By Jennifer Richardson
I don’t often think about gravestones.
Perhaps I carry with me a reluctance to think about death, or even a cultural hesitancy to be near the evidence of loss. But even so, on a recent trip to Indiana to see our family, I asked my husband to stop by the cemetery where my mother’s parents are buried.
Each trip to Indiana brings thoughts and memories of my maternal grandparents, as we pass through many of the places they frequented, and it struck me that I had not visited their gravesite in many years.
The location was literally a stone’s throw from the road we usually travel, and Robert kindly turned the car onto the gravel path that would take us right near their shared headstone.
My grandparents lived all of their lives close to where they were born. They met in high school, married, raised four children and buried one at the tender age of four. He was a farmer and she was a homemaker, and they built a life on commitment, love, faith, and family.
Thoughts of them were swirling through my mind as we pulled to a stop just next to their marker. It was a single stone for both of their graves. Just as in life, in death they were still united.
Mary Elizabeth and Donald Robert. Their names were inscribed under a large carving of their last name; both at exactly the same height and of equal significance. Side by side on a sturdy, perfect stone that was not too large and not too small.
In the middle of their names, was a carving of the words, “Married Dec 14, 1941.” I was touched that their union was important enough to them that they chose to share it over any other detail of their existence.
The stone revealed they were born just months apart in 1920, but passed away in 1983 and 2007. I looked earnestly at the dates in front of me and thought about what they really meant. For nearly 24 years Mary Elizabeth walked on this earth without her Donald Robert.
My grandfather died when I was in the eighth grade, and I could remember like it was yesterday. On that day and all the days after, my grandmother looked forward to being reunited with him, and her precious young son.
She had no way of knowing that her marriage commitment would include watching her beloved in poor health, nursing him after a stroke took away his mobility, and his early passing. I never heard her complain. As a grandchild in a very close knit family, I only heard and saw love between them.
There was nothing else on the stone other than beautiful flowers; no doubt placed there by loving hands. Just names, dates, and that fact that they were married.
I continued to look at the stone and my husband and I talked about my grandparents and various memories of them. There were tears in my eyes, but not really for them. Mostly the sadness came from how much they were missed.
My sweetheart let me have all the time I wanted to soak up the moments and the memories. I was struck by how much the gravestone spoke about my grandparents’ lives. A strong, stone presence that would withstand the years and the weather, with carved words that said their memory would long outlive their time on this earth.
And despite the common misgivings about graveyards, there was nothing peculiar about being near their final resting place. Our visit was a comfortable, sweet celebration of life and love, and I was glad we stopped and took those moments to think about them and how much their lives meant.
As we drove away I sent my mother a message that said, “Hi mom, I just wanted you to know that Robert and I stopped to visit Granny and Grandpa’s gravesite. We enjoyed reminiscing about your precious parents. In the hustle of life it is always good to stop and remember where you came from.”
She was touched that we stopped, and we realized we would certainly visit this place again, where our loved ones’ lives are carved in stone.