I have always been uncomfortable in cemeteries ever since I can remember. My discomfort surrounding cemetery visits magnified one hundred fold after my daughter Jeannine’s death in March of 2003. Watching my daughter’s coffin being lowered into the ground during her gravesite service was symbolic of the end of her life, as I knew it, and the end of mine as I knew it. I have gone to the cemetery on a handful of occasions with my wife Cheri, only long enough to ensure that the flowers she planted were intact and that Jeannine’s sacred place filled with statues and other memorabilia was not disturbed.
Before I proceed further, I want to acknowledge my understanding of the importance for many of cemetery visits to help them navigate through grief following the death of their loved ones. However, my experience at her gravesite service was too painful for me to revisit it at any cost. Besides, I had plenty of reminders of Jeannine in the house that she lived in for almost her entire 18 years of life. I could live with my decision to not visit the cemetery on a regular basis.
A Penny From The Birdhouse Guy
If there is one consistent truth that I have discovered during my grief journey, it that there is no finite time frame to address challenges presented by the death of a child. We will do it when we are ready, and not before. I believe that we are all operating on spirit central time as it relates to the process of transformation after loss.
My dear friend and “soul brother”, Kris Munsch. flew in from Kansas during the latter part of April, to present The Birdhouse Project at a conference that I was involved in planning. He was also going to present the project to some of our Compassionate Friends of the Mohawk Valley chapter members on 4/27/13, which also happened to be Jeannine’s birthday. I had a desire to show Kris where Jeannine was buried, and we agreed to go prior to his presentation to our chapter.
I had never before asked a friend to visit Jeannine’s gravesite with me on any occasion prior to April 27th of this year. In retrospect, intuition and only intuition drove my request to Kris. I had no preconceived notions of what truths would be discovered during our visit.
As we were driving, I explained to Kris that I did not automatically know where I needed to go in the cemetery to find Jeannine’s gravesite. I would always have to ask my wife where to turn. Not only was Jeannine’s gravesite service on the day of her funeral painful, but it also contributed to my conscious choice to stop remembering everything else that happened for the rest of that day. I don’t believe it was denial of Jeannine’s death that contributed to this decision; I held her hand as she took her last breaths. I knew she had died. My brain just could not process anymore of what was going on around me; I just shut down.
Kris and I spent a few minutes together with Jeannine, and at the end of our visit, he carefully placed a penny on the corner of her headstone. Pennies are one of the ways that Jeannine communicates her presence to me. I don’t recall ever disclosing this fact to Kris in any of our previous conversations. So when Kris placed his penny on Jeannine’s headstone, it certainly got my attention.
Kris’s gesture reinforced for me that I could discover moments of grace and beauty in even my darkest of circumstances. I believe that Kris was meant to be there with me at that moment to show me that different perspective. Years ago, I would have never have thought that something as small as a penny could have such an impact on my thoughts about life, death and the cemetery. However, as Kris as always said: “It is the simple things that matter the most.”
Our visit to the cemetery concluded at approximately 12 noon…….. spirit central time.
I Go Back a Second Time
Later in the day, I drove to the cemetery by myself, and had an easier time navigating my way to her gravesite. I spent about 25 minutes just talking with her and thanking her for being a divine presence in my life. The more I continued to talk with Jeannine, the less conscious I was of being in a cemetery. I left there thinking that I need to do this again really soon.
The next time that I visit Jeannine at the cemetery, it will be with flowers in hand . Jeannine loved babies breath, but If I could though, I would plant an amaryllis. Unfortunately, amaryllis is better suited for an indoor climate.
The literal translation of amaryllis is “ to sparkle,” which was what Jeannine did while she was alive. She has also sparkled in spirit, through both her willingness to continue a relationship with me, and by bringing those special people in my life at those moments when I need their friendship and wisdom the most. Whether it is babies breath or another flower driven by spirit, it will be planted at her gravesite……. with love.