I do not know what it is that draws me to visit a cemetery. I realize as I see throngs of others at gravesites that I am not alone, but it still seems like a moment of isolation. My father died when I was nineteen and a freshman in college. He and I were close but also distant. He was of a generation where he loved his children but he also maintained a stiff sternness and did not show emotional attachment. In fact, he shared more positive attention with my best friends than he did with me. I do not say this as a complaint but merely as the way things were. He had high expectations for me that I guess he believed I could only achieve these if he kept his distance. My mother, in his stead, often reminded me, “Your father loves you.” That’s just the way things were. When he died I suffered terrible guilt and pain. I had not said and done all of the good things that I could have and now he was not longer present for me to do the make-up. But his death did teach me to love my mother more.
My mom was pure, kind, and gentle. She guided me with tender approval and quiet disapproval. After my father died I devoted time, energy, and lots of ink and stationery to let her know how terrific she was as role model, guide, and my dear Mama. I worked to be the perfect child to her because I knew I possessed her complete love. I do not remember that she ever yelled at me or even raised her voice. She listened to my teenage prattling and every detail of my life beyond. Later after I had married she visited often but never for long, or at least not long enough for me. She had her own busy life and I had mine, but the best times were when she was present. I lost her at 38 and while I could proudly say that I had no regrets with my devotion to her, I also knew it was inadequate. Death is forever and that is a long, long time.
Each summer we drive through Spokane to our cabin in northern Idaho. As we cross the bridge into the city I glance to Greenwood Cemetery below and as if it acts as my siren call, I have my husband turn and we wind down the canyon and enter the green grounds. My paternal grandparents’ graves are right by the entrance and so we pause as I express words of love. We continue the drive on a narrow road where halfway up are the graves of my parents, my aunt, and other extended family. It is with great emotion and grief that I climb from the car and then stand in silence before their somber marker. The sun usually warms it and when my fingers touch it, healing reaches my heart. How can a marble stone and blades of grass have such a clamorous connection? I feel peace.
Just north of this site is a forbidding stone, a woman with her body slung over the stone in utter and complete sorrow and desolation. This marks the grave of a child and is heartbreaking and fills me with pain. I cannot imagine the atmosphere in the area when that joyless tomb is visited. I force my eyes away and back to the grave of my parents. Although they are gone, I did have many years of wonderful joy and many happy memories surround them. I think because I loved them with totality I have forgotten any rough or difficult times. They are my parents and I am the fortunate one.