There are many ways to look at grave sites as there are individuals who are grieving. Over the years as I worked as a grief counselor, I have worked with individuals who felt the need to visit their loved ones’ grave daily and others who could not bear the thought of going to the grave. Visiting the grave daily only becomes a problem when it becomes something that MUST be done while there is nothing written that it is necessary to go to the grave site.
I am not someone who needs to visit the graves of my family members. Actually, I feel more connected to them sitting on my patio or wearing a pair of earrings than I do visiting the cemetery. My father is buried in his hometown and I can not remember the last time that I visited the grave. As with the others, I do not feel any closer to him there.
My Mom is buried in the family plot next to my Nanny. Since both of their deaths, I have only visited the cemetery a handful of times. When I was younger, Nanny and I would visit the graves of family members and others that she knew. She was often the one who would make sure flowers were placed on graves for family members who could not make it to town on holidays such as Memorial Day/Christmas. We found it interesting to look at the different gravestones, look at the ages of when someone died and discussed how young or old someone was.Nanny would comment on the graves that were planted with flowers and who was related to who. Sadly, I now where the graves are of family members, friend’s siblings, friend’s parents and even high school peers.
In the past, taking care of a grave was never my responsiblity. That was a task my Mom and Nanny took on. They made sure my Granddaddy’s (and his parent’s) grave had something on Memorial Day, flags were placed on Veteran’s Day (my great-grandfather was in WWI and my Granddaddy flew in WWII), and typically most Christmases there was something placed on the grave. After I graduated college and moved away, I did not think much about the tradition of decorating the graves.
I go back to stating that I do not feel a need to visit the cemetery. Yet, over the past few weeks I had in the back of my mind that I HAD to do something. In all honesty, subconsciously I had a voice in my head stating that people were going to talk if I didn’t place something on the graves. Although my hometown is continually growing, it is still a small town and people who know my family will drive by my Mom’s and Nanny’s grave (much like my Nanny and I did) and make comments.
They will say things such as they can’t believe she (me) hasn’t put anything on the graves. How can she not have done something?
I am not proud of the fact that part of what prompted me last week to buy natural wreaths and make bows was due to what others would say, or think or talk about. There is a blessing and a curse of growing up in a smaller town. For some reason that voice in my head made me feel as if I didn’t place the wreaths there would be others who felt I didn’t love them, that I suddenly didn’t care. I’m not sure why I kept the judgement and felt that no one would say anything about my Aunt or my brother. No, that burden some how fell on me.
Placing something on a grave doesn’t prove how much the two of them were loved. I showed my love to them while they were living and that is what matters.
The wreaths are simple and natural so that the cemetery can dispose of them and I will not need to worry about picking them up after Christmas. Come spring, I plan to plant day lilies and perhaps a knock out rose bush so that there will be something continuously blooming. I plan to always keep a small wind chime at my Mom’s grave as I feel that is significant. However, I do not plan on visiting on a regular basis. I will be out of the country come Mother’s Day (yes, I’ve thought that far ahead) and I’m not sure what I will do on the other holidays next year.
My work at Hospice has changed how I view burial and burial sites. I still appreciate the tradition of Day of the Dead and I do not find discomfort in visiting a cemetery. I will always love the history. However, part of me would have preferred cremation for my Mom (and my plans are to be cremated). I would have liked to spread her ashes at places she loved, places she would have liked to have gone and to have a small part of her with me in a necklace. My Nanny (old school in the thought that the dead will rise from the grave) would have never have heard of it.
I think about the clients I have worked with who continuously made themselves go to the cemetery because of tradition or expectations and I understand in a different perspective. There are things we all do because it’s what we do…..
Take a few minutes to think about why you do some of the things you do. Give yourself permission to stop something if it makes you uncomfortable. Just because something has always been done doesn’t mean you need to keep doing it.