Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cemetery Weather

Today is cemetery weather.

Many of my family members are buried in the San Fernando Mission Cemetery at the north end of the valley.  On days like today, we leave mass and travel a few miles up the 405 to visit graves and say a few prayers in memory of loved ones long and recently departed.  My mother is buried there, right next to my paternal grandparents.  About fifty yards away are my mother’s parents, side-by-side as well, even though my grandmother lived on to marry my second grandfather, who was cremated and scattered at sea.

Vibrant blue skies and a fresh breeze always seem to accompany our time in the cemetery.  The grass is green from winter rains.  I smell the earth and trees.  We clean the grave markers, carefully cutting away the shoots of St. Augustine grass that have encroached on the margins of stone.  I fill the iron vases with water so we can place new cut flowers.  Once the grave is clean and the flowers in place, we kneel and say a few “Hail Marys” and the standard Catholic funeral refrain:  “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen.”

Together, we gather the tools and flower wrappings and walk back to our car.

I always want to stay a little longer.  It is so peaceful, so quiet, just the wind through the trees and the call of a lonely bird.  It is comforting.

The strange thing is that I do not feel the presence of those we’ve lost.  My connections to the dead come from places other than the final repose beneath our bended knees.  I feel my mother, unexpectedly, while writing in my study, or when I am lost in reflection.  I sense my grandmother’s presence in the chapel at the college where she received her education, and where I now spend my days working with young student-writers.  I have strong memories of fishing with my grandfather in the first light of morning.  And I think of my maternal grandmother who lived long enough to see her great-great grandchild.

I do not feel sadness or a sense of loss at all.  What I feel is the promise of spring, the hint of summer to come.  I intuit the possibilities, the great mystery of life, itself.  Death is not the end, just as life does not extinguish in the frosts of winter.  We wait for the wind to carry us on.  We ride the crest of the coming change of seasons, the sky forever blue and endless.  We hold our breath and wait to burst forth, like the blossoms on barren trees, to move forward in our lives.

I send a prayer aloft into the blue sky for those who have journeyed on.  I enjoy the peace and tranquility of a late winter Sunday in the grave yard.  Rain is coming, I am sure, and the cold will return for another pass before leaving town.  But for now, in this moment, I have blue sky and wind and voices from long ago.

Today was cemetery weather.


  1. Thank you, Pope. Other popes come and go, but it is nice to know you are still in the Big Chair.


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