“It’s easier to miss her at a cemetery, where she’s never been anything but dead, than to miss her at all the places where she was alive.” — John Scalzi, Old Man’s War
For four days I have tried to think of a clever title for this post. I tossed around some cliches and a few off the wall references, but there’s no way (in my not so humble opinion) to make something light of a cemetery. As the children of a funeral director, my brother and I have spent an inordinate amount of time in cemeteries around the West Georgia area. In the giant Vault of Hilarious and Irreverent Garner Stories, there is a box labeled “cemetery stories.” My favorite story in that box has to do with my brother Griffin. Remember Jams, those brightly colored shorts that had coordinating tops? They were so Saved by the Bell before Mr. Belding was a blip on anyone’s radar. One day my dad promised Griffin a trip to Toys R’ Us. The only catch was Griffin had to wait on Dad to finish a funeral service. This was not an unusual occurrence, and at the cemetery, Dad placed Griffin on top of a hill where he could see him. He told him to sit there and wait on the service to be finished. So, my brother sat on the hill, dressed in his yellow Jams and matching t-shirt. Dad was preoccupied with the family he was serving, as he should have been, and forgot to mention to Griffin that it was a military funeral. Precious little Griffin was doing his job of sitting on the hill, daydreaming of his toy to come, when he heard the gun shots. I think he was about 8 or 9, old enough to know that when you hear gun shots, you should run and cover. In a military funeral, there are 21 gun shots. Griffin was old enough to know that you run from gun shots, but not wise enough to know that those were blanks being shots ceremoniously. As Dad tells it, each time a shot was fired, all he could see was a bolt of yellow Jams running and ducking on the ground. By the time they got to the 5th or 6th, the stoic soldiers began to lose their somber faces. They were in full-out giggles by the 11th. Dad had to chase Griffin about a mile and assure him that he was not on the beaches of Normandy. Dad says that the family was very understanding, and I am sure that those soldiers had a difficult time maintaining a straight face during subsequent ceremonies.
The box of “cemetery stories” is full of funny anecdotes. How I wish that we only had the one vault, the funny vault. We’ve always had a Sad and Heartbreaking Garner Story Vault, but it is much smaller than the funny one. Now, we have also moved a “cemetery story” box in to that vault. That box includes stories of Mom, Dad, and me laying on Molly’s grave on Christmas Eve crying, freezing, and feeling the sting of our tears mix with the sting of frozen snow drops on our noses. It includes stories of Molly’s dearest friend/brother, Christopher, wrapping a note in a plastic bag and leaving it under a brick at her headstone instead of just sending her a text. It includes spreading the ashes of her beloved dog when her grief finally overcame her. It is a pretty big box.
Sometimes, I will see a bag of candy that Molly loved, or a balloon that would make her laugh, and I take them there. My mom always makes sure that her bunnies from her nursery are sitting upright on her marker. She always makes sure that she is pulling weeds and getting fresh flowers. If I had heard of friends doing this before we lost Molly, I would have worried about them. Didn’t they know that their child/sister was not there? Her body was 6 feet underground in a box in a cement vault. What matters is her spirit. However, now that we are part of the club, we now know that the cemetery is an extension of her bedroom. We can’t go sit in her room and talk to her, it hurts too much. We go to the cemetery and scream and fuss and laugh and cry and catch her up on all the news. The quote above sums it up perfectly.
This past Friday, I glanced over a story on Facebook about a cemetery. As I scrolled further, I saw a dear friend with a heartbreaking post. This friend started on the journey a few years before, and she has been a beacon of hope and encouragment in every step of our path. When I investigated further, I became physically ill over the atrocity that occurred. http://www.myfoxatlanta.com/story/28575428/cemetery Now, i know the physical and fiscal requirements of cemetery upkeep are intricate and important. However, the way this was handled has left me fuming. I know two families that have to go to that cemetery to visit their sisters/daughters. Like us, they find peace in taking things that others might think are weird, because, like the quote says, “it’s easier to miss her in the cemetery.” I do not know how the company plans to “rectify” the situation, but in my mind the damage has been done. I wanted to go and help the families search for the priceless trinkets that offered them a sense of peace when they had to leave their child at the cemetery and return home to their child’s empty bedroom. I watned to go, but I had to think rationally. I was so outraged that I feared the next news story would be, “Local teacher punches an old cemetery manager in the face.” So, instead, I will use my words to say that this is horrible and awful and I pray that the people who so easily tossed objects to the side never know the feeling of a cemetery making it easier to miss your sister or daughter. Cemeteries are not for the dead, they are for the living.
I have been stewing and marinating over this all weekend, and I don’t know if I have developed Schizophrenia or if my sister was really speaking to me. I began to think about her perspective of my time at her grave….
You can’t be with me, but I am there with you
In the car, when you cry and question this rocky path
The signs I lob, you question and doubt, but they are true.
When you sat by my side and prayed the grass wouldn’t grow,
When you laid across me and pounded the fresh new blades back to the ground
You talk to me everywhere, but you are strong when you’re on top of me below.
The fresh brown dirt has given way to the push of green
You think it’s a barrier, more permanent than soil
It is not for the dirt and newness of my departure for which you fiend
You want to walk up to the square plot and find it has disappeared
You want to wake up from your nightmare
You are living in something you never knew you feared.
You want to go where you have no memories of my face
You want to be near me, to hear me, to care for me
Even though you abhor and cherish that sacred, morbid place.
I watch you buy the Skittles, I know you cuss before you get out of the car
But still you come, you sit, you cry, you decorate
You lay upon my grave, in the dead of night, searching for that star…
The star you search for isn’t in the sky above, it isn’t in the ground below
I am not around a corner, in a book, a song, or child
I am you, you are me, you wouldn’t be so brave if it wasn’t so.
As long as you need to come to sit in that place and wallow
You can cuss, you can cry, you can hate me, you can love me
I won’t meet you there, everywhere you are, I follow.
One of the things that gives my mom the most joy is hearing that people have visited our Molly. It makes us feel like people haven’t forgotten she existed. If you have a friend whose child’s residence has moved to a cemetery, go visit, sit a spell, and tell their family that you went. It’s definitely a ROCKing thing to do. Hanging out in a cemetery? Radical. Telling someone that you did it? Open. Talking to a dead person? Crazy, I mean Communication. Not forgetting that a cemetery is the only place families don’t have memories of their loved one alive? Kind.
Keep MollyROCK in all that you do. Wearing Jams at a 21 gun salute, lying on graves, opening up your story vaults (the good and the bad), telling people that it’s not right they decimated your child’s grave, and admitting that you might be up for a Ouiji board to have ROCK with the ones you can’t physically see or hear.
More than meat loves salt,