Avoiding a Grave Situation ~ haibun

Avoiding a Grave Situation

Among the gravestones of my past family members, that of my parents is the only one I ever make an effort to visit, but an interest in genealogy led me to find the markers of my paternal grandparents last year. I even researched an uncle previously unknown to me, one who died before my father was born. He was buried with his grandparents, his name absent from the granite memorial that bears their names. I imagine that as a matter of economy in a time when hardship was a way of life.

On a return visit to Buffalo last week, I rediscovered those of my maternal grandparents, their location last known to me thirty years ago. I cleared away the grass and dirt encroaching on those markers, then I went in search of the headstone of my aunt.

I found it in a much soggier section of the cemetery. It has a lovely image of an angel on it. Nearly ninety years ago, five years before my mother was born, she was struck and killed by a bus while crossing the street. She was just seven years old. Other than my siblings and children, there are no other family members living in the area, so, in all likelihood, her grave has not had any visitors since my son made a rubbing of her stone for a grade school history project, thirty years ago. All but a small portion of her name was covered with sod, so I carefully cut that away, watching as ground water seeped in to obscure the lettering. It was like time having its way, all over again.

Visiting cemeteries in the past year has me thinking about graves and their markers. Those monuments exist for the living, of course, but once the living who have any connection to those dead are gone, they might as well be nameless stones. Sure, some of those stones are significant, as reminders of historical figures lying beneath them, but the remainder are only reminders of the obscurity that awaits us.

Watching the water cover my aunt’s stone has led me to think about my own marker. For years, I have assumed I would not have one. My children understand that I wish to have my ashes placed in the Niagara River. It’s a place I always have enjoyed, especially during my hundreds of scuba dives there.

But now I imagine my children on a boat anchored on the river, slowly lowering a one hundred thirty pound piece of granite over the side, the water washing over and obscuring my name and the numbers of my lifespan, knowing that, even without a barrel, it would be my “turn to go over the falls.” The river will be their reminder of me, without any need to wander among granite markers wondering which one is mine.

each pebble in place
strong in face of rising waves
holding up mountain

Ken Gierke

Primus – Over the Falls from Mark Kohr on Vimeo.

19 thoughts on “Avoiding a Grave Situation ~ haibun

  1. Good balance of personal and universal, the few minutes we have and the vast sweep of time before and beyond our own precious moments. Here’s hoping that this year at least we have a few more hours with our friends and family. Happy New Year ! ! !

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with others about the lovely reflective nature of this. We do stop to think of things like this as we get older. The haiku is a fine summary, too.
    Coincidentally, one daughter and I have been doing some family genealogy, and we’ve recently discovered photos of some headstones of grandparents that gave us additional information about the family.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Merril.
      My father’s mother died when he was thirteen, and he didn’t talk about her very often. As I gained info from census forms, etc., I realized the spelling of her maiden name varied, depending on the person making the entry. Finding her parents’ memorial stone finally confirmed for me that “Schulz” is spelled without a “t.” In addition, the opposite side of the stone has the married name of another daughter, as well as her spouse, opening another branch of the family tree.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a moving piece of writing. My relatives are spread all over. No central location to visit. I also have had little interest in the past beyond the ancestors I knew personally. All this has led me to not wanting to be anchored to one location in death though in life it’s been a central theme to belong somewhere. Like you I hope to end up in water, or else flying in the air with birds. Guess I could do both! Your post really touched a chord with me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Claudia. I lived in the Buffalo area until my late fifties, and always within two suburbs that have a very close association. My wife points out how different our identities are, as I always had fairly consistent friends and relatives nearby, and she was moving around the country as a child and even as a young adult. That altered perspective has an impact on how one perceives others, whether as long term relationships or new acquaintances.

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  4. We had an uncle who did something I think was quite honorable. He donated his body (and what ever was usable) to science – when they were done – the ashed were finally (over a year) returned to the widow. There are many traditions where a marker is not available for remembrance.

    I hope you also took photos and are writing down your family facts. Some of the stories I have been told I can no longer verify. But perhaps I should write them down also – just in case someone else can uncover the facts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve considered donating my body to science. I was pretty sure of the process when I lived near Buffalo. Where I am now is no metropolitan area, but there is a major university with a medical school about thirty miles away, so I need to check into that.
      Yes, I have taken some photos. I’ve uploaded some to findagrave.com, and even corrected incorrect grave locations on that site.

      Liked by 1 person

        • The information at Find A Grave is provided by volunteers. Messages can be left when discrepancies are found. For instance, my grandmother was said to be in the same cemetery as my grandfather. I messaged with the correct location, and it was corrected. Once I had photos of their markers, I registered as a contributor and added them to the existing files. Neither of my maternal grandparents are listed, so once I have better photos (the stones were still somewhat muddy from cleaning them last week) I’ll contribute their location and include photos.

          Liked by 1 person

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