Not Everyone Benefits from Graveside Visits

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Many years ago, when I was in first grade, my parents and I visited an inner city grave.  It was my brother’s grave, a brother I never knew because he was a premature twin and died two days after he was born.  The other twin survived and I grew up with a brother.

While we were walking in the cemetery, I saw two people, obviously mother and daughter, approach a new site.  The mother looked at the grave stone and burst into tears.  Her crying became wailing and her wailing became keening.

Young as I was, I recognized the widow’s sorrow and felt sorrowful myself.

This memory surfaced after my daughter died in 2007.  Suddenly, my husband and I had to buy a cemetery plot, select a coffin, arrange for our daughter’s burial, and plan the memorial service.  We could barely think, let alone make major purchases.  I wanted to cry and wail and keen like the grieving widow I saw years ago.

When our daughter died, her former husband was still alive.  He asked us to bury our daughter instead of having her cremated so their twins would have a place to visit.  We did as he asked.  Today, almost four years later, we have visited her grave only once, and our grandchildren visited it once.

If you’re a bereaved parent, you may visit your child’s grave regularly, leave toys, spring flowers, or Christmas wreaths.  Visiting your child’s grave may be comforting, but it doesn’t comfort us.  Why?  For one thing, we were coping with multiple losses.

My father-in-law died two days after our daughter died.  Several weeks later, my brother died.  Nine months later, the twin’s father died in another car crash, and we became GRGs, grandparents raising grandchildren.

Visiting graves was at the bottom of our “To Do” list and our grandchildren were at the top.  We needed to give our grandchildren a stable home, their own rooms, cozy beds, nutritious food, emotional support, school support, and assist with the college search. Paul Alexander, author of “A Grief Guide and Healing Workbook,” might say we were absorbed in the flow of life.

According to Alexander, our love of the deceased and how we demonstrated our love affects our lives.  Mourning requires outward expression, he continues, and we need to “turn inward to hear the stillness and care for the heart.”

We cared for our hearts by caring for our grandchildren.  Visiting our daughter’s grave is not our memorial.  Rather, our memorial is seeing the twins graduate from high school with honors, find colleges they love, make the Dean’s List their freshman year, and pursue their careers.

You may not be able to visit a loved one’s grave because you live across the country.  Like us, you may choose to honor your loved one in different ways.  Bob Deits, in his book “Life After Loss,” says mourners are responsible for their own grief process.  This process may not include visiting a grave regularly.

Instead of focusing on death, we can focus on life, and the miracle of each day.

Harriett Hodgson 2011

Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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  • Deb Kosmer says:

    Harriet, I am really sorry for the tremendous amount of deaths of loved ones you have had to endure. Your artice shows that you have not only endured but survived and really reinvested in life. What a tribute to your daughter and what a gift to your grandchildren to be given love and stability following the tragic deaths of both parents. You must be very proud of them. I have not spent alot of time at the cemetery but know others who do. As you say so beautifully we each have to find our own way. Blessings, Deb

  • Harriet Hodgson says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful words, Deb. When I sent this article to the webmaster I told him the article might be controversial. Certainly, I don’t want to hurt anyone who benefits from graveside visits. My husband and I honor our daughter’s memory every day and I see her face in my twin grandchildren’s faces. Life is good again.
    Harriet