I once drove into a cemetery to attend a funeral and was greeted by a lopsided, handmade sign with scrawled words in black paint: NO ARTIFICAL FLOWERS! Sounding out the misspelling in my mind – “arti-fickle” – brought the giggles during what was supposed to be a solemn memorializing of someone’s life. I admit it. I’m a spelling snob. And a fake flowers snob – well, as memorials anyway. I have lots of fake flowers in my home since I am poor at remembering to water real plants. Fake ones don’t have to be remembered. And that’s my point. Fake flowers as memorials make no sense. Why bother putting a memorial that can be forgotten. So while I made fun of the sign, I am in sympathy with its intent. No ARTIFICAL flowers at my gravesite, please. And that’s the promise I gave my mother, now extended to my husband.
Perhaps our culture is more comfortable with memorials that can be forgotten. We don’t embrace sacrifice easily – well, who does? – maybe it’s that we don’t accept the NEED to sacrifice as part of life. And we don’t welcome having to remember the reality of suffering and death. Much better to keep the remembering to a minimum at least. Bring out the hotdogs! Run cars fast in a circle! Have another drink! Open the pool! Those rituals affirm life. They are much more fun! Such good distractions from hardship and struggle.
Yet remembering death and sacrifice affirms life as well. Clean up a grave. Send a package to a soldier. Visit a battle site. Share memories of loved ones who have died. Make a new ritual of remembrance that will serve to balance our memorializing – because all lives matter, because history deserves our attention.
Athos and I pulled grass from the myrtle at my mother’s grave last evening. Well, he chased birds as far as his leash would allow. I pulled weeds. Someone had gotten most of the mess out before I got there. Whoever that was – thank you. The last two years of shoulder surgeries for me and of Ron’s stroke and debilitation made my grave tending virtually nil. It felt good to be doing the work again. Ron’s grave with no headstone or plantings looked so bare, so fresh a wound in the earth, and in my heart. Somehow the veterans missed him, so not even a flag to commemorate his service. But I remember his life of sacrifice and duty. And that counts. Next I must plan how to memorialize his amazing life in the headstone we design.
Of course, he would not choose to make a fuss. Something simple, tasteful, if I must do anything at all. And I must. Remembering is good. Those of us still tethered in this life need to remember that the tether is temporary, that others have broken free and we will too, that we make memorials for ourselves so that we will not forget the preciousness of life – our own and everyone else’s. And then we can enjoy the hotdogs, cheer on the fast cars, raise a toast, and dive into good times with full abandon because we have taken the time to recognize how brief and uncertain is this gift of life.
Athos and I went to Dairy Queen for an ice cream treat once our cemetery duty was done. A new ritual we may include in our annual Memorial Day ceremonies. Maybe even oftener. Grass has to be remembered and pulled more frequently than once a year. No ARTIFICAL turf for us.