On Visiting My Parents’ Graves



Looking toward the San Gabriel Mountains from Rose Hills


Rose Hills Memorial Park, in Whittier, California, is apparently the largest cemetery in the United States.  It’s also the resting place of many of my relatives, mostly on my father’s side — including my paternal grandparents, at least three uncles, an aunt, a niece, and a lot of the people that I knew growing up.  And my parents are buried there, too.


My wife and I visited their graves today, and placed flowers there.  The view from their burial place is wonderful, and today was a nice day.  We could see the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles off in the distance to the west, and, to the north, the San Gabriel Mountains, still with some snow on them — including Mt. Wilson, which I saw every day of my life growing up, with its television broadcasting towers and its observatories (from which Edwin Hubble first noticed the red shift of distant galaxies, thus discovering the expansion of the universe and leading to the theory of the Big Bang).  It’s a very peaceful place, and I love it.  The inscriptions on their tombstones sum them up, simply but eloquently:  For my Mom:  “Beloved wife and mother,” and then “Family first.”  For my Dad:  “Beloved husband and father,” followed by “A good man.”  (I once dedicated a book to him with a citation from John 1:47 in the KJV New Testament: “an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile.”)


I was especially happy today, though, to see a relatively new grave next to my mother’s.  Why happy?  Let me explain.


My father died on 30 June 2003.  My mother died on 11 April 2005.  I think it was on our first visit to their cemetery after my mother’s passing that my wife and I, driving up the rather steep hill toward my parents’ graves, noticed an elderly man who was toiling painfully up the road.  We pulled over and asked him whether he could use a ride.  Yes, he said, he could.  He was walking to put flowers on the grave of his wife, whose loss, it soon became clear, he still felt with acute pain.


We invited him to ride with us, and told him to tell us where to turn.  To our astonishment, his wife’s grave turned out to be about four or five feet from my parents’ burial place.  It was separated from their graves by his own tombstone, with his name, “Frenchy M. Morrell,” and his birthdate inscribed on it but, obviously, no death date.  We talked for a while, and he spoke movingly about how much he missed his wife, Wanda, who had died in 1986.  He was horribly lonely, and he longed to be with her again.  We offered him a ride back down the hill and to wherever he wanted to go, but he had planned on spending several hours there by his wife’s grave, and he declined our offer.  We never saw him again.


We’ve returned, and I’ve come back alone, many times since then.  Whenever I’m in southern California, if I can do it, I visit the cemetery.  Every time, I’ve looked to see whether Frenchy had finally gotten his wish.


This time, we immediately noticed that the grass next to my mother’s grave was fresh, and so, with some excitement, I hurriedly walked over to confirm what I suspected:  Frenchy was gone.  He had died on 30 August 2012.


I’m deeply happy for him.  After twenty-six long years of sorrowful separation, he’s with his wife again.


We took some of the flowers that we’d brought for my parents and placed them on his grave.


“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21;4).


Posted from Newport Beach, California.



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  • http://nathanrichardson.com Nathan000000

    My brother died on his mission in Mexico City (he was hit by a car while riding his bike—just an accident, not really anyone’s fault). He’s buried in my hometown in Ukiah, California, next to two more plots that my parents bought for themselves. My Dad says that on Resurrection morning, he’s going to sit up and stretch and yawn, then reach over and shake my brother awake and say, “Good morning, buddy. It’s time to wake up.”

  • http://None Rodney Ross

    Dan,this is a touching and beautiful post. It reminds me of an old sentimental song, “Daisey a Day” by Jed Strunk. It’s about a man who climbs a hill every day to give his late wife a daisey. Very sappy, but touching and spiritual to a degree. I think you can find it on the Internetand probably You Tube. I think you and some of your readers would enjoy it. Thanks again for your ever fascinating blog!

  • hc1951

    John 1:47 was one of the many scriptures I would have liked to put on my sin’s grave in the charming Elysian Gardens cemetery in SLC. It’s such a blessing to know that “parting is such sweet sorrow” [W. Shakespeare]

  • http://mormon.org Tracy Hall Jr

    Thank you for this beautiful story. Do you know Wally Ripple of Ripple’s Drive-in fame? (Edgemont Road, still great shakes, even under new management.) When their daughter died some years ago, they got a “twofer” deal from the monument maker and installed their own gravestone next to her grave, minus death dates. It’s very close to where my parents are buried, in Provo City Cemetery. Whenever I visit my parents’ grave, I check to see if the Ripples are still alive.

  • Susan Steinhaus

    Nicely put Dan. My mom is still going strong in a retirement home in Irvine. My dad died in 2000. My dad was cremated as my mom plans to be. She has very specific plans for her ashes which includes having some of them tossed to the wind off Half Dome! That will be up to her grandchildren to do! Orthodox do not cremate and bury within three days if possible. We are opting for the plain pine box. I’m not sure where I will end up. Priests are all put in the national cemetery in NJ. I hate the thought personally of ending up there. I’d rather be in California! Isn’t it wonderful that you had such a good view the day you were there. I thought growing up it was rare to see mt Wilson! The smog was so bad. Remember smog alerts?

    • danpeterson

      Oh yes, I remember them all too well. I’ve been to Rose Hills when nothing at all was visible in the distance, but, on this and a few other occasions, it’s been spectacularly clear. On such days, it’s so achingly beautiful that I almost want to stay.

  • http://rewinn10@gmail.com Randy Winn

    Our family shares that wonderful and peaceful place with you as the resting place for many of our relatives, and we also have plots there in Deseret Lawn.

  • http://www.Heirlines.com Mary E Petty

    Thanks Dan, for the sweet story about our family cemetery. Memorial Day isn’t Memorial Day without a trip to Rose Hills with 20 to 30 of my immediate family going to visit multi-generations of family resting there! Even though I live far away, occasionally I am able to make the trek with them that goes from grave to grave to grave, telling stories, singing songs and rejoicing in their lives and legacy. No empty chairs is a real goal for us because of the love that has been fostered by these family reunions at Rose Hills. How I want to be in the big party that is going to be held at Rose Hills when we are all truly reunited again.

  • http://thegermantooltruck.com Rob Gleason, Sr.

    Mary Petty is my older sister, and she is spot-on. My wife, Cindy, and I are planning to join the rest of our two families that are now, or are soon to be buried, at this lovely cemetary known as Rose Hills Cemetary, Whitier. We purchased 4 plots a few years ago. We look forward to visiting Grandma Wilda and Grampa Jerry, and all of our Uncles and Aunts, Cousins, Brothers and Sisters, each Memorial Day. The hardest part of our visit there is to the grave of Cindy’s little infant Niece, Andrea Rose, who died 24 years ago. It is not uncommon to have 25 or more of us grandchildren and in-laws, and relatives that meet at Grandma and Grandpa’s final resting places, and then on to all the others. The memories and stories that are shared are wonderful, and uplifting, and then we are off to Grandma and Grandpa Osterbauer’s for a big bar-b-que/swimming party. We are grateful for Christ, and that thru him, we will all be raised from our sleeping places on that glorious “gettin’ up” morning. See you there! Rob Sr.

    • danpeterson

      What a wonderful tradition!

      I too have an infant niece buried at Rose Hills. She was born with the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, and the doctors couldn’t get it off in time to save her.

      We didn’t know until my brother died a year ago that he carried a photo of her with him all the time.

  • John Ziebarth

    Dan, Rose Hills is also the resting place of my parents, my maternal grandparents, John’s parents, and his maternal grandmother. My parents bought 4 plots many years ago, so there are 2 plots that can be used by our family. Since my brother-in-law’s passing, my oldest sister decided on the Salem cemetery in Utah for their resting place, my other sister wants to be cremated, so that leaves John and me. Can we crash your party? Would be a great reunion of many good people. Fun spending the evening with you and Debbie. Oh, we are having a Womens’ Conference this Sat. for Huntington Beach Stake. Just received email announcing a last minute speaker, think you might know him — should I attend his lecture???
    Dr. John F. Hall is senior Professor of Classical Languages and Ancient History at BYU.
    He received a B.A. in Ancient Languages, summa cum laude and highest honors, with a
    University Scholar designation from BYU in 1975; and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University
    of Pennsylvania in 1978 and 1984.
    Professor Hall was for many years executive secretary of the Classical Association of the
    Middle-west, West, and South (CAMWS), eventually serving as its national president in
    1996-1997. He also served as a long-time member of the Board of Directors of FARMS
    (Foundation of Ancient Research and Mormon Studies). etc. etc …

    • danpeterson

      It was fun spending time with you.

      I’ve known John Hall since student days. He’ll be good to listen to.

  • malkie

    What a lovely and touching story.

    But please be more careful: a few more posts like this and some of us who disagree with you on other topics might be forced to concede that your heart is not entirely black, and your motives not 100% evil.

    Worse, it might be a short step from that concession to the idea that other LDS apologists are human too.

    There could even be a spontaneous outbreak of recognition of common humanity, and then where would we be?

    • danpeterson

      I’m just faking it.

      • JohnH

        I was completely unaware of any of this prior to starting to frequent the Mormon Channel on Patheos, and from the few links that others have given outside of Patheos it would appear that others on Patheos are fairly tame.

        I would much rather take a pounding standing for the faith on a rational atheist site then be exposed to what is even on Patheos on you and your work from others who claim to be Mormon. (Obviously, there are atheist sites that are just amusing and others where Big Brothers five minutes of hate is the same as the Summa Theologica or Plato’s Apology in comparison). Even when they are “complementing” what FARMS and FAIR has done it is really backhanded criticism. The fact that ideas that have come out of FARMS are regularly brought up all throughout the Church, even ones that I think are mistaken, shows that FARMS has had a huge impact.

        It would appear that the most dangerous group when talking about claims to the actual truthfulness of the gospel as anything more then a pleasing fairy tale is not the highly amusing evangelicals, nor atheists, nor even the ex-mormons (though perhaps they are similar) but people that claim to be members of the Church. What is worse is the evidence given and the arguments made don’t hold up at all if examined even slightly and many have already been refuted in academic non-mormon settings.

        I have to applaud your efforts and the work that you and FARMS have done over the years, even those part that I know I disagree with and the large body of work that I have never looked at. The articles that you have linked to from the Interpreter do not seem at all objectionable to me and have been very interesting, and it is clear that you are besieged on nearly all sides but have acted, as far as I have seen, in a very professional manner and more christlike then I feel I could possibly have done if placed in similar sets of trying circumstances.

        Thank you for that, and thank you for being on Patheos. I can’t imagine what a non-member getting introduced to Mormon thought through the Patheos Mormon channel must think of all of this or of most of the other writers on this channel. I wish that there were more blogs on here from those that stand with the doctrine, morality, and leadership of the church, because the differences in discussion that one normally has in Sunday school as opposed to Patheos Mormon Channel is crazy.