Where we lie

Lying next to ancestors after we die holds more meaning than I tend to think about.

Headstone for my mother Patricia, and her mother Elizabeth with the man I knew as my Grandfather

Last summer I went back to my hometown, Hubbard, Iowa. I moved there at the age of 10 when my mom died, placed with an aunt and uncle who didn’t want me, but my grandmother wanted me close after she lost her daughter. She had that rule over our family – what she said was done. I have lots of stories to share about her but today I want to write about headstones and places of rest and their significance to us as the living who remain.

My first stop when I reached town was the graveyard. After all, it’s a daughter’s duty to visit her mother first, even if she is dead. I easily found the grave; the cemetery really isn’t that big. But it had grown by what seemed like what must have doubled the population since my mom had been buried, and there were many more gravestones than even the last time I had visited a few years ago.

Her grave has always been a place of solace for me. When I moved to Hubbard from a much larger town, I had left behind my entire life – friends, school, activities, my dance classes; everything that meant anything to me. I was plopped down into a small town where the school consisted of K-12 sharing a set of buildings and where even by 4th grade all friends had already been decided and there was no room for newcomers.

Before I left Hubbard right after high school, my grandmother and grandfather had joined my mom in her rest. I still continued to visit the grave any time I needed to talk to her and once I moved, it was hard to not be able to do that.

I am based in science. I know there is little left of her body, and that she wasn’t really ever there, but there is a comfort for me in visiting her in her place of last rest. So I pulled into the cemetery, parked and walked to where I had found such comfort in my younger years. The sun streaked down and warmed the air and the ground. The grass was as soft as it had been all those years ago.

And I sat down and sobbed.

After a while, my tears started to slow, and I started to look around. I told my people how much I loved and missed them, and then explored the section of the cemetery with newer headstones, knowing that I would recognize names of people I had known, possibly long gone, or sadly in these pandemic times, maybe just buried in the last year.

I walked 10 steps and was shocked to find the stone for my aunt and uncle whose home I was staying in. Their names were carved boldly into the stone, with no end dates of course, but it was quite a shock. However, once I recovered I realized that they had purchased the stone to be close to grandma and grandpa. As I examined it, I saw a new tradition that I had not seen before. Under their names had been carved:

Mother and Father of Christine, Derek and Jason

As I walked around the newer stones, this was on most of them. The genealogist in me thought first – what a wonderful thing to do for posterity! Yet I also saw a deeper meaning and beauty of connection and continuity. A tribute to family that would endure through possibly centuries and I realized I wanted that for myself and my brother. My brother never lived in Hubbard, but died young and is buried in Los Angeles. Certainly, I will never be buried in Hubbard either, it is not and never was my home.

Once I came home I shared my story with my husband who instantly asked if we couldn’t have the additional information carved into the stone. I tossed off the idea. I didn’t know if it would fit, I wasn’t sure how to even find out, and I let go. But not really. It stayed in the back of my head, and has been sitting there whispering to me.

So today, months later, I did a thing. I looked up the contact for the cemetery, and called to ask to see if it might even be a possibility. I called and as I put the phone up to my ear I heard “… Boeke”. The Boekes have been the funeral home owners in Hubbard forever, and while it makes complete sense that they would be the contact for the sole cemetery in the town, it threw me, because this wasn’t an expected stranger. Indeed, a boy from the family who was just 1 year older than me had taken over the business and I was speaking to him. That “boy” was now 60 of course….

I let him know who I was and what I was wanting. Mark is going to go himself and study the stone and let me know. To do it, I had to tell him exactly what I wanted on the stone – and even that was a bit of a question, especially since I had done this on the spur of the moment. My brother’s name is easy but mine not so much.

I no longer use my birth name. I haven’t for decades. Not only that, while I was named Jean by my mother, I hated the name. I wanted to be Jeannie for as long as I can remember – but when I told my kindergarten teacher that was my name, I got home to a very angry mother who explained that my name was JEAN not Jeannie.

Well, my first day of school in Hubbard after my mother died, that changed. I’m sure she was cursing at me from the ether, but I proudly stated my name for the class as Jeanne (pronounced Jeannie). Spelling it that way was a bit of a compromise to her wishes but Jeannie was who I wanted to be – and of course that is what Mr. Boeke remembered and assumed I would want. However, I do not even go by Jeanne anymore – and haven’t since just after college.

After a brief pause, I thought about how this is my mother’s stone, all that is left of her on this earth. I will not desecrate it with my wishes or desires. If it is possible to add anything I told Mark to add the following:

-Mother of Mark and Jean-

He said that he would go out to the grave and take a look and get back to me in the next few days. Just like that.

I was surprised after I hung up at the intense wave of emotion that hit me. Leaving that little bit of me and my brother there to be with our mother in her rest feels important. For her, for him, for me.

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