Category Archives: Grief

Grief, a year later

It’s the anniversary week of my Mom’s death.

On Sunday, I hovered between frailty and despair, remembering that Sunday a year ago, I was flying with my sons to Colorado, praying constantly that she wouldn’t die before we all got there. I was eight days from losing my mother forever, but her departure felt imminent.

Last July, I embarked on a unwanted journey into the valley of death. It was both holy and agonizing. There’s a part of me that wants to retake this journey a year later, to re-experience her and my role in passing her into the next life. Instead, I feel numb. I have pictures, but I can’t look at them. I feel as if my finger is in the dike, and if I pull it out, the dam will break. But to stay here, holding still, is equally dangerous.

This week, I tip-toe through remembrance: sponging water onto her tongue, brushing Chapstick over her cracked lips. I recall sitting with her for a week, inadvertently matching my breathing to hers, watching the slow up-down of her chest, hearing the harsh intake of air. Again I watch her body struggle with mortality while her soul longs for eternity.

I remember my helplessness. I sit and read, and I talk a little, I play her favorite hymns. Would I do it any differently, if I had the chance? It’s a persistent, haunting question. Continue reading

3 reasons you should visit a cemetery

This past week, only days after Memorial Day, I ironically found myself attending 2 funerals and visiting 2 cemeteries. I listened to Taps from a Marine bugle, I watched a flag being folded and unfolded by 2 solemn officers, and I straightened plastic flowers at several grave sites. 

This weekend marked my most profound visit to a cemetery to date. I stood over the graves of both my parents. It’s not something you anticipate having to do until your 60s, but I’ve already done it. Then I stood over the graves of my grandparents, uncles, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents.

And I could hear my mom’s voice in my head saying,

“Don’t walk on the graves. Walk in between them. See the space between the headstones? Follow that when you walk.”

“Read the stones. Someone lived a full life, and this is how they are remembered.”

Mom was religious about instilling in us a respect for the dead because, after having been widowed at 31, she was acutely aware of the value of life.

As I ambled through the Illinois cemetery, I reflected on its role in culture. With the current popularity of cremation, I wondered if cemeteries will one day become obsolete? What value, if any, do they hold for life? My own experience has supplied me with three reasons you should visit a cemetery. I will share them with you, on the premise that you will one day find yourself standing over the granite stone of a loved one. Continue reading

What I’m thinking about this Memorial Day

Most people I know are happy about Memorial Day, There’s no school, no work, and probably some beach or pool time. They throw burgers on the grill and spend time in the sun.

But that’s not what I’m thinking about on Memorial Day.

I think about a naval surveillance aircraft, the Lockheed SP2E-Neptune, that takes off for a mission through the Santa Ana Mountains of California one rainy February night in 1969.

Seven crew from the nation’s heartland miss their wives and children back home, yet they are tense with anticipation.

These aviators crave flight. The thrust, the power, the roar of four engines and the spinning propeller course in their veins like an electric current.

The controller sends the coordinates, and the heavy Neptune lifts into the furious dark. Rain assaults the aircraft like driving sheets of metal hammering against its flanks. Walls of water hedge the aircraft as it steers through the black of night.

The coordinates lead the Neptune into Modeskja Canyon at an altitude of 3,000 feet.

But aviators don’t fly into canyons. They navigate from high to low, not low to high. This canyon is no place for a huge aircraft. Somehow, the coordinates are wrong. Continue reading