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Pillars Emma

Emma Ruth Pillars loved flowers.  We know because her tombstone says so and because three years after she died, her husband donated the Emma Pillars Garden of Memory to Fostoria Fountain Cemetery so that she could rest forever with the flowers and trees she had loved in life.

Pillars Memorial Garden (2)

Pillars Memorial Garden (3)

Pillars Memorial Garden

It’s almost overwhelming how much love is bundled up in that little three word epitaph, “she loved flowers.”  It is the kind of thing that you say when you are trying to convey the utter internal devastation you feel at a loved one’s death to someone who didn’t know them.  How do you explain a life?  How do you explain a person?  How do you explain the hundreds or thousands of little moments that pile up into something coherent, into the bond you had?  You can’t.  I could write about my grandmother and everything I can remember about her every day for the rest of my life on this blog, but in the end, you wouldn’t know her.  You would know some things about her, but the sinews that stitched my heart to hers from the moment I was born until the day she died overwhelm any words I have ever learned.  And so, when you are Edward Ralph Pillars, a widower of a woman who enjoyed flowers more than nearly anything else in the world, you want to leave a monument that provides a glimpse of your love and devotion to her.  And so you build her a garden with her name on it and, when you try to find the words that communicate your sense of loss, you fall back on the simple statement “she loved flowers.”

Pillars Edward

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In today’s explorations of memorials outside of cemeteries, I have a personal story for you. My maternal grandfather knew he was dying, and he had time to make plans. In June of 2007, his health began to rapidly decline, and his heart, it seemed, was finally going to kill him – about sixty-five years after the doctors first said it would. Grandpa had rheumatic fever as a teenager, and it damaged his heart sufficiently to warrant a medical discharge from the Navy with a poor prognosis – I think he was given less than a year to live. Grandpa, stubborn as he was, took advantage of those GI benefits to go to veterinary school (an accelerated program because anyone with medical expertise was an asset during World War II). He married, raised three daughters, ran a successful veterinary practice, and had been retired for almost two decades when he went into hospice the next-to-last time, about two weeks before the scheduled family reunion. My aunt went to see him and reminded him that most of us would be there soon. He decided he didn’t want us all standing around him in hospice waiting for him to die, and he set his mind to being at my aunt’s house for the family reunion. He recovered temporarily so that hospice set him up with the necessary equipment in her home and sent nurses to check on him. My grandmother, two aunts, mother and her boyfriend, and two cousins spent that 4th of July in Savannah with Grandpa savoring what we knew were his last days.

Of course, that gave us the opportunity to discuss what exactly Grandpa would like us to do with his earthly remains after he died. It seemed to be something that he and Grandma hadn’t talked about much in many years. One of the most amusing exchanges I heard was when my grandmother mentioned that the family still owned three more plots in Parsippany, New Jersey, where her parents are interred. “I don’t want to go back to New Jersey, even if I am dead,” Grandpa growled back with his customary dry humor. Eventually, we learned that he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes spread somewhere, although the where of that statement was ambiguous. He just didn’t seem particularly invested in what happened to his remains.

This past summer, we gathered at my other aunt’s house to plant a garden for Grandpa. She has a flagpole in her backyard, and we buried the box with his ashes in a garden around the flagpole, marked with a large golden golf tee with a dogtag-like charm hanging off of it with his name, birthdate, and death date. I wonder what if anyone will ever come across this marker, after all of us are gone.

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