying out all those flowers with the help of my son, I got to wandering around the graveyard and found this grave. The small pile in front of the grave is a Jack Daniels cap and matching handkerchief. Turns out my grandmother isn't the only one tending graves in this graveyard. This made me think of the unique little things we do in honor of those we love. Grandaddy Cameron is one of the people who taught me how to appreciate life and love, but Grandmama Cameron is the one who taught me how to love in the face of death, and how to remember.

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