It’s a perfect day to visit the graveyard.
Last time it felt like winter. But now, the grounds are a patchwork of upcoming grass, tender spring weeds, and dormant sod. The latter covers my husband Mel Fein’s grave, which I hope will turn green before long. Ornamental pear trees blossom behind me and the cherry trees will soon follow suite. Ready or not, springtime is coming to the cemetery.
Ready or not, time is moving on.
Today, I see two newly filled graves centered under canopy tents. One is on a hill, the other near the road. These are sacred spaces. I walk by to take in the sadness they exude. The brown earth is still crumbly on top, protected from rain. It reminds me of a large coffin-shaped cherry cobbler. The thought of such a thing forces me to smile. I do love a nice cobbler with vanilla ice cream.
Per Jewish custom, I’ve brought a smooth stone from my backyard to lay on my husband’s grave next to stones from previous visits. A crisp arrangement of silk flowers is already in the vase thanks to the cemetery flower service to which I subscribe. The entire memorial park is dotted with multi-colored artificial bouquets, giving it a mid-century modern feel.
As I take my usual spot on the granite memorial bench, I ponder our grave markers nestled side by side. Mel’s dates are filled in, but my expiration is still open. There is nothing like a spouse’s death to make you think about your own mortality, especially when your name is next to theirs on adjoining plaques.
Our memorial bench is not typical. It states “Life is complicated” on one side and “Love, courage, and honesty help” on the other. Our names are etched there, too. On top, flanked by carved stone daisies, it simply says Enjoy. These were the final points of wisdom Mel wanted to share with the living, echoing his personal philosophy.
Getting our plots was something we did a few months ahead of Mel’s death, when he was still feeling relatively well. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to do. But I felt so much relief when it was done, that I wished we’d done it sooner.
I’m glad it’s the Jewish tradition to be buried rather than cremated. As a Christian, that’s what I prefer as well. Although many of my generation would rather have their ashes scattered in a meaningful manner, I’ll take a spot deep in the earth.
Indeed, the memorial park is awash with sad yet lovely scenes. A woman does her best to get the balloon and floral tribute just the way she wants it. The March wind is gusty, so she must tie the balloons down tight. She also adds fresh flowers to the silk ones and then photographs her handiwork a couple of times before she’s satisfied and drives away.
I can hear a man’s voice in the distance. He is standing over a grave, looking downward, perhaps praying or speaking to its occupant. This grave has numerous objects surrounding it: a spinner, light reflectors, and a potted tulip, among others. “He must have just lost her,” I thought, appreciating his devotion. But after he leaves, I walk over and check the date. Three years have gone by.
I hope the coronavirus adds no mass fatalities and the death rate stays slow. I don’t want this place of tranquilly to be out of its rhythm. I don’t want it to fill up too fast.
Meanwhile, overhead, buzzards circle. Yes, I like them, too. Although it may seem quite macabre, it is the chicken plant next door, not the graves, that draws them to this spot.
Most days, I pass by the cemetery exit on my trip to and from Kennesaw State. If I’m thinking about it, I raise my hand to the window to say hello. When the trees are bare, I can catch a glimpse of some of the graves even going 65 miles an hour.
I tell my husband that I’ll be back to visit as long as I’m able. And eventually I’ll be buried next to you.
For that, I’m in no hurry.