Up until three years ago, I'd left cemetery duties to my mother and grandmother. My grandmother spent most Memorial Day weekends visiting graves - two daughters, ages 3 and 4, who died in a fire in 1938; another daughter who died in 1943 at the age of 5 of a heart condition; her second husband, dead about 40 years; my dad, dead 26 years; another son, dead about 10 years; a daughter, dead five years, and her many friends, no longer available for a decent game of rummy, 5 cents a round.
That's what happens when you live too long, she tells me. You sometimes feel more connected to the dead than the living.
A depressing way to spend a weekend, I'd always thought.
Even after my mother died nine years ago, my visits to the cemetery were sporadic, made more at the request of my oldest grandson, who is fascinated with the granite stones, etched with names and inscriptions.
Who is this person, he asks before running to another gravesite, not the least disturbed by the thought of death. It's sad to see markers overgrown by grass and weeds, especially so when the date of death is fairly recent. Does no one care?
So I've tried to do a better job of keeping the grave of my parents neat and pretty. It's there, while he helped plant, that my grandson learned about his great-grandparents, especially about my mother, who died four months before he was born. She would have been gloriously happy to brag about her great-grandson and all the great-grandchildren that have come since.
Her passing before the birth of my grandchildren continues to be a great sadness for me.
My visits didn't become a habit, however, until three years ago, when my brother died. By then, my grandmother's age - 97 next month - had finally caught up with her. She gave up her license, and with that, her regular cemetery visits.
So this year, she and I made the rounds together, chatting about aunts I'd never known. My grandmother has had so much sorrow in her life, yet she perseveres. That is what I admire most about her, I think.
How could she stand the pain of losing three young children? There's nothing else to do but go on, she says on those rare times when she's willing to talk about those terrible days.
It is that kind of fortitude, I think, that must carry the parents and spouses and children of those dying in Iraq and Afghanistan today. And on Memorial Day we honor them, along with hundreds of thousands of people killed in so many wars over the years.
Bobby Blair does more; each year he lines the streets of Holliston and neighboring towns with a poignant display of flags and names of those who have died in our most recent war. With more than 3,500 American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, he's had to confine the tributes to those who've perished since the last time the signs went up, which they do for Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Ellen George, who helped Blair take down the display earlier this week, put the emotion she felt into words, some of which appear below:
The signs have been up for a week now.
We have driven by and thought:
How young to have given that ultimate gift
Such bravery is beyond our comprehension
It is beyond comprehension. What creates a man or woman willing to put their lives on the line? Why did my nephew join the Army? He surely knows that his likely destination will be Iraq. Why did another join the Navy? He knows U.S. ships are just outside of Iran waiting for orders.
They choose war, just in case the president is right, just in case we've got to stop them over there to keep them from coming here.
I don't understand it. I don't like it. But I have to respect their choice. I wish them safe passage and take some comfort from Ellen George:
We are the ones for whom their life was precious
They are sons and daughters of us all.
Deb Gauthier can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org