"Why no tombstone, Mom?"
In a soft but conspiratorial voice she said "I think he was upset, angry, no maybe not angry, but upset with me.."
"Because there isn't a headstone for Dad's grave yet."
"Well, Mom, lets see... when did dad die, again, 2011, right?"
"Ok, 2011, it is now 2014. That's three years. I think that it is not unreasonable for Johnny to feel like it's time to put it up."
"The guy from the funeral home did not want to do it during the holiday." He didn't want to do it during the holiday, I am thinking to myself. Holiday...hmm...Memorial Day, Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July??? How many holidays have we had over the past three years? This is getting comical.
"Mom, what is the hold-up?" I just say it.
"It is coming up from down east. They have to make it."
"And it takes how long to make this thing? And when did you order it?" (I am getting a little impatient here, with the meandering, cryptic conversation about a tombstone).
"I mean, is it the money? Do you have to pay the guy? Write him a check or something? Usually that is what gets things moving along. It doesn't happen until you pay for it. And wait, isn't the VA paying for it anyway?"
I have been to my father’s grave site in the tiny cemetery on the hill in Raton, NM. He is buried in a beautiful spot, under the shade of a pinon tree. There is a nice view of the stunning volcanic plane that unfolds on the southeast part of town. And Johnson's Mesa to the east, and Barlett Mesa to the Northeast. My mom's house, where my brother and I grew up, is just over the hill, not quite visible from the grave site - but very close, less than a mile away. My husband picked this spot. My dad would have approved.
Now I have to admit, having visited his grave less than a year ago, that it did feel odd that his grave did not have a tombstone yet. Every grave around his did. His was just...empty. It did feel like it needed something - something with a name on it, some marker for this person, this life. I know that it isn't necessary. People are cremated, and have their ashes scattered and there is no marker. And that is beautiful. But my dad wanted to be buried in a cemetery. He wanted to be buried in the place that he raised his family. He wanted to be buried here in New Mexico. And he wanted my mother buried next to him when her time came.
Is that what she is waiting for?
When I saw his unmarked grave it did feel like something was missing. It felt like something had not been completed. Maybe my brother feels that it disrespectful in some way that there isn't something there. His daughter (my niece, who loved her grandfather dearly) actually picked out the supposed pink granite tombstone, so I can see why my brother John wants to see it there. We all do. We want to see his name, John Owerko 1924-2011, beloved husband to Aileen, father to John and Carol Ann Owerko and grandfather to Johanna Owerko. We want to touch the letters that try to spell a life, and look at him once again even if it is only this symbol of him. This tombstone will have our names beneath his name--his family recognized here - he being the first one of us to go.
"Look, Mom, I don't come out that often, and it isn't a big deal for me, I don't really care when you do this. But clearly John does. And apparently Johanna does, too. Do it for them."
But now I think that maybe I do care. And maybe I haven't pushed her because I feel that she is waiting for something. And in some strange way it is interesting. Grief is mysterious.
But what is she waiting for exactly? I also think maybe I am a bit relieved that I don't see his name, his birth and death dates carved into granite.
My mother is legally blind - and she won't really be able to read the stone, anyway, unless she bends down, and uses her giant magnifying glass. And she very rarely visits the grave even though it is so close to her house.
But I wonder - if she ever gets around to installing this stone - what will she do? Will she kneel down, will she touch it?
Love sorrow. She is yours now, and you must
take care of what has been
given. Brush her hair, help her
into her little coat, hold her hand,
especially when crossing a street. For, think,
what if you should lose her?
Then you would be
sorrow yourself: her drawn face, her sleeplessness
would be yours. Take care, touch
her forehead that she feel herself not so
utterly alone. And smile, that she does not
altogether forget the world before the lesson.
Have patience in abundance And do not
ever lie or ever leave her even for a moment
by herself, which is to say, possibly, again,
abandoned. She is strange, mute, difficult,
sometimes unmanageable but, remember, she is a child.
And amazing things can happen. And you may see,
as the two of you go
walking together in the morning light, how
little by little she relaxes: she looks about her:
she begins to grow.
- Mary Oliver