Costco and the Cemetery
The cemetery where Shawn is buried is wild and beautiful, filled with trees and migrating birds and simple headstones in the ground. It is a peaceful and truly contemplative place, and though it’s right outside the city, it feels like the countryside. When I chose the cemetery, I chose it for all of these reasons. I also chose it because it’s right next to Costco.
I know. But hear me out. I wanted to go to Shawn’s grave, sit there and think about our life together, grieve for him, remember him…and do it more than once a year. I wanted to make it part of my regular life, and well, Costco is a part of my regular life.
My contact at the cemetery is a man named Mister Ron Lewis. Yes, his given first name is “Mister.” Anyway, he could not be nicer, and the day after Shawn died when I went to the cemetery with a group of friends, he was exactly what I needed. “Listen,” I told him in the first few minutes, “I just want to get this over with. Please, just make this as quick as you can.” He obliged.
I chose a spot on a hill, overlooking where the geese now settle. There is a large tree to the left of his grave and headstones surrounding his, many with birthdates on them from a hundred or more years ago. Even as we buried Shawn on that freezing January day, I knew that it was a perfect spot. In between the short ceremony at the gravesite and the burial, we had to wait for the groundsmen to move the casket. My children and two of my cousins’ kids, somewhat oblivious to the setting, ran up and down the hill, chasing each other. I watched them play and explore in the way that young kids do, jumping over headstones and running around the statue at the top. Even though I could not muster a smile, that moment is seared into my memory. It felt hopeful. There I was, in the worst week of my life, about to bury my husband. And there were our children, running around as though they were at a park, happy to be free of the church pews and car seats, happy to be running around even if it was a day they knew was very sad and serious.
He was not living anymore. But they were.
I think about that moment often. I think about it when I see my kids riding their bikes and screaming with joy, when I watch them run around the house with their friends, when I see them jump up with down in excitement over the prospect of dessert or a new toy. They are sad, to be sure, and they grieve for their dad. But they keep on living, and the joy that they experience can sometimes make my day feel lighter.
My kids seem to know how to continue on in a way that I find much harder to do. They do not feel guilty when they are happy, they just feel happy when they are happy. “This is the BEST day of my life!” Claire said to me the other day. It’s something she used to tell me at least once a week, but it had been a while since I’d heard that phrase from her. It’s one I know I used to use often, one I know she picked up from me. But it’s not a phrase I’ve used since Shawn got sick.
And yet I know that Shawn would not want me to be as sad as I am. He certainly didn’t want me to be as sad as I was when he was dying. I remember once he talked about how I would need to vacation with the kids, even without him, and I started sobbing. “Why are you crying?” he asked, surprised. “Because I don’t want to do it without you!” I told him.
But now, I have to. I have to do everything without him.
Today I went back to the cemetery. I had planned to go alone, but when my friend Michelle found out, she insisted on coming with me. Thank goodness she did, because it was a gut-wrenching process to choose something nice, to wander among the headstones and remember everything about the day I buried Shawn. At one point, I sat down at the head of his grave and let the tears stream down my face.
I stopped crying when I looked up and saw how beautiful it was. It was a perfect early spring day, with bright sunshine. Michelle noticed that grass had started to grow on his grave. I could see the statue on the hill, and I remembered my kids running up and down it on the day we buried him.
Shawn loved life, and he lived every day fully. He wanted me to do that too, and he left behind three great kids to remind me to run up and down the hills, to laugh at things that are funny, and to explore places that make me curious. Or if I can’t do that yet, to at least put one foot in front of the other.
I got up, and bought the headstone.
And then I went to Costco.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.
Michelle O'Hara Levin
And you did it all with grit, grace and the appropriate amount of humor. I know Shawn would be very proud. I am too. Xoxo, Michelle
And thanks for being with me through it all. I’m so lucky to have you in my life.
The candor, the subtle humor…all so graceful. If there’s anyone who has the strength to move forward, it’s you Marjorie. Shawn would be so very proud.
Pete, you knew us way back when. I can still remember when we told you we were dating and you were so enthusiastic! Miss you, my friend.
You are such a bad ass! Reflect, laugh, cry, and process! I love you!
Can’t wait to see you soon, cousin. Love you.
I found your site two weeks after my husband, Gregg’s death on March 29, 2020. Gregg left my 11 year old daughter and I unexpectedly that evening after a wonderful day together at home. One minute he was smiling and talking with our daughter and the next, he suddenly and without warning, collapsed in our driveway. He was 48. The autopsy revealed he went into ventricular defibrillation. I did CPR on him as best as I could until help arrived. I feel I could have done a better job though, and in my mind, I constantly replay how I could have done things differently. Maybe I could have bought Gregg more time and he’d still be here with us. I know this kind of thinking is defeating and useless; but, my mind goes there all the time. It’s torture.
When I found your site, I was scouring the internet desperately looking to find women who had been, or were, in my situation. I have lots of caring people sending me their thoughts, prayers and food (which I have little desire to eat) but I just don’t feel they can relate and fully understand what I am feeling. I feel foolish writing this, but I looked up Catie Couric, because I knew she lost her husband, and she had children, and I wondered how long she was out of work, how did she get through the grief, and I was looking for any advice based on experience of how to get through the fog and the pain.
Somehow, I stumbled on to your blog, and I’m so glad I did. So much of what I am feeling has been written or discussed on your site either by you or the people that reply to your posts. The feeling that others know what I am going through because they are going through the same thing, or have in the past, makes me feel less alone and it gives me hope that I too can emerge on the other side of this heartache, strong and happy. I am not feeling that now, but I can envision a ray of sunlight on the other side of this enormous dark cloud.
I just wish I knew how long this storm of grief was going to last. It hurts so bad. I want it to be gone, but I also feel that would not be fair to Gregg. He was such a wonderful, loving, smart, witty and funny husband and father; he deserves to be grieved for longer than I want to ache. He wasn’t perfect like you wrote in one of your posts, but he was a good man with good character and he loved me and his daughter unconditionally. We were SO loved; I never ever doubted that during our 21 years of marriage. I’m so worried at 47, I will never find that kind of love again or a man that will love my daughter in this way. I feel guilty even mentioning that, but I miss that love and it pains me to think I’ll never have it again. As scary as that thought is, it is fleeting for now, because I don’t want to do life without Gregg. I just can’t envision it in the future, even though I’m currently doing it. I’ve done life for 5 weeks without him now; it just doesn’t seem real, and it hurts. It hurts so bad.
While I grieve and cry everyday, my daughter has yet to shed a tear. She hugs me intensely for long periods when we talk about Gregg, but otherwise you’d have no idea her father recently passed. She talks to her friends as if nothing has happened and goes about the day be-bopping around, smiling and cracking jokes. I know we all grieve in different ways; but, I find this concerning and it just complicates the situation more.
First, I’m so terribly sorry for your loss. It’s always so hard but it’s even harder right now. There are so many things I want to respond to in this post, but one of them is that kids often grieve differently than adults – I know mine did. They can come in and out of grief in a way we cannot. It’s something to explore (with teachers and counselors, someday when that’s possible again post-coronavirus) but it’s also something that I think is fairly normal. It’s a way that kids cope. I also remember asking “when will this terrible grief be over?” It does get better. But not having a timeline is HARD. Hang in there.
I am so thankful to have come across your blog. I lost my husband suddenly without warning 4 months ago. We have the most beautiful 4 year old that we welcomed into our home with open arms when he was a year old. We are both hurting and coping the best we can. He misses his Papa so much and they were everything to each other. Papa was the fun, wrestling, climb all over me guy and I am the organize, keep things moving kind of mama. I can relate to so much you have written. I don’t want to “do this life” without my husband. He is my best friend and my “tag your in” guy when I just need to step back, breath and collect myself. This new reality just doesn’t feel real, yet I know in my shattered heart it is.
I’m so sorry. The early days are the worst, truly. My low point was actually right at about 4 months, when I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to move forward. But you can, truly. It’s all about just getting through the days and not trying to imagine the next month or year or decade. Those days will come, but thinking about them can just be totally overwhelming. Hang in there. I remember so vividly how it feels and my heart goes out to you.