Sunday, December 17, 2017


I have never seen so many people at the cemetery before! Cars are lined up along the winding roads that spread out like veins though the toothy fields, now covered in snow. It is as if there were a massive funeral going on and every inch of parking along the sides of the roads is occupied by some mourner.

I have been here in the winter before. In fact, I mostly come during the holidays, but never when there is snow. My father died in December – December 21 to be precise - just another of a long line of family December disasters or near disasters that seem to follow us if you ascribe to the mythology of my Mother, who swore that December was the cruelest month for our family. Strangely enough, she passed during the dog-days of August. So there is that.

I don’t know why I hadn’t considered the nearly five inches of snow that fell on Long Island recently. My experience has always been cold but snowless, so somewhere in my head, I expected the cemetery to be dry, and me not needing to trudge through snow.  These were snowless Christmases of my childhood, a time before climate change.

I march through the headstones to find the one with my Mother’s and Father’s name. I brush off the snow from the wreaths and other bric-a-brac others have lain at the foot of this angelic-white stone.  
It seems like the proper thing to do, as if I were preparing a room for my visiting parents.

I stop and engage in an interior monologue, first with my Dad, trying to recall his voice but it has been so long. Is it thirty-nine years? How is that possible? Whole lives have been created and lost in that time.

How can grief be carried that long?  I pray, or at least try to. Mostly I try to remember what I can about my Dad. I figure that is prayer enough. I recall how safe he made me feel as a child. Though a strict authoritarian, I also recall him pulling pillows to the floor to watch TV with us, something I took to instinctively, not consciously, when I became a father.

I walk around to the other side of the headstone, where my Mother’s name is carved into the marble. I marvel at the beauty of her name FRANCESCA and how it was not until toward the end of her life that I learned this was her full name, going by Fran, or Frances during my youth and young adulthood.

I begin another inner monologue, remembering all the wonderful times I had with her. I can still taste her grief after the death of my father. But we had lots of time to prepare for her departure, helped her move from the home where she raised eight children, traveled internationally with her, spent hours, the two of us falling asleep to Italian movies dubbed with English subtitles, her teaching me to make clams and marinara, taking her food shopping.

She was a grand dame, whose sense of humor was a continual life lesson. But she could be ornery too, especially toward the siblings who ended up being the primary caregivers at the end. Overall though, she was an example of grace in the face of disaster. And the point is, how much I miss her countenance, her counsel.

I ask for direction. I ask for goodness to flood my heart. I ask for patience to bear with the hurt of everyday living. I ask for courage – and all the things I doubt about myself.

I say an Our Father, aloud, so the tenor of my voice penetrates the razor cold and sunlight. I place a stone on top of the headstone to bear witness, to prove her presence on this plane of existence, to prove legacy. Who doesn’t need that?  I bear witness to a life and a loss.

I schlepp back to the car then stop to turn and look at my solitary footprints in the snow, leading to the headstone. I think how nothing can be as sad as that image. I imagine this path as the one to my own inner life; how the path to our inner truths can be found in what we have lost over the years.

I love the cemetery more when it is empty. I always come early Sunday mornings before anyone else is up. This is the last weekend before Christmas and I feel intruded upon, put out by all this activity. Still, all these people are here remembering. There is so much loss that is (hopefully) preceded by all that love, all those stories, being told and retold this time of year. This is a full white cemetery, full of this kind of love, if we are lucky.

I happen to be one of those lucky ones.


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