Thursday, April 16, 2009

On seeing his tombstone

My mother drove away from the Rivergate area toward Briley Parkway and I just looked out the window, like a little kid, at the restaurants, car service centers, discount stores--remembering, seeing Nashville in a different way.

And then we came upon a sign I wasn’t expecting: Springhill Cemetery. A gush of sadness rushed over my brain into my heart. We buried my father there almost four years ago. I had been back to Nashville every year since then, but never had the courage to face the cemetery, the tombstone, the ground where they lowered my father’s body. I didn’t want to go there; I didn’t want to cry.

Nor did I want to remember all too vividly the service at the site. How awful it was to watch my brother insist on carnations being placed on the casket. The workers had taken the gigantic clump of flowers we had given my dead father as a beautiful decoration for his casket, decorations he couldn’t see or even know about, off his casket. My brother stood and said wait; the tall blond woman, who helped us find the perfect place to bury my father’s body, (next to my great aunt and across the street from the military cemetery where my grandparents lie), held up her hand to the men and went to my brother to find out what he needed. She took out several red carnations and placed them on the casket for us.

I didn’t want to revisit the images that made up such a definitive moment in my life.

I didn’t want to remember how the funeral home director gave us seventy-three cents in a large transparent ziplock bag—money we were told that they found in my father’s pocket. Nor the messy office in which we sat with that insensitive director to discuss the arrangements.

Nor falling to my knees when I saw the lifeless body on a metal table with cotton on his eyelids and his hair uncombed, so unlike my father.

I knew seeing his tombstone, the burial grounds would bring back too many memories of that July when we learned of my father’s death from his sister. The memory of another aunt asking did I know anything about his business, the first thing to tumble out of her mouth, ready to take control, failing to provide sympathy. Memories of planning a funeral while battling shock.

I knew seeing his tombstone just reified the hard, stone truth that my children would never know their grandfather, that my father would never see his second grandson, nor watch the boys grow up, that I would always feel a sense of loss.

The tears began to form before we reached his plot, going through the maze of plots, of sadness, of memories…

The tears climbed from my eyes as we approached his plot and then one by one the tears fell as I walked awkwardly across the lawn, not sure where to step, trying to avoid other people’s loved ones, unable to touch the stone, not wanting to read his name or think about whom was actually there. I brushed them away not wanting them to get in the way, but the tears became the way for me to deal with seeing his tombstone, to remember and mourn…

My mother asked me if I wanted to stop, I wanted to say no, but I shook my head yes and convinced myself if I don’t allow myself to remember, stand in these moments of his death and burial, then I won’t remember to live.

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