Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Visit to the cemetery

I flew in to California a few days ago to visit my father. It still feels strange to say "my father" rather than "my parents." But I'm getting more used to it. I still say that I'm staying in "my parents' home." We still refer to my mother's office and her computer and all her possessions as belonging to her. For as long as my father continues to live in that house, it will be "my parents' house."  My father has given away much of her clothes and jewelry, but everything else, the pots and pans, the spices, the plastic bags are where she left them and we are careful to adhere to her impeccable organization.

Yesterday my father and I drove to the cemetery. It was my second visit there since the burial. What can be said about visits to your parent's grave site? Not much. That's the reason I believe that people recite psalms, leave rocks on the gravestone and engage in other rituals. (I recited psalms 23, 25 and 121 before we left.) There simply is not that much to say. Or think. My mother's body lays under the ground. Grass has already grown on top of the dirt. It can be said she is there in that space, but it cannot be said she is only there. It's too depressing a thought, and it's not true, at least I don't feel and can't admit it is.

The time to think about your parent's life is not at a cemetery. It's at family gatherings and with people who knew and loved her. The cemetery renders you numb and dumb. Too much death all around.

My father and I had a specific task, to look at other gravestones to help us decide how my mother's should look. We looked at the iconography, the texts, how names and dates were presented, the general layout. I took photos with my iPhone. We came home and discussed what we'd seen, liked and not liked. We spoke to my brother. We reached agreement on most matters and hope to resolve the final text soon so that the stone can be prepared for the first Yahrzeit.

There is a custom of washing one's hands upon leaving the cemetery. To me, the reason is to affirm that the living are still living and not tainted with the impurity of death. Later in the day I attended a Yoga class to reaffirm my commitment to life.

No one said dealing with the death of a parent would be easy. Almost a year later, it hasn't really gotten much easier.

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