Last year at this time our thoughts were reeling as we worked through a long to-do list of planning Nate’s wake and funeral. This morning as I woke to the music of rain on my roof, I was thankful not to be planning a funeral.
In remembering that chaotic time, I recall that none of us gave a thought to a cemetery gravestone. As it turned out, the job didn’t get done for a year. Today, however, I followed the instructions given by the Rosehill representative and emailed our choices to him, surprised at how difficult that chore turned out to be.
Nelson had sketched a rough drawing of the stone we wanted, adding the capital letters of Nate’s names (and mine), along with dates. Having decided to match my father’s family headstone nearby, our choices weren’t difficult to make. But it was very hard tapping out the email. I made one mistake after another, and my fingers acted like they’d never touched a keyboard. My hands were shaking, and it was almost more than I could accomplish.
Creating a gravestone is serious business. I’m sure that’s where the expression “carved in stone” originated, a description of something that can’t be changed. And as headstones go, that’s true. Once the letters and numbers have been carved into granite, that’s it.
I checked and rechecked my short email to the cemetery, making endless corrections. Digging out the photo of Dad’s family headstone, I studied it with new eyes and unexpectedly felt a strong connection to the carved list of long-buried relatives. Except for my parents, I’d not met any of them.
Dad was only 12 when his father bought this Rosehill plot of graves in 1911. Twenty-month old William had died of pneumonia, necessitating the purchase. Years ago Dad described that sad funeral, telling how he’d visited the cemetery a few days later, hunting in the snow for the yet-unmarked grave of his little brother. How excruciating must the pain have been for Dad’s parents as they sketched out the headstone for this child?
When the baby’s mother, my grandmother, died 14 months later at 43, Dad and his remaining family were forced back to Rosehill, suffering new sorrow as they buried another loved one. Dad’s father, suddenly a widower, must have felt unbearable pain as he requested his wife’s name be carved into their headstone.
In thinking of these relatives, I had a new reason to be thankful: Nate didn’t have to choose my headstone. Because of his incredible devotion to me, this task would have been nearly impossible for him. Widowhood isn’t easy, but Nate becoming a widower would have been much worse.
Tonight the Lord reminded me that one day this headstone business will all be over. Although I don’t understand it, Scripture says every grave will burst open and give up its dead.
And when this happens, carving names into granite will have finally come to a permanent end.
“Christians who have died will rise from their graves… We who are still alive… will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16b-18)