October is the anniversary of my father’s death. I don’t like to celebrate what we used to call “deathaversaries” at the newspaper. But on the anniversary of the day he died, I couldn’t help but think about him.
When my mother was still alive and before the dementia left her confused most of the time, she’d call me on the anniversary of his death.
“You know what today is,” she’d say.
“Yes, Mom, I know,” I’d say.
Sometimes that would be all she would say about it. Sometimes she told me she’d been to his grave to leave flowers. Sometimes I’d say something along the lines of “I’d really rather celebrate his birthday, Mom.”
Sometimes we’d talk about his quirks – while he was less than generous with cash, if either of us saw something in a store that we liked and maybe wanted, he’d often say, “Well, getcha one.” Or how he hated yard work, while she loved it.
He’s been dead for 30 years, longer than I knew him. I don’t visit their graves much. I don’t know why. Cemeteries have always fascinated me. Maybe it’s because the cemetery where they are buried is a more “modern” one – all the graves are marked with flat, ground level markers that make it easier to mow and otherwise maintain the cemetery.
When I was a kid, this cemetery – one of, I think, two non-church related cemeteries in our town – had a big pond in the center with goldfish. The pond is paved over now and the cemetery itself is three times as big. I wish there were more trees and a way to plant roses or something in the area of their graves.
When I walk around in the cemetery, I see lots of names I recognize from my childhood. Not always people I knew personally but names of mayors, business people, and doctors and my parents’ friends and colleagues – and the parents of some of my friends.
When I knew my mother was dying, one day I drove from the hospital to the cemetery. I thought I knew the location of my father’s grave, but I couldn’t find it. I called my husband, who, wonderful man that he is, dropped everything and found a map of the cemetery online. He talked me through finding the spot.
Mostly, I try to remember the lives well lived. The doctor I went to until he retired when I was in high school is buried over near a stand of trees. He was gruff to some but kind to me, always, and I adored him. Some of the names remind me of elementary school, some of furniture stores and some are just vague notions and barely familiar.
While we mark the death, the emphasis should be on the life. My Pop, I think, would want it that way. But he still wouldn’t want to mow the yard.