Thursday, March 16, 2017

Forgotten? Who Can Say?

...not realizing the significance of a forgotten grave - that one small thing, that soul - at one time, the most important thing in the world to someone, held through sickness and health, and cherished even as they grew old and faded as flowers will. - Brigid*
Every family portrait is a snapshot in time, an attempt to seize a moment of perfection and hold on to it. But time cannot be restrained, it runs on, runs on and eventually, for each of us runs out. - Lex
Like I mentioned the other day, sometimes I think too much. While I can't say that I have a morbid fascination with death, I do wonder at times. Perhaps too much. There are days that I feel that I'm taking the field ill-equipped to think about these kinds of things. But then again, no one who hasn't died can really be an expert on the topic, can they?

To my knowledge, and in adherence to my beliefs, only one being in the course of time has died and, well, "lived to tell about it." Though as Jesus had bigger things in mind, He didn't tell us what it was like. Since then hundreds of thousands of people have told us "what it means" and "what happens when you die." As if they really know, they can only, like anyone else, speculate. While I'm not here to speculate, or question anyone's personal belief system, there are certain aspects of death, and it's consequences, that I think about.

That line above from one of Brigid's recent posts really got me to thinking. The post from Lex only made me think more, along the same lines, though he spoke of life, not death.

I visit my Dad's grave from time to time. He's buried in the town I grew up in, some 155 miles north of where I live now. Normally when I head that way it's to visit with my Mom. On some occasions, if we're over in the town of my upbringing, where my brother still lives, we might head to the cemetery to visit my Dad's grave. In the winter, if it has snowed, which in Vermont is a pretty safe bet, we can't get there.

So while it might happen a few times a year, it's not every time we head up that way. Part of the reason is that I know my father isn't there, at least not in the grave, those are only his earthly remains. Where his spirit dwells can be anywhere I suppose. I hold him in my heart, I think of him each and every day.

The same goes for my mother-in-law and father-in-law, not a day goes by that I don't think of them. While some folks don't really care about their in-laws, I did, and do (I have quite a few in the brother, sister, son, and daughter-in-law categories). The parents of The Missus Herself were quite lovely and incredible people. One could not but love them. For how they raised their children, how they cherished their grandchildren, and for how they treated this random Caucasian from across the sea who took their daughter off over the eastern horizon. (Though truth be told, one of the reasons I stayed in Korea as long as I did was so that The Missus Herself could acclimatize herself to my "Western ways" and for the simple fact that I absolutely love Korea and her people.)

Then there are my grandparents. They are buried in the town of my father's birth and upbringing. Not all that far from where I grew up, but truth be told, I don't remember the last time I visited their graves. I'm pretty sure it's been less than ten years but I have not made the effort to go there like I do with my Dad. I'm not sure why.

I have a favorite uncle, he passed away while I was in Germany. While I was saddened to hear of his death, I didn't really break down over it. We (my brothers and I) were very close with my Dad's older brother, the middle kid of my Dad's family. We hunted with him, stayed overnight at his house, after high school I even worked at the same company as he. He was almost like a second Dad.

After I retired from the Air Force, my Mom and I went to visit his grave. I broke down, I wept bitter tears at his loss and that I would see him no more in this world. Bear in mind, he had been dead for a couple of years at that time. I knew he was dead, I knew what death was, but it was all kind of theoretical until I knelt by his grave and saw his name upon that cold slab of granite. It became a tangible thing, something real.

I don't know how folks whose loved ones who have been lost at sea, or been listed as "Missing In Action" deal with the reality of loss. Part of the brain knows that the loved one is gone, that they will not be seen again in this lifetime, yet, part of the brain will always think, "Perhaps they are still alive, somewhere." Irrational perhaps, but that's the way it is.

The Missus Herself was with her Dad when he died, she was there, she knows it happened. When her Mom passed away, very suddenly and unexpectedly, we were in the midst of preparing to retire from the Air Force and move back to the United States from Germany, so she didn't feel she could go home to Korea for her Mom's funeral. After all, it wasn't like with her Dad, we had been notified that he was very ill and it didn't look good, so she went there to be with him as he died. She had closure with her father's passing. She didn't with her mother.

For a long time I didn't understand where she was coming from with that. Now, for some reason, I do understand it. If you don't see a thing with your own eyes, how can it be truly real? She does plan to visit Korea, soon we hope, and one of the stops she plans to make is her mother's grave.

Will that "end" that chapter of her life? No, not at all. She will always remember her parents.

But what of those generations before one's grandparents? Have I ever visited the graves of my great-grandparents? Well, yes, and no. My maternal grandmother's father, that would be my great-grandfather, was still alive when I was but a wee bairn. (As he was a Scotsman, he'd get that, probably called me that at some point.) Do I remember him? No, I was still a babe in arms when he died. I have though, visited his grave. He and his wife, my great-grandmother, are buried not far from my paternal grandparents.

My other great-grandfather, my Dad's grandfather, is buried in northern Vermont. I have been there, when I was very little. My Mom and The Olde Vermonter have made a point, on recent Memorial Days, or thereabouts, of visiting his grave.

Of my mother's grandparents I know very little. She was estranged from her father, (who I never met, nor wanted to meet) so his parents are nothing but names to me. Of her maternal grandparents I also know nothing. Why, I'm not sure, it just is. Do I know their names? Not really, though I have them written down, somewhere. Oddly enough, I do know the names of my Dad's grandfathers, though only the last names of his grandmothers.

So are they forgotten? Does anyone tend their graves? Well, yes, someone does tend the cemeteries where they are buried, so by extension their graves are tended to, they are neat and tidy at any rate. Does anyone put flowers on those graves? I don't know. And yes, I'm a little ashamed that I don't know that. Whose responsibility is that? Mine? My mother's? Is there a point at which the dead no longer have anyone who remembers them, therefore they too are forgotten?

There are, all over New England, small graveyards, from as early as the 1600s, where no one knows the people who are buried there. These cemeteries are no longer used, even the words on the tombstones have faded to vague shapes. There are times when the sadness of that is nearly overwhelming, for people I don't even know. Who remembers them?

There are things we should know, questions we should have asked when we were young. But we didn't. Why? We were young, the older generation took care of such things. There is much I would like to know now which I may never know. The generation which knew those things is gone. Not even my mother remembers the things I would like to know.

In battles of old, the troops would line up and march forward. Whether with swords and pikes or muskets and bayonets it was the same. There would be multiple lines, one behind the other. As those in the front fell, those behind would step forward, to maintain the line.

In life it's kind of the same, though for the most part far less violent. When you're a kid, you're in the rear, there are folks in front of you to take the brunt of what life throws at us. As you get older, you move towards the front of that line. You no longer have anyone in front of you to shield you from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, that thing we call life.

Eventually, if one is lucky, you will be in that front line. The older generations have passed away, you are the oldest generation now. Will you remember those who went before? Will anyone remember you when your time runs out?

Something to think about in the wee hours...

Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud
By John Donne

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

* I would provide a link to Brigid's post whence I drew this quote. However, thanks to an idiot troll she had to take her blog behind an "invitation only" wall. You can still catch some of her posts at Borepatch's place, which ain't a bad place to visit in its own right.


  1. We visit my mother's side of the family reaching back almost 150 years when I go to visit my parents - but when my parent's generation dies, I will probably be the only one of my family to remember where it is or being willing to go. It is sad I suppose, but to be fair I am probably the same way with my father's side - beyond his parents (I know where they are buried) I really do not go there, even when I am home.

    1. As time stretches on, we lose our connections to the past if we're not careful.

  2. I'm almost at the front of the line. The runway is getting close, I think I just heard the wheels come down, but I'm still enjoying the ride.

    I expect to meet those that were ahead of me in the line. My atheist friends say I'm nuts. I tell them "At least you'll never tell me, 'I told you so'."

    1. I like the flying, coming in to land, analogy. Dear to my heart that is.

      As to your atheist friends, yeah, we won't ever have to suffer those "I told you so" comments.

  3. All you can do, is to remember those you knew, or knew of. Anything else is not possible. They are now with God, and their loved ones. You are a Good Man, and the best thing to do, is to continue to be so. That you are more than capable of, as you don't seem to have any other settings.

  4. Ever since I was backdrafted out of a structure fire " rage against the storm", is my pattern. Ended up sitting on the fire hose thirty foot from the door. Got up, proceeded to reenter, and lead the dampening of the fire. White light, yellow and one sore butt. Local press got a photo after I landed.

    1. Fits right in with one of Juvat's favorite sayings, "Never give up, never surrender."

  5. Got quite a few photos that jibe nicely with this post, thanks.

    In the Edinburgh Train Station, beginning the long road home. Suffice it to say, Sarge, your ancestral homeland is quite beautiful, your kinfolk friendly and the whisky sublime. Fish and chips, though? Well that's grist (see what I did there?) for another day.

    1. Looking forward to the AAR.

      Glad you enjoyed the ancestral homeland.

  6. This post sits well in the local environment.
    There are many thoughts on the subject, as Saturday we attended the funeral of a good friend and Tuesday visited MB's uncle, who's terminal, at the VA Hospital in Palo Alto.
    I'm not much for visiting grave sites because of my preference for remembering what it was like.
    My father is buried in a communal grave at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis.
    A name on a slab with maybe a dozen others.
    Mom's somewhere in Oakland with Dad (my stepfather).
    Her side of the family are all in the "City of the Dead", Colma, California (just about everyone from San Francisco is buried there).
    My Father's parents are at a little cemetery on a hill in San Mateo.
    GS is in an urn on the mantel in Anderson until it is determined where here final resting place will be.
    I'm pretty sure that decision is all mine.
    But... those are only the final remains.
    All of them are still fully alive in my mind and I never know when one or more will greet me and improve my day, even my Father.

  7. I've visited my Grandfather's grave at Ft. Rosecrans (and Grandma and young Uncle- all buried in the same plot), several times, but have only once visited my mother's, at the VA Cemetery in Central Point Oregon. I'm not sure of the value in it though, what good would come from turning myself into a semi-sobbing mess? Is it cathartic or self-induced pain? She gets nothing from it, and I just would feel sad. Hmm. Something to ponder.

    1. There is that.

      Sometimes it's a little of both for me. It feels like a duty somehow.

  8. WOW! One awesome post after another, how DO you do it?

    My wife's family have a graveyard on the family ranch ( called "The End of the Trail" ) and I have been invited to have my earthly remains put there when I am through using this body. I think it is comforting to know that one's body has somewhere to go when one no longer has need of it.

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Thanks Paul. Knowing where the old bones will end up is a comfort.

      I have chosen Arlington.

  9. Your post, and the poem at the end, put me in mind of the Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom.

    In part:

    "Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

    O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen."

    1. And therein lies comfort for the faithful.

      Well said Joe, well said and Amen!

    2. Not I, sir. St. John. I'm just passing on something your words reminded me of.

      Also the Paschal Troparion:

      Christ is risen from the dead,
      Trampling down death by death,
      And upon those in the tombs
      Bestowing life!

  10. We all like to have nice neat answers to our questions. The ones we don't have answers to are very important. In a sense they are what makes us human. They give us purpose, to seek, to explore. I like what Eliot wrote, "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."


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