Ann Margaret Lewis arrived Friday night later than expected. I stood at the end of my drive, cell phone in hand, talking her in down the dark two-lane road. As she came around the second bend she flashed her high-beams across the distance and I confirmed her approach with a near squeal of delight. Her long drive and my eager anticipation ended as we embraced each other in the driveway. It was very good to feel her hugs and, as usual, I welled up with joyful tears.
My friend drove more than four hours to stay with me over Father’s Day weekend. Her husband and son would celebrate Sunday night upon her return. The purpose for her visit was to attend to her parents’ gravesite, another two hours northeast.
A late night of wine, cheese, and shrimp made for a slow morning on Saturday. Shortly before noon we headed for the cemetery. For over an hour we travelled along the Interstates and talked of books, writing, and manuscripts. As a gardener who writes I am amazed at how much there is to learn about the crafting of words. Questioning Ann, I listened carefully to each lesson she shared.
Exiting the highway, Ann maneuvered through the congested traffic of two and four lane roads. I was unsettled by all the cars and trucks but she was unruffled. This was where she grew up, in Waterford, not far from Pontiac, northeast of Detroit. My anxiety was apparent, but Ann has grown accustomed to my quirks, and drove on with assurance of knowing the way. I was greatly relieved when we arrived at the cemetery—the open spaces soothed my traffic rattled nerves.
Cemeteries induce a sense of well being for me. As a child, accompanying my grandmother to the family’s plot was comforting. She would cut back sod from markers, pull weeds, and remove metal cones of dead flowers. My job was wiping off the grass clippings and dirt from the marble headstones. Grandmother would share memories as we worked. After we planted the marigolds and salvia she would draw quiet to pray while I wandered off among the headstones of unknown ancestors of other families. I would squat before grave markers and mimic my grandmother by pulling weeds, or wipe off leaves and clippings from headstones as I had done for our family. With my finger I traced the letters carved in the stone and tried to sound out the names. Eventually grandmother would call for me and I would say good-bye to all the silent souls and run back to her, to the land of the living.
Ann stopped at the cemetery office for the rules on planting around the plots. We drove to her parents’ graves and pulled hand tools and plants from the trunk. Soon we were both on our knees cutting back sod, pulling up weeds, and wiping down the pink marble headstone. I placed the plugs of marigolds and blue salvia within the small garden, and Ann planted them in place. After sprinkling a few forget-me-not seeds, Ann watered it all in. The gravesite was freshened and showed that the deceased were still well loved.
We stepped back for a silent prayer. Ann began to grieve, but I began to feel such joy that I couldn’t contain myself. I put my arm around my crying friend, and instead of words of sympathy I filled the air with words of blessedness and gift. I’ve never known the kind of love that would produce that type of grief, but I have known the type of love that would produce that kind of joy.
Through the depth of her grief came the reality of her love. The fullness of what her parents had given her was evident in the woman she had become. My joy came from recognizing the connection of that eternal gift and her ability to carry it into future generations. There I stood beside and before the ultimate gift from God—the capacity of love.
As we laughed and cried arm in arm I told her parents they had done a real fine job.