The terrain looks different to her. It had been many years since she had been there last and now, on this day,those memories were dreamlike. " I know that it was near the Vollenweiders.." and then her thoughts trail off as she sees trees that have grown,the new markers that have been placed. This was the last grave we were to visit on our cemetery tour on this Memorial Day. The last memories my Mother-in-law wanted to honor. But she could not remember where the headstone-- where the remains of her sister-in-law were laid in this vast cemetery in Northern Iowa.
" I think it was in this area, all of the Vollenweiders are here.I know it was near here." I could see that she was getting worn down after a long day, but she had flowers and they were going to be placed. We had them in our car for the 5 hour drive. She had carefully counted the bouquets and floral markers days before we left our home, assuring herself that she had enough. She had brought tools to clear off headstones. Visiting, cleaning,and decorating graves is what we had done all day. We had to find Carol's and do what we came here to do.
This tradition, the cemetery visits and decoration that accompanied them was new to me when I entered this family. Sure, my family visited the graves of our family members but never with this organization, never with this sense of mission.
During the years where we were not near the resting places of his family members, Brian liked to spend Memorial Day at any nearby cemetery. It was peaceful for us as we walked and looked at the graves of people we had not known.We would look at the names and put them with ours, planning for the children we would have. We would stop at those that displayed flags or military insignias. We would say a prayer for their families and Brian would say outloud " Thank you Robert." " Thank you, Frank". Thank you to any that we encountered. It was a very sweet way to commemorate and remember, but not a personal one. It was an exciting day planning our futures as we thanked people we had not know from the past.
Once we moved to Kansas City and Brian's Father, then Step-father passed away and were buried nearby, we would go to one or the others grave on Memorial Day. We would take the kids around the cemetery and continue the Walk of Thanks that we had begun years ago.
This trip was my first in the nearly 18 years we have been married that we visited the graves of more than one family member. I say " we" but Brian was not with us. It was his mother, our daughter and myself. Today we also picked up an elderly, but not aged, woman who is a lifelong friend of my Mother-in-laws. In addition to our family members we were also going to be stopping at the graves of her family members. Her husband and two sons who have passed before her. This was not a day for sarcasm, or wit. It was a day to allow these women to share their memories in the town they had both lived in for many many years. The town where they had raised their children. Where they had experienced firsts and lasts and everything in between.
We had used the two rolls of film we had brought, stopped an bought a third, filled up an hours worth of camcording and were tired. It was odd for me being with these two women. Yes, I am a 46 yr old grown woman with children of my own, but I was a kid the group. A kid sitting next to my kid in the back seat. Bekah and I were on equal footing as we snapped pictures, captured video, hauled tools, listened and asked questions as the two senior women told the tales and showed us the sights.That was the job of the kids in the backseat and we were determined to do it with grace dignity and nary a booger joke.
As I walked the aisles searching each headstone for Carol's name I felt bad for the children of my Mother-in-law who were not here to live this day with her. Originally I felt as if I were the only one willing to make the trip... but, after today, I realize that I was the only one fortunate enough to make the trip. It wasn't life changing for me, but seeing the look on my Mother-in-laws face when I said " I found her! Here she is! I found Carol! " was life affirming for me.
As we walked back to the car where the most senior member of our group sat waiting we listened to the love that my daughters grandmother had for Carol who passed away almost 30 years ago. I know I learned something this day. As I watched my 12 year old hug her grandmother as she let a few tears roll down her face, I know that the day was life changing and life affirming for Bekah as well.
I thank you Mother-in-law for inviting me on this trip, I thank you Marion for allowing me into your life. I thank you Bekah for not giving in to adolescent temptation to be too cool for this type of activity but to soak it all in and roll with it. I thank all who had flags waving and the families that honored them today. I thank you Bob and Grace, and Earl, and Florence,and Robert and Francis and Carol for all that you have done for this family. Thank you.