Tag Archives: cemeteries

We remember together.

While the weather was of the wintry-spring sort, cold and rainy, we had a typical Memorial Day in several ways. There was barbecued meat and watermelon served on a red checkered tablecloth, and more importantly, a visit to the cemetery.

None of our friends or family are buried nearby, but not far away in Colorado Springs is the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery, which was the perfect place to visit today. The rain had stopped and it was only cloudy. We walked through the wet grass to read the markers on many graves, and we prayed.

As Liam and Laddie and I were straggling behind along the row of freshest graves, some from as recent as this month, we met a smiling woman leading a poodle, who asked us if we had seen the grave marker remembering an Air Force wife for being a “worrier.” Hmm…. no, we hadn’t! Was the worrier her relative? She said no. I quickly picked up on the fact that she was headed toward a different one of those recent graves, that of her husband who passed last year.

She began to tear up, and apologized for it. I asked if I could give her a hug, and learned that they had been married for 53 years. It was a sweet widows’ embrace that warmed us both on that drizzly morning.

While we had been wandering among the graves, we’d seen a soldier in camo going from grave to grave saluting smartly. After a time he began to play a pennywhistle, and to run through one battle or marching song after another. As we were leaving we sang along with his little flute, “God Bless America.”

Amen.

When suffering and death come.

I almost broke out of my “cage” last week to visit my husband’s grave. My priest would meet me there, and we would pray on the memorial of my beloved’s repose, five years ago. But we changed our plan and had a virtual gathering with him praying in the church and more of us praying along via Zoom than would ever have been able to come to the cemetery. Before we had conceived the graveside plan and given it up, we had planned for me to bring a koliva to church to serve after a service there. I know people everywhere have been accomplishing many and various quick-change feats lately.

The Zoom meeting/service was a little odd; I’m certain it was the first prayer service ever held that way in my parish, but under the circumstances it was the best, and I was really glad we did it. More than 21 people were able to be with me that way, and some of you were among them. I could see that 21 devices were tuned in, and some of them represented couples or families.

Most of us had our microphones turned off, but even having two or three people singing or praying together on Zoom confuses the audio stream. I was thankful to all of those who were willing to listen above the superficial distortion to the beauty of the memorial, for the sake of praying with me and for my husband. It was sweet to see their names and/or faces, and after the hymn “Memory Eternal” more people turned on their mics to say it individually.

That was a blessing of the current version of normal, and a good alternative to standing in the rain six feet away from my priest. But when I do eventually feel free to visit the cemetery, that real and physical resting place (I will choose a sunny day), I can see me with my face in the grass, smelling the earth, feeling the breeze blowing over me and over all those waiting for the Resurrection of the Dead. Until then I am sharing a few pictures of events featuring more concrete, material remembrances, the sorts of gatherings which we will be less likely to take for granted in the future — I hope!

Today as I write, it is Saturday, which is the Sabbath, as we were reminded in our (streamed) morning prayers from church. The day of rest. But most of us don’t rest ourselves on this day. Rather, the church remembers those who are resting in death, waiting for the Resurrection, Resurrection Day, which we both celebrate and look forward to on Sundays, as Sunday is the Eighth Day.

When I “came home,” which meant coming downstairs, I read the passage from I Corinthians appointed for the day, and it is on the same theme, a topic on the minds of many in these days of a world pandemic, a time when death statistics are in nearly every news article one comes across. I keep thinking about Ivan in Tolstoy’s story, and how it was only in suffering that he began to get understanding. I will quote from my own blog post, written only a month ago, so soon pertinent to our moment:

“It is the disruption of Ivan Ilyich’s pleasant life, the pain of his illness, and the growing realization that he is dying, that make him pay attention, and even pray. His prayer is along the lines of, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ but nevertheless: ‘Then he was still, ceased weeping, held his breath, and was all attention; he listened, as it were, not to a voice uttering sounds, but to the voice of his soul, to the current of thoughts that rose up within him.'”

It is always a good thing to realize that one is dying. Those of us who will survive this recent threat and go on to live many more happy decades are no less under the sentence of death than those who will die from Covid-19. The realization can lead to repentance, and that in turn, to life.  Here is the epistle reading for today:

Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed— in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O[Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. -I Corinthians 15:50-57

Let’s not only pray that we and the people we love be delivered from physical suffering and death, but also that when suffering and death come, as they will, we all will be able to hear the voice of God in our hearts. As it was for Ivan, for some it will be the beginning of true life.

For Thou art the Resurrection, the Life, and the Repose of Thy servants who have fallen asleep, O Christ our God, and unto Thee we ascribe glory, together with Thy Father, who is from everlasting, and Thine all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen.

-From Prayer for the Departed

The grump showed up with snowballs.

From the ascent with our Savior through Holy Week, through the Crucifixion, to the peak of Paschal joy – from there the only direction for the emotions is down. The sun went away right after the high holy days, also, and the thermometer dropped as fast as our mood.

But we came to the second Tuesday after Pascha nevertheless, the day when I always love to go to one cemetery after another with my snowball (viburnum) flower petals and sing “Christ is risen” along with varying numbers of other Orthodox who keep this tradition around here. And today I thought I might just go to the first one on the route, where my husband is buried. It was another cloudy and cold morning, and for reasons I probably don’t even know the half of, I just wanted to stay in bed.

One reason I came after all was that this year, finally, we were invited in writing, in the bulletin or in an email or both, to bring a picnic and to eat together at the third cemetery when we had completed our rounds of the graves and prayers. I had planned what I would cook this morning and bring, and I didn’t want to miss being able to hang around the cemetery longer. (Is there an “afterglow” among the graves? Oh, yes!) Though I did wonder, “Why this year, for a picnic? This is not picnic weather!!” I looked at the forecast and they did say the sun might come out by noon…. Please, Lord!

It’s pathetic how long I argued with the day and with myself. I got up late, but in time to cook sausages and load a basket with bread and butter. In the garden I cut a bagful of snowballs and remembered to bring in some fresh little flowers for the icon that essentially shows the Incarnation of the One who has destroyed death by death. I was humming the resurrectional verses about that as I went about my work, and all these activities showed me that I was indeed alive, and not even half crippled.

Last week I read Earthly Possessions by Anne Tyler, which a friend had recommended and lent to me. You might say it’s about half-crippled, dysfunctional and alienated people. It reminded me of Flannery O’Connor except that the characters weren’t real or strange enough to convey their lostness. On the other hand, there was no hope of their finding or being found by God. Descriptions of scenes or people always included details of ugliness or brokenness, but never beauty on any level, outer or inner.

I thought a lot about the novel at the cemeteries today. The narrator Charlotte would have found lots of tackiness to describe, had she been with us. The old parts of the cemeteries are not kept up. I found pictures just now that I had taken of these resting places in the past, including the most neglected one, where Nina is buried.

Five years ago she sat in her wheelchair at the concrete curb that surrounds the graves of her husband and son while we were singing. Now her dear body has been in the ground next to them for three years, and the plastic flowers hanging on her makeshift grave marker have lost all their beauty. Some artificial flowers are truly lovely, but please! If you decorate a grave with them, don’t expect them to live forever.

When I was on my way to the third cemetery, the sun came out!

Below is another scene from five years ago: the rockrose at Father D’s grave in its glory. He founded a monastery in our town, and the nuns who live there always like to visit this spot in particular. Now the bush is quite dead, and I wonder if anyone will replace it….

I saw many things that Tyler’s Charlotte would not have told you about: poppies, and beautiful children, and  elderly people who came hobbling with their walkers and canes and patience to sing to the departed, those we know are included in that company of whom we are told, in St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians:

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

What a mystery! We know so little about those who have passed from this life. We entrust them to God, and we don’t stop loving them… I shared my bag of blossoms with the children in our group, some of whom are newly baptized and had never been to a cemetery before. I told them it was okay to scatter the petals on any of the graves; we may not know the souls who sleep there, but we can still honor them.

The little guy on the left is five years older than when I took this picture on a Radonitsa in the past, and today he was one of the children who helped toss white petals and red eggshells on the graves. Those decorations look very pretty together, by the way.

We enjoyed our picnic. I remembered the butter but forgot my loaf of bread on the kitchen counter. Several people had contributed to the feast that it turned out to be. It seems likely that from now on we will keep this tradition, and I will plan to bring chairs or a waterproof picnic cloth so more people can sit around longer. But our priest and deacon didn’t linger; they were headed to two more cemeteries!

I came home via the paint store, where I picked up several color swatches to help me with my remodeling. My inadequacy in the realms of color and design is probably one of the things getting me down lately. The man at the store said that if I bring in a flooring sample they can tell me what paint colors look good with it. That was very encouraging, but I still brought home a few paint colors to help me at the flooring store. Don’t worry – I know all of these don’t go together!

It’s easier for me in the garden; there, if the tones clash, you can remove a plant much more easily than repainting a whole room. My husband used to claim that all the colors of flowers look good with all the other colors. I don’t agree, so I guess I am not entirely lacking in color confidence.

Two of the blues that I like are called World Peace and Sacrifice. (Seems like that could be the beginning of a poem.) I don’t understand how it is that one of them supposedly complements the rust color named Copper Creek but the other one doesn’t. That’s just one of the things I’ll ask the nice man at the Kelly-Moore store next week.

When I finally came home I saw an article in my blog feed: “Ninety Percent of Orthodoxy is Just Showing Up.” That was very timely for me; I realized that blessing the graves required me showing up there at the cemetery. My mood didn’t matter at all, and I’m sure it would not have improved by not going. But tomorrow my plan is to stay home and do only homey things. I won’t argue with myself about that!

The death of death, and wildflowers.

“Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”

This is one of the Paschal hymns our little groups sang over and over today, as we walked among the graves at several cemeteries, rejoicing with those who wait in hope.

It is called the Day of Rejoicing, or Radonitsa,
and is always the second Tuesday after Pascha.

 

Today the wind was blowing, so we could not keep our candles lit. The sun peeked out from behind clouds from time to time.

More wildflowers than I’ve ever seen were blooming in the non-endowed cemeteries. This must be because of the very wet winter and spring we have had.

 

 

 

 

 

The rattlesnake grass was blowing in the breeze and making a graceful and wavy dance.

I knew that Scarlet Pimpernel was a flower, but I didn’t know it was this flower
growing among the lupines. My godmother told me.

My husband is buried at one of the cemeteries we visited, and my goddaughter at another.
We sang and burned incense and sprinkled holy water over the graves of dozens of others
who are resting in the earth, awaiting the Resurrection of the Dead.

This year I remembered to bring the shells from our red Pascha eggs
to sprinkle on the graves, and flowers from my snowball bush, too.
We were all so happy to be there!

“We celebrate the death of death, the destruction of hell, the beginning of eternal life.
And leaping for joy, we celebrate the Cause,
the only blessed and most glorious God of our fathers.”