Tag Archives: Cemeteries

Memorial Day thoughts

My sister and I visit the cemeteries each year on Memorial Day Weekend. Well, not the weekend, but on Monday. We do this because everyone who decorated the graves before us are all gone. This tradition has become more deeply meaningful for both of us. We do not just visit my mother and stepfathers grave and my grandparents graves, we have begun to visit my great grandparents graves and other extended family members that no one remembers or perhaps other relatives live too far away. I wrote about this tradition two years in a blog I called Remembering.

I have seen some news articles and some social media posts about how people have forgotten the “real” meaning of Memorial day and have been saying things like “Happy Memorial Day!” I also know that while for some people the main purpose of Memorial Day is to remember the service men and women who have died in wars across our countries history, that is not the only meaning for this day. As I said in my former post, some of us were raised that this was a weekend to remember those who have gone before us. It is a time to decorate graves and tell stories and also in my family tradition, to have cookouts and family time.

I don’t think any of those things are unimportant or wrong. I took American flags to both my stepfather’s grave and my grandfather’s mausoleum. I had a wonderful party on Sunday evening. In worship on Sunday morning at First, we focused on memorial and legacy gifts and Ascension Sunday.

 I am sitting here on Monday evening, experiencing a “good” tired feeling. It has been a full three days. I have celebrated a neighbors birthday, worshipped on Sunday, had 40+ people over for a wonderful evening and then visited four different cemeteries. I also made hospital calls and been grateful for so many things. 

My sister and I have decided to remember those family members that no one else seems to remember. Mostly it is unmarried or married without children couples and babies and small children. We even placed pinwheels and flowers on the graves of some small children who were not related. 

Our great grandparents were visited 


My great grandmother held Tammy and I as infants before she died. We visited our favorite great aunt (she was awesome and fun)


Then we headed to Great Plain and visited Aunt Leola (who was not our favorite and liked to pinch us hard!) and even though there is no gravestone, we visited baby Stella, who died at two.


Then just a little ways away, we visited baby Clyde McClure. If I remember my family history, his mom ( my grandmother’s sisters) HAD to get married and this little baby did not live. His parents are buried elsewhere, but we remember him today.


Finally at the Calvary cemetery we visited Maudie. I have visited this grave since I was a little girl. At one point, there were still decorating it, but that has been a very long time. This little lamb stone speaks of the love the family had for this precious child:


The little poem at the end says “Sweet Maudie unto earth,  a little while was given. She plumed her wins for flight, and soared away to heaven.”

Finally beginning last year, we sought out a very small cemetery that my grandparents visited only once. It was part of my grandfather’s German Lutheran heritage.
 What we both remembered was one small baby grave that had only the last name Wiske , but no first name. Last year we went searching for Baby Wiske and we found the grave, but had to pull back the grass to see the name. It happened again, we had to pull back the grass. 


But while there we remember Remick’s, remembering family reunions of long ago and  decorated the grave of my grandfather’s brother and wife.


Finally we visited a marker in a Wichita cemetery remembering my mother. We had visited her grave and my stepfather’s grave in Garden Plain


She had married again late in life and had just a few short years which were a gift for both her and her husband Jerry.


Here is what I believe, we only have a short time to love nad laught and share. Whatever the number of hours or days or years, each moment matters. I know sometimes that it is uncomfortable for folks when people don’t “remember” or “memorialize” in a preferred method. I think having dinners, going to the lake, making memories is not bad or sinful or wrong. I also think mourning and remembering and honoring is not bad either. 

I find the moments I take to walk cemeteries and “recount the tales” and wonder about the stories I don’t know to be sacred and holy. I also find hosting family and friends for a party is also sacred and holy. Time is a gift and choosing to spend part of it with those we love is precious.

So tonight, I am grateful, for family, for friends, for memories and for time enough to pay attention.

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Remembering

When I was little and living with my grandparents, Memorial Day was a time to go and “decorate” the graves of family. In fact, my grandmother often called it “Decoration Day.”  I didn’t know the focus was on those who had served and died. My grandfather was a World War I veteran and Memorial Day was a day to remember family, not the war he served or any wars.  I am not sure why, my grandfather was a very patriotic man, but perhaps the horror of his experience was not something he wanted to revisit.

We took the pilgrimage to Garden Plain, Kansas to the Calvary Cemetery (the old records call it the Calvary Methodist Cemetery) which is directly south of the Saint Anthony Cemetery. The two cemeteries are actually on the same plot of land which when I was young was divided by a fence. The land was deeded for the cemeteries to Garden Plain by my great-grandfather Wiley Doyle. So each Memorial Day we would go to the Calvary Methodist Cemetery and brought plastic, yes, plastic flowers for my great grandparents, baby Stella (my grandmother’s sister who died at the age of 2) and couple of brothers.  Later, another sister, Leola would be added to the line of family members.

We went, taking the same plastic flowers each year, and then we would wander around. My grandparents would talk about the “people” buried there. Shared stories, and my sister and I would always end up near a small tombstone with a lamb on the top. My grandmother would explain the little girl died very young. I didn’t get a picture this year…the rain has been non-stop, but unlike Stella, she had a tombstone.  It looks something like this one.

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When my stepfather was buried in that cemetery, each time I went, I visited. When my mother was buried there a year and a half ago, a stroll over to visit that little girl, whose name I can not read, was made. When my sister Tammy and I went to take flowers, we left a small bunch for her.  I am not sure anyone visits anymore. We also left a pin wheel for baby sister Stella who has no gravestone, and probably will not be remembered once Tammy and I no longer visit.

We also visited my grandparents in their mausoleum in a Wichita cemetery.  I am not overly fond of mausoleums, but that is what they wanted. So we went and remembered them as well. Finally in that same cemetery we went and found the graves of my great grandparents on my grandfather’s side, his sister and her husband. I am pretty sure no one had been there for a couple of decades. My great aunt had no children, my great grandfather had died in 1906 and my great grandmother in 1959.  My great aunt Emma is the one who decorated my great grand parents graves and she has been gone for more than two decades.

So why go? I didn’t know them, I didn’t know Aunt Emma’s husband and I hadn’t gone before. Last year, I mentioned to my sister that Big Bob’s (my grandfather) parents were buried there and his sister. We decided to go this year. We didn’t know it would be rainy, but we found the graves, put some flowers on their graves and some other “relatives” we found and came home.

Who remembers? Who tells the tales? Who visits and decorates and gives thanks? Probably after my sister and I are gone, no one will remember or visit or tell the tales. No one will leave a few flowers for an unmarked grave for baby Stella or at a lamb tombstone. Why go?

In my scattered life I want to know that relationships matter. Even those relationships that are no longer “living” but continue in memory are important. Perhaps the rituals are not so important now that families live so far apart and there are many alternatives to “graves”.  And yet, for me, the sacramental gift of visiting reminds that life is a gift. No one lives forever and each day offers promises and possibilities to be explored, enjoyed and pursued.  The time will come when those opportunities will be long gone.

I am grateful for those whose lives have touched mine. I am grateful for ancestors never met, but remembered because of love and laughter. This Memorial Day weekend, I have remembered, cried a bit, laughed alot and given thanks.

For the remembering and for the gift of Life and I am grateful and graced to serve.

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In the midst of life: death, a few thoughts on Holy Week

In the funeral ritual at the graveside, these words are often spoken, “in the midst of life, we are in death, where does our help come?  Our help comes in the name of the Lord, who created the heavens and the earth.”  On the eve of Palm Sunday, I ponder these words anew. 

Ten days ago, a clergy colleague who has been ill for a long time died.  Reverend Burr Crickard was a man full of life and laughter and he brought that to everything he did.  The celebration of his life and spirit was held today.  Clergy and others from all over gathered to remember.  Not forty eight hours ago an acquaintance who was rapidly becoming a friend died unexpectedly in her sleep at the age of 50.  Every one who knew her is shocked and trying to wrap their heads around a loss that seems incomprehensible.  

Then I met with a family whose son and brother died of cancer last evening.  His service will be this week and from there, Andrew drove me to Garden Plain.  I hadn’t been to my mother’s grave since we buried her and I wanted her to have spring flowers.

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For Western Christians, tomorrow begins the most sacred week of the Christian year: Holy Week.  It begins with a parade and shouts of “Hosanna!  Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord!”  It is exciting, thrilling and the crowds are on fire for Jesus.  Depending on the gospel you read, the religious and civic authorities are less than thrilled and begin to actively plan to stop this crazy uprising.  This roller coaster of a week begins with such highs and ends with betrayal, death and a borrowed grave.

“In the midst of life, we are in death.”  Those words have always been true.  We are in death, surrounded by death or the memory of death and the hard work of grieving and finding ways to be thankful.

Today it all seemed a bit too much.  And that feeling of “too much” is experienced by many on different days and in different ways.  Holy Week does not minimize death, betrayal, fear and grief.  Holy Week invites us to walk through that “valley of the shadow of death and fear no evil,” for God is with us.  God in Jesus stared down that path and walked it and leaned into the Spirit that strengthens and comforts.

On that night when Jesus offered bread and cup, he also offered his disciples an opportunity to pray with him and lean into God’s grace.  Mostly they fell asleep, but the invitation was given, more than once.  It is still given.

 Carrie Newcomer has a new album that includes a song “Abide” I think is perfect for this week and for the experience of life in the midst of death:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWxgvY5j0HY&list=PLlJ5xx87Syn0mZCTOL5vaSKSjuIombnz2

“Let us ponder the unknown, what is hidden and what’s whole, and finally learn to travel at the speed of our own souls….There are things I cannot prove and still somehow know…..You don’t have to be afraid, you don’t have to walk alone, I don’t know but I suspect it will be like home.”

Holy week in many ways is like home.  There are always events that don’t make sense, are not fair and yet, we do not have to be afraid, for some how, in some ways, when we get to where we are going, it will be like home.  As I prepare to lead worship over this next week, I do not intend to shrink for what lies before me, but attempt to walk not alone, but with the Christ who walks before and beside.

I am graced to serve.

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A Season of Grief, Grace and Gratitude

My mother died a few days ago.  Last week, I had written about how in the midst of the walk with those who transition from this life to the next, there are sometimes “no words.”  Her death was as peaceful as I had prayed for and she was surrounded by love.

So the now deep journey of grief and gratitude begins.  In a little over a week, as much of her biological family and extended family friends will gather to celebrate her life and spirit.  The week of Thanksgiving was chosen, because the plan had been made for our family to have Thanksgiving together with Mom there with us.  When it became clear that she would not live that long, we still wanted to gather, this time adding a celebration of her life and gather around a table as she so often encouraged us to do.

I firmly believe that my mother made a journey from this life to a life I can not see, but can imagine being filled with Light, with Love and with laughter.  What she left behind was not just grieving friends and family but a body that was worn out and tired.  This body which housed her unique and unrepeatable spirit was buried in remembered earth.

I don’t know where I first heard the term “remembered earth.”  It was quoted in a worship service and it caught my attention.  I tried to find the quote (google is wonderful thing) but could not.  I found a PBS series, and a series of novels, but not the quote I was seeking.  I have a vague memory of the phrase being used around cemeteries.

My mom was buried in the Calvary Cemetery in Garden Plain, Kansas.  This particular ground has a deep and long history with my family.  My great grandfather (my mother’s mother’s father) homesteaded just south of the cemetery.  At some point, he deeded the cemetery ground to the City of Garden Plain for two cemeteries side by side, a Protestant and Roman Catholic.  When I was young those cemeteries were divided by a fence (probably so there would be no fraternizing between the two religious communities in death as there had certainly NOT in life).  Times change, the fence has been gone a couple decades, but the stones, the memories, and the bodies of those who have been loved and lost still remain.

She is buried in the remembered earth next to my stepfather, who was the only father I really ever knew.  He was only the grandfather my children remember; the one who helped them “build” things with wood and nails and paint and walk down by the river to feed the geese.  After her committal service, I and some other members of my family, walked, talked and remembered the stories my grandparents had told of those who were buried there the stones that mattered for their touching legacies and my children walked and remembered grandpa and grandma.

When we gather again, the great story of my mother’s life will be told.  We will celebrate her unique and unrepeatable spirit, in grace and gratitude give thanks for her 86 years among us.  We will be together with many who loved her to mourn and more importantly to experience God’s grace in the midst of this journey through grief.

As family, we will gather to laugh over her foibles, point out her characteristics that reside in all of us and share stories that only those who knew her the longest can understand.  In the grief, the gratitude and grace I have received will be deeply present.  In the days come, not only will the cemetery be remembered earth, but the places where her memory is most easily remembered and in the various things she left behind.  I am thankful and remain graced to serve.

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