I’ve always loved visiting cemeteries. They don’t seem morbid or sad to me, with their rows of weather-beaten gravestones and marble angels ascending plinths and resting on tombs, but they feel like prayerful places.
On Sunday I visited the old cemetery where my grandparents and great-grandparents are buried in Pasadena, California, at Mountain View Cemetery, a place so picturesque that it was a setting in the TV show Six Feet Under several years ago.
My grandmother often took me there when I was a kid, and I would look at the stones of ancestors, asking their names, hearing their stories, trying to figure out by the dates on the polished granite, how old they were when they died.
“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil” went the psalm we had memorized in Sunday school. If this cemetery was death’s valley, it was a pretty nice place.
My grandmother had a weak heart, as we were told, and often needed to rest. It wouldn’t be uncommon for her to lie down at the cemetery and take a nap after she had left flowers on her husband’s grave.
On Sunday I looked again at her stone: Mabel Patten Hamlin, January 31, 1896 – May 1, 1963.
On that first of May, a perfect day for flowers, she had gone that to Mountain View, a bouquet in her arms, and put the roses in one of the cups that used to be next to the gravestones. Then she would have rested for a while.
The caretaker must have assumed she was taking another one of her naps, but at the end of the day she was still lying on the grass. An ambulance was called. She was rushed to the hospital. That evening my dad got the call. She had died at Mountain View.
My prayers are filled with life and death. C.S. Lewis once said that it was impossible not to pray for the dead when you got to a certain age because so many of your loved ones were gone.
And yet not really gone. I brushed away the grass from my grandmother’s stone and left some roses from my mom’s garden next to it. She was a terrific grandmother–warm, affectionate, loving, like my mom has been with her grandkids. I was filled with gratitude.
Like I said, cemeteries are prayerful places.