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