I can’t go to the Old Orchard Shopping Mall in Skokie, Ill., without stopping by the cemetery across the street. My dad and most of his family are buried there. When I went shopping yesterday, I visited the family graves.
I have memories of going to the cemetery with my dad regularly when I was growing up. He dutifully took care of the gravestone of his grandparents and aunt. He visited on holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays, to clean and garden around the stone. He planted flowers. He placed flags. He took care of this place.
After his death 17 years ago, the site has seen fewer visitors. This duty was never as important to the rest of his family–or me. It’s been at least three years since I was there last. Yesterday I noticed that the year of my grandmother’s death was missing from her side of the placard. I don’t know if it was there and fell off or if it was a forgotten detail when my uncle organized her funeral six years ago. My first thought was that I should notify him, since he took care of these responsibilities after my dad died. But then I remembered that we had lost him too, last spring.
And now this gravestone duty falls to the kids. And I realized that I am not a kid anymore. That seems kind of scary.
I also thought about how my generation and probably the generations to follow may have a totally different attitude about cemeteries and even the ritual of burial. And that can be frightening.
I think we fear that what we think is important will be lost. But maybe that’s too negative. As it turns out, this gravestone duty has become an intergenerational act. Because it was important to my dad and my grandmother, I will continue to do it. I will do it differently, but it won’t be lost—at least as long as I am around. And maybe I will invite my young nephews to go sometime so they can share in this very strange, yet comforting, custom.
Later I called the cemetery office to inquire about getting my grandmother’s date fixed. It will cost some money, but I think it is important. This duty is something that needs to be shared with other generations. It offers a chance for people to connect with the family they have lost. It’s a tradition about life as much as it is about death.
So, are you part of a generation that takes care of gravestones? Was it ever a priority in your family? Do you fear that customs like this one will be lost when you’re gone?
Elizabeth McBride seems to blog a lot following a trip to a funeral or cemetery. When she’s not blogging as her persona, Debbie Downer, she is really quite happy discussing intergenerational issues and being the editor of Café.