My dad loves Costco. In fact, I think he loves it even more than I do. He is a man who needs very little, but he is also someone who never likes to be short of supplies. As evidence, we currently have five gallons of milk in our fridge. (“Just in case the other four gallons get consumed in under 24 hours!” I told my sister the other day. She laughed. “I love dad,” she said.)
In any case, when I mentioned that I needed to go to Costco to get some things for a party, my dad immediately said that he wanted to come with me. “Just so you know, I want to go to the cemetery first,” I said.
“Okay,” he said.
I’m not sure why I felt the need to explain myself, but I added, “I like it there. It’s peaceful.”
“I understand that,” he said. “I like going to the cemetery too. It’s nice out there.”
He wasn’t talking about the cemetery where Shawn is buried. In fact, at that point he hadn’t been out to that cemetery since the day of Shawn’s funeral. He was talking about the cemetery where my mom is buried – the same one where his body will eventually rest.
The drive out to the cemetery took about twenty minutes and we discussed all sorts of things. At one point, I said, “you know, my name is on Shawn’s gravestone. It says my birth year and everything. There’s just no death date. That was a weird thing to make a decision about when I was just 38.”
“I bet,” he said.
“But I figured, even in those early days of grief, that if I got remarried someday, I still wanted my kids to have just one place to visit both of their parents,” I said.
“That’s right,” he said. My dad is a practical man, and I knew he’d appreciate my logic.
We arrived at the cemetery and parked. I walked out to Shawn’s grave and cleared away the debris. “I like to make sure that it’s clean,” I said, “because you know his next-door neighbors Albert and Helena don’t have anyone doing that.”
There was goose poop on Albert and Helena’s grave (born in 1909 and 1910) so I used a stick to clean it off. I feel oddly responsible for them, somehow. I must come out to the cemetery a lot more than anyone who ever knew them. In fact, I bet Shawn gets ten times more visits than anyone buried near him. He may be the only one in his section of the cemetery who was born after the Second World War.
The geese were more numerous than they had been a month prior. It was the beginning of fall, and I knew there would be more as the weather grew colder. “It’s fitting,” my dad said, “that there are Canadian geese everywhere.”
I sat there for a long time. My dad walked around, giving me space. I stared off in the distance and thought about nothing and everything. Sometimes at the cemetery, I can’t find the words to tell Shawn much of anything. I just sit there and wish he was with me. I watched my dad in the distance, walking back towards me and I felt my throat catch as I tried to say something to him.
I watched him look again at a gravestone. “Hey, look at this,” he said, “this guy lived to be 102! So there’s hope for me yet!”
I laughed and teased him a bit. “Feeling inspired at the cemetery, Dad?”
“Well, I think I may make it for a while longer,” he said, with a sly smile. “Claire is really concerned that I’m going to die, you know.”
“I know,” I said.
“But I told her that I’m definitely going to make it at least 8 more years, so I’ll get to see her graduate from high school,” he said. “And I’ll probably make it 12 more years and then she will have graduated from college.”
“That’s very practical of you, Dad,” I said. “But I think you’ll make it even longer.” He shrugged in response.
We didn’t say much else. We both know his mortality is more pressing than mine. But my dad and I also know something else: that you really never know when your time is going to come.
In a way, it makes us both more comfortable with the idea of death. Maybe that’s why we both like the cemetery. In my hometown, birds migrate this time of year too. Maybe the geese and the gravestones and the long stretches of grass reminded him of my mom’s grave too.
I started walking towards the car. “Time for Costco?” he asked me.
“Time for Costco,” I said. And that’s where we went. We bought new towels and chicken breasts and six more boxes of cereal and then we drove back to the home that we share – the one where my husband and his wife are dead, but three little kids wake up every morning and need breakfast.
And we continue on. We live a life neither of us ever imagined, visiting the cemetery and talking about death and yet still making sure that my kids – his kids too, really – always have plenty of cereal and milk every morning.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.