Cemeteries. To a kid, they can be pretty creepy. To a genealogist, they're a gold mine. To
someone who has just lost a loved one, they are fields of great grief.
Oh, to see them from the eyes of a small child. A small child looks upon the headstones in
wonderment: wondering what all the big rocks mean and why they are placed in rows upon
rows upon rows. Some have flowers. Some don't. Some are elaborate; some are marked
with a simple stone or a homemade wooden cross. Some aren't marked at all, abandoned
and neglected. There's as much diversity in a cemetery as there is in life. Little children don't
know this yet.
After my grandmother's funeral and burial, we returned to the cemetery to "make sure
everything was in order". Actually, we went because we had to go. We needed that finality;
that closure. At least, I did.
With the crowds now gone home, we decided to take my two little granddaughters with us,
even though they are both under 3 years old. It was an "outing" for them as they had been
cooped up all day. They marveled at the pretty flowers and absorbed everything that
afternoon as if it were sunshine after a cold spell. But even in their innocence, I believe they
sensed the importance of where they were and they held a deep respect for the things that
they didn't even know they didn't know. You could see the reverence in their eyes.
I often wonder how the world looks through a child's eyes and sometimes I try to look at things
from their perspective, with that fresh and unbroken spirit. It's not easy. As we walked
hand-in-hand among the rows and approached my grandmother's grave, still piled high with a
mountain of flowers, I turned to my oldest granddaughter and said, "We've come here to say
goodbye to Grandma."
The look on her face said she didn't understand. I only thought I understood the look. Even
though she's quite precocious, she's still not yet three years old. Then she said very softly,
"Grandma's not here."
Now, I'm thinking this child can't grasp that Grandma is here because she can't see her here.
This isn't like visiting her in the nursing home. This child doesn't know all the events that have
occurred today, here in this place. I'm thinking she can't know the casket is buried beneath
that huge pile of flowers. Since she doesn't know, she must think I'm being pretty foolish. I'm
also thinking about a quiet moment to tell Grandma my final goodbye, as if she could really
hear me. My adult brain is thinking this may be the last time I stand on this ground in the
presence of my grandmother. (We live an 8-hour drive from this cemetery.)
I'm trying to figure out how to explain to my granddaughter that this is where we buried her
great-grandmother and we're just going to tell her one final goodbye before we have our long
drive back home. Then, I heard the sweetest little voice. As I leaned down to hear what she
was saying, she looked up with those beautiful brown eyes and said ever so seriously,
"Gramma went to live with Jesus. She's not here, Meme."
We can learn a lot from children. In less than three years, she learned the most important
thing in the whole world; something most adults still can't understand.
Our loved ones are not here. They're not in the cemetery, even though we followed them
there behind the hearse and watched as the casket was lowered. They're not in the remains
that are buried down below the grass and the flowers. The headstone is a monument only of
the life they lived on this earth, but they are not IN the earth.
I picked her up and cradled her in my arms, this precious gift from God. Thank you, child, for
reminding me of God's promise that life is eternal. Thank you for your sweet reminder that
God has taken our loved one Home where she is very much alive.
She went to LIVE with Jesus!
A cemetery is necessary, but it's just a "place". Sometimes we need that place; a place to go
to remember; a place to go to pay our respects; a place where future generations can come
back and say, "That's my great-great-grandmother's grave." Some find great healing and
peace by visiting a loved one's grave. Some don't. Some spend too many hours there
mourning the dead and forget that the dead are still living. Some spend so many hours there
that they, themselves, quit living.
My prayer is that you find Peace in knowing that life is eternal. In the words of Mari Hall, 2-1/2
years old, "Gramma's not here. She went to live with Jesus."
|A Cemetery Is Just A Place
© Ferna Lary Mills
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