The flag in the photo below flies over the grave of a man who served in the U.S. army in the first World War. The flag was almost certainly placed there in observance of U.S. Memorial Day. The grave is located a few feet from the grave of my maternal grandparents and my Aunt Rose (Rosadee) in Paterson’s Calvary Cemetery.
Just up the road from Calvary Cemetery is Cedar Lawn Cemetery, where my parents are buried. Today would have been Dad’s 94th birthday. This June also marks the 20th anniversary of his death. Mom followed him just over two years later.
It is common for people in the United States to honor their deceased relatives and others with whom they share a connection by decorating their graves. Indeed, Memorial Day in the United States has its origins in the Civil War era when the graves of those lost in that conflict were decorated by members of the local community. Flags mark the graves of many veterans and especially of those who “gave the last full measure of devotion” in war. Graves are sometimes decorated with flowers and other tokens of remembrance and affection. It has also become common to place stones on headstones to commemorate a visit to the grave. Originally this was an exclusively Jewish practice, and a fine article about the origins of this practice appears on examiner.com.
I had selected and carried a small stone with me when I visited the grave of Jody’s father, who died on Memorial Day in 2008. Since I march in a Memorial Day parade that ends near his burial place I have made a practice of visiting his grave after the parade. I do not bring objects to decorate my parents’ grave or my the grave of my grandparents and aunt. A year or two after Mom passed away I planted geraniums at her grave but that was the last time I made any attempt to decorate that site. This year I visited my parents’ and grandparents’ graves out of a sense of responsibility or obligation because I had taken the time to visit my father-in-law’s grave. Other times, when visits were separated by several years, I have gone just so I don’t forget where they are buried.
There is nothing about my parents’ or grandparents’ final resting place that compels me to visit. I do not feel a sense of their presence there. That would be especially hard to conjure up with respect to my grandparents because they both died long before I was born. I remember my parents in other ways; I would hope that my words and actions honor their memories in other ways as well. I remember my father when I look in the mirror and see him looking back at me. I remember my mother every time I need to slice a bagel or a loaf of homemade bread and I reach for the serrated knife she gave us. I remember Rosadee when I look at the pussy willow tree in our back yard or the azalea in our side yard.
I believe in life after death, and that because of the sacrifice of Christ we will enjoy that life in God’s presence. I believe in the future physical resurrection of the dead, as Christ has risen and become the first fruits of those who sleep. I also give credence to the statement made in the memorial portion of some Jewish Sabbath services that the spirits of those who have passed away live on the acts of goodness that they have performed. Will I be remembered, and how will I be remembered, by those whom I will leave behind?