The other day, as I was driving to Costco, I decided to stop at the cemetery. I was hungry when I got there, and so I sat down at Shawn’s grave and ate Sun Chips and told him about what was happening in my life. I don’t know why I do this.
As I was talking, I saw a man in the distance. He had on a cowboy hat and a large beard. He was probably my age. He seemed to be looking for something on the ground. Maybe someone’s name? Maybe something else? What was he doing, I wondered? I sat at Shawn‘s grave for a long time that day. It was cool and beautiful and sunny and the sky was so blue I just wanted to stay there even though I’m not really sure why. And so I watched this man – the one with the cowboy hat – walk around and around the cemetery, looking for whatever it was he was looking for.
After a while a woman came up to him. She was older; maybe she was his mother. She was also looking for something. They came closer to each other and seemed to discuss something, though it was unclear what. I saw the woman point to the praying hands statue, and I looked to where she was pointing. It’s my favorite part of the cemetery because it’s where my children like to play when they come to their father’s grave. But I was alone that day, so I hadn’t gone over to the praying hands. I just sat at Shawn’s grave and I watched them for a while. I heard her say to him, “I think it’s over here somewhere,” and then she pointed at some of the graves. They went over to the spot where she had pointed and looked around. Then they spoke again. They walked around for a little while longer, the man saying nothing and the woman sometimes saying, “maybe over here.” Finally I saw them point up to the office at the top of the hill. They walked towards it.
It was clear that the man and the woman were looking for a grave, one that they couldn’t find. How strange, I thought, to come out on a Monday afternoon on the prettiest day of the year to visit a grave that you can’t find. I suppose that’s how it is when people have been gone a really long time. If you asked me to find my mother’s grave, I might be able to do it but I might also get lost. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to her grave.
It made me think about how we remember those we’ve lost. I felt sad thinking about how I come to Shawn‘s grave less frequently than I once did, and how maybe someday I’ll only come a few times a year. It made me sad to imagine that his grave might be somewhat forgotten as time passes. Even by me.
I don’t know what to do about this exactly. I want to believe that we never ever forget the people we’ve lost and we always go and visit their graves with the same amount of regularity. But this man and woman at the cemetery showed me otherwise. As a person is gone for longer and longer, the memory of that person begins to fade and those of us left behind often do things, like visit the cemetery, less frequently.
I don’t think that the cemetery is the only place nor the best place to remember Shawn. I think the best place to remember Shawn is in his children’s eyes, as corny as that sounds. But it’s true, his greatest legacy are the children. Shawn’s friends also remember him. And of course his family mourns him. His colleagues still sometimes recall the work he did in his life. But no one goes to his grave anymore besides me. Or at least no one goes with any regularity besides me.
So what does it mean that I am already going there less frequently than I once did? I don’t know. There are no straightforward answers. Maybe I miss him less than I once did. But that doesn’t mean that his life wasn’t important and then our life together wasn’t real. But this fading – I think that’s just how grief often works.
For now, I’m simply glad I chose to bury Shawn near Costco. I didn’t plan to come out to the cemetery that day. I was simply headed to to get some food. My kids needed Cheez-Its and granola bars and many more gallons of milk. It was spring break for me as a teacher and since the pandemic meant I couldn’t go anywhere, I figured I’d go to Costco. And when I was driving to Costco I thought, “I want to be at the cemetery.” That was it. There was no grand plan.
I don’t often make plans to visit Shawn’s grave anymore. I go in the regular moments, usually when I’m just driving to Costco and I think of it. It’s a strange thing, really. This person who I loved so much for so many years – I don’t think about him in every moment anymore. But when I do remember him in those in-between moments, like that day at the cemetery, I try to feel some degree of peace about it.
Someday, we’ll all be forgotten. Until then, I’m glad there are pieces of Shawn that remain with me, something that pulls me back to that cemetery on a still somewhat regular basis. And when I’m gone, and my children’s children are also gone, and no one remembers anything about any of our lives, I think that’s okay. That’s life, isn’t it? Maybe, in fact, it’s the greatest endorsement of the importance of living a full life today, rather than worrying too much about our legacy after we die.
No matter what, I was happy to sit on that hill on a beautiful day, listening to the sound of the geese and remembering the life that Shawn lived.
It was a good one.