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.