May 25, 2011

New Graves

To me, it was all about popularity.

That’s sort of the way my mind worked back in the days of the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the Brothers Gibb. I liked to listen to popular music. I liked to watch popular TV shows. I liked to wear my hair the way the popular guys wore it. I wanted attention from the popular girls.

It was all about being popular, and the way I saw it, the more flowers on a grave on Memorial Day, the more popular the dearly departed person must have been. And if they were popular, then they must have been cool – or at the very least, groovy – and therefore worthy of significant time and floral attention.

Which meant that Grandma Walker was, sadly, uncool. Or at least, not very popular. She usually had three or four bouquets around her headstone – nice, but not . . . you know . . . groovy.

That surprised me a little. I didn’t have a lot of memories of my Grandma Walker, but the memories I had were pleasant and sweet. She was tiny, I remember that. And she always wore her hair back in a bun. And she was always smiling. She was a wonderful grandma, as far as I could remember.

But, evidently, not cool.

Who knew?

One Memorial Day we were visiting the cemetery when I noticed a grave not far from Grandma’s grave that was literally covered with flowers. I had never seen such a display. I was sure it was the grave of a movie star or a former president or a Mousketeer or something – the person underneath so many flowers had to be supremely popular.

I wandered over to check out the headstone, but there wasn’t one. Obviously, whoever this was, it was someone of such immense popularity that the grave didn’t even need a headstone. I was embarrassed that I didn’t know, and I wasn’t sure how to find out without revealing my own ignorance. So I asked someone who already knew I was ignorant: Mom.

“Well, I can’t actually tell you who is buried there,” she said. “But I’m pretty sure it isn’t anyone famous. People who are famous don’t get buried here.”

“Then why are there so many flowers?” I asked. “There aren’t any other graves in this cemetery with that many flowers.”

She stopped arranging the lilacs and chrysanthemums she was preparing for Uncle Max’s grave and looked at me gently.

“That’s a new grave,” she said. “Whoever is buried there probably died in the last week or so. All of those flowers you see there are left over from the funeral.”

The thought sort of spooked me. Mom could see it in my eyes, so she put her arm around my shoulder and tried to explain.

“New graves are special,” she said. “They tell us that someone recently made the trip home to God. And they tell us where there is new sorrow for people who have recently lost someone they love. So you can’t do any running and playing around here today. There’s a new grave, and we need to be quiet and respectful.”

Mom’s words are echoing in my mind as I prepare for Memorial Day this year. While I visit her grave to pay my respects to her this weekend, I’ll also be thinking of dozens of new graves in Joplin, Mo., and elsewhere, and the new sorrow those graves represent. And I’ll offer a prayer for God’s comfort and peace for all who are visiting new graves this Memorial Day.

Quietly and respectfully.

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