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Posts Tagged ‘georgia’

I had a fabulous tour guide when I went to Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia. (Unfortunately, all the photographs from this trip are currently lost. If I ever find the CD, I’ll use them for blog posts.) I cannot remember this man’s name. As he lead us around a small section of that massive Victorian garden cemetery, he stopped periodically at the monuments and asked “What was the family trying to tell you?” He would proceed to describe in loving detail the symbolism of every carving, the choice of every word, the grief and affection etched in stone. He articulated the families’ love and sorrow with such passion that he nearly brought me to tears more than once. He taught me that cemeteries honor the dead, but are also there for the living. The monuments chosen for the then-recently deceased reach out across time, beyond the lifetimes of their patrons and makers, and speak to those who will listen to what they have to say about the person (usually) buried nearby. Most of the messages are simple, some more detailed or unusual, but all contain a plea for remembrance. This guide honored that request and cherished it. By the time we met him, he had devoted years of his life to remembering those who had gone before him. He spoke of them like old friends, and he inspired me.

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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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