“When a loved one has been laid to rest in a cemetery the final stage of closure involves the placement of a tombstone or grave marker identifying their grave. It is here that we are given one final occasion to communicate to the world the significance of our loved one.”
I read this last night online as I hunt around looking at epitaph ideas and headstone designs. Really? I think. This is the way I’ll communicate your significance to the world? At a cemetery full of dead bodies? I hope Audrey and I will do a better job of this here among the living. How could I possibly choose a few words to describe you or our love for you? I write here every week and haven’t run out of words yet.
Everything I read on these sites seems surreal and begging for me to write about it. Some of my “favorite” epitaphs, “He lived life to the fullest.” and “If our love could have saved him, he would not have died.” “Death is not a foe, but an inevitable adventure.” “She filled every second of her life with laughter, love and happiness.” Really? Every second?
Today I go to pick out our headstone.
An 88 year old Jewish man named Al helps me and the friend who accompanies me.
The office looks almost like a trailer home but he’s friendly.
He opens the door to the side parking lot, “Well, let’s take a look.”
There are the stones. Do I want grey or rose colored granite? Finished or unfinished. The edges can be rough or smooth on the top and sides. What size?
I tell him where you’re buried and he tells me he’s on the board of trustees of that cemetery and the spot you’re in is “a very prestigious location.”
I feel like I’m choosing something else- a vacuum maybe, a new quilt for my bed? when I ask my friend, “What do you think of this one?”
If I choose polished, the engraving must go in blocks of unpolished stone. They can’t engrave into polish. Good to know.
After we decide – natural stone polished border rough edges… we go inside so Al can draw up a sketch of the layout. He comes back in to the room where we’re seated on folding chairs with a ruler and paper.
It’s a double stone and I presume the design will have our last name in the middle and Dan’s name on the bottom left- with a vacant spot for my info on the right. I decided to write your Korean name in Korean characters below your English name. I also chose a verse.
I ask Al a question about the design pertaining to my half in some way, and he pauses and replies quietly, “How are you going to know?” We all chuckle. He’s funny.
Then Al surprises me because he tells me to consider making the stone look like it is just for you. With your name in the center and room for mine underneath- “You can still add it…but you’re very young. He was very young.” My friend also surprises me by agreeing.
A few tears fall from my eyes and my friend hands me a tissue from her purse. I know what they’re insinuating.
I prefer side to side. I understand what they’re saying without them putting it in words, but I have to do what feels right now- not what may or may not feel right ten or twenty years from now. I’ll worry about that then. For now, I was your wife. You were married and loved by one woman tremendously. I want that empty spot there to prove it. It will help me feel like you’re less alone there. Your body anyway.
Eighty eight year old Al says he’ll email me a couple of sketch choices for my approval by Monday. And we head to the car talking about how surreal this all is.
Tonight one of our favorite singers, Travis’ Fran Healy, writes me to tell me he has dedicated his new solo album to you. He’s dropped one in the mail for me. I am proud of you, but you will never know. The bittersweetness makes my heart into a pulsating water balloon for a moment or two.
The verse on our headstone will read, “Be not afraid, only believe.”
The other day when I saw the trees below my building had blossomed overnight, I felt sick to my stomach. I could remember looking out that window when we’d first moved here two years ago and feeling such relief seeing those blossoming trees. We had just come through such a tumultuous season, and it gave me renewed hope to see spring still arriving.
That innocent hope in spring air and blossoming trees seems naive now. All I see now is the ephemeral quality of that beauty. It will be gone in days, the tiny pale pink petals blowing around in the parking lot, like confetti leftover from some grand parade or celebration.