Today was a cold and grey day for a burial. The temperature hovered around forty and the wind blew stiffly in our faces. At least it was neither raining nor snowing. It felt almost cold enough to be like Michigan in winter. Michigan was the state where my mother was born, and where she felt most at home.
Yet it was not to be where she would rest for eternity. Rather, it would be Crematory Garden VI, Lot 743 at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring, Maryland. My mother died November 10th of last year. It took that long for her cremains to go to their final resting place.
Although she was cremated the day she died, neither she nor my father had picked out a cemetery plot. It took a few weeks after her death for my father to sort through these details. In the interim, my mother’s ashes rested where she longed to be in her final months: at home in their apartment. Instead, she died in a nursing home.
The cold and gray day somehow seemed appropriate for this business. Since nearly two months had passed since her death, her interment felt very much anticlimactic. My father seemed to have accepted my mother’s death long before she died. In those last years, she was a shadow of the woman he used to know. He was loving and dutiful to the end, but in some respects, it was as if he was caring for someone else.
There was no fanciful final farewell for my mother. She would have approved. She felt that her life was relatively unimportant. She knew her place in the grand scheme of things and she put herself quite a bit down the totem pole. She would not have wanted much fuss made at her interment.
My father and I were the only family witnesses. I felt someone needed to be there representing her children. My sister, who did so much to care for her during her last years, did not want to put herself through another crying jag. Perhaps this last act in my mother’s life was better left to us relatively stoic men. It would be and was a brisk and businesslike matter. “Shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes,” my father told me. It was more like ten.
It was just a short drive to the gravesite with Sam, a representative of this Catholic cemetery. Astroturf covered the pile of dirt next to my mother’s grave. I carried the box with my mother’s cremains the short distance from my father’s car to the grave. Two respectful employees waited with shovels. I handed the box to a gravedigger who gently placed it in the concrete liner. Just seconds later, the hole was being packed tight with dirt.
Feeling a bit self-conscious, I took pictures with my digital camera. Although my mother’s life was about living, I felt this last act should be recorded for those who were not present. I saw little harm in it and thought it might help bring closure.
It should not matter, but I know my mother would not have chosen suburban Maryland as her final resting place. She was a Michigander through and through. No other climate quite worked for her. When she was younger and more lucid, she expressed the desire to be buried next to her parents in Bay City. My father tried to honor her wishes. However, there was no room for her in the family plot, or indeed her parent’s cemetery. Her health drove her and my father to Maryland before she could ponder other possibilities. In the end, they pragmatically settled on Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Silver Spring. She was to be buried with his side of the family. At least in this cemetery there was still room for more deceased.
In time, my father’s ashes will be placed next to hers. Fifty-five years of marriage will be but a wink compared to the time what remains of their physical bodies will rest, side by side, together.
While my father is alive, there will be opportunities to pay respects rather frequently. I wonder after they are both gone, will I visit regularly?
I suspect I will visit more often the older I get. For as I age it is inevitable that I will lose family and friends too. Should I make it to my father’s age I suspect I will find much solace from visiting and fondly remembering two sterling parents, the joy they found in life, and their grace embracing its end.