Friday, March 19, 2010

Only the Good Friday, March 19, 2010

Just returned from another trip to the Chicago area. It was a whirlwind affair, less than 48 hours from the time I left until I returned. My nephew is moving in to the apartment condo where my Mom lived and there were a few items of furniture still there that my daughter wanted to have. I went down with a good friend and we loaded up the van. Mom's apartment is now ready for a change in occupancy.

While I was down there, I visited with my sister. She went from providing 24/7 healthcare to my Mom to having an empty four bedroom house. She and my brother-in-law are retired and have been for a while. They find themselves with time on their hands and have a little bit of a problem getting used to not having the monumental task of taking care of another human being at hand. I talked with my sister about this and she seems to be chugging along, but I know besides the usual and expected grief we get when someone close in a family passes away, the void that was created is hard to accept and harder still to fill.

That's where family comes in. My short visit was a pleasant diversion from waking up with nothing to do. And to visit family shortly after a traumatic event was "Good" for me as well. We talked and laughed. Told some old stories and discussed some plans for future visits with other members of the family, like the tentative Mother's Day 2010 trip we talked about. It's right around my birthday, but I'll share my special day with the Mothers out there.

What prompted our idea was a visit to the cemetery where my Mother was interred. Her plot is right next to my Father's place. Dad left us in 1983, a long time ago. Now, my Mother takes the space right next to him. I gotta tell you, the place looked like it was in bad condition. The brownish green grass and wilted flowers first of all, then the turned up ground from the freshly dug grave. No landscaping had been done. It's just too early in the season and the crews haven't finished with their winter clean up yet. Also, no head stone marker had been purchased and placed for my Mother. My Dad's headstone was of the variety that is given out to Veterans by the VA and pretty nondescript.

My sister had the idea of stopping at one of the monument retailers in the area and purchasing headstones for our parents' grave sites. We did just that. She had some idea of what she wanted them to say. I was in total agreement with her wishes. What I found to be strange was the restrictions the cemetery administration has put on certain sections of the place. For instance, where my Mother and Father's plots are, there are only flat markers. The lawn mowing equipment can ride right over them and the work of lawn maintenance is made easier for the landscaping crews. Each plot must have its own stone. Even though Mom and Dad are buried side by side, they must have two separate headstones. We had wondered about a "family" grave marker since they were side by side. No vases can be placed. Even the kind that pick up and turn over and can be stored flush with the ground are not allowed.

Then you look at the cemetery complex in total, there are sections where huge monuments sit alongside small markers, some above ground, some flush with the earth. In the monument salesroom, the gaudiness of the stones was evident. A lot of money to be made by the salesman's suggesting that you loved one would be pleased to have such a beautiful marker with the designated religious symbols and statues aboard. The poor guy can't even sell you a massive stone for thirty grand if your loved ones are in the section with the flat stones. So much for Capitalism at a Catholic cemetery. They make sure that they are the ones that are making all the money.

Anyway, the "Good" that emanated from the whole experience is that for years, I felt we had lost our culture and heritage. When the family immigrated from Italy long ago, the fabric of our way of life in the old country was lost. We kept some of the food things alive in recipes and when served in the ethnic celebrations. Working in America on the railroad was much different than working in the small villages of Europe. Our family landed in the big city of Chicago. Opportunities allowed the sons and daughters to move away from the apartment flat above or the house next door. The family broke up, so to speak, and the American way of life took over. For many people, the way of life that was traditional was lost.

Going to the Catholic cemetery and seeing the graves of so many of my family; aunts, uncles, Grandparents from both my own parents, first, second and third cousins, made me realize that the culture is still there and the burying was a part of it. This is where it all comes together once again. We were born, lived and drifted apart, then reassembled here in these plots and the names preserved by granite markers. It is part of who we are as a people, and in a tradition handed over by our Catholic religion. This is who we are. This is a part of our culture.

When we make the trek to Chicago for Mother's Day weekend, it will be to view the new headstones, one for Dad, the other for our recently lost family member. We'll place flowers on the grave of our Mother. The Children, Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren will see the site and learn a little about our culture and heritage. And whether or not I participate in this rite in my own future is irrelevant. It is who we are, a statement, a standard, a sign. I'll show it to my Grandchildren and they will have the knowledge of what most of the people of our family do. That is, gather us and return us back together, side by side, in the ground.

Morbid for an Only the Good Friday post? Maybe, if you want to take it that way, but to me it is a sign that all might still be okay as the family comes together and honors loved ones and has a certain place to do this. That's "Good" enough for me. I accept who I am and who my family is and how we do it, and that's a "Good" thing.

Only the Good Friday is a meme creation of Shelly over at This Eclectic Life. Go pay her a visit, she's "Good".



This Eclectic Life said...

Honoring your family and your traditions is good --- not morbid, Joe. Especially if it gives you a sense of peace and continuity. When we were kids, we regularly visited the graves of our loved ones and placed flowers (though most of the ones from the 1950s on are in those places that want the flat stones). I think it will be good to show the children that just because a person is gone it doesn't mean they are forgotten.
I'm glad you got the opportunity to visit with your sister. It sounds like she needed you.

I, Like The View said...

you're so lucky to have somewhere to go

my mother's ashes were scattered, and I didn't even know that until last year (18 years after she died)

strangely the children and I talk about funeral arrangements sometimes, which is odd considering I was planning not to even have one a couple of years ago now

and how wonderful that you have a heritage to look back on and, if you so choose, to bring into your present - here in the UK, some of us have nothing more than a "middle class" label to hang around our necks

your womderful - as ever - piece of writing has brought me to a place of very mixed thoughts, but I thank you for that

these things are important

JoyACookin' said...

Rituals and remembering are so important; the rituals of death a part the richness of life. When my brother and I visited our Mother's grave for the first time with his young daughter, she asked, "Is this heaven?" Your post made me remember that tiny moment with fondness. And when we placed flowers in the vase and came back to find them strewn about we wondered, 'Vandals?' No, squirrels, reminding us that Nature will have it's way with us.

Mel said...

Himself would tell you that you're lucky to have a place to go. Like ILTV, his father's ashes are scattered--in an unknown place to him.

Maybe it's odd that I find a walk through an old cemetary a spiritual journey of sorts. There's a 'feel' to it as I look around at the dates, names and what's written. I get this feel about the life, the people who were forever touched by their presence, the hole in created by the loss of their earthly presence--and a peacefilled sence of the reunion with their Maker. Strange--I don't get that at the gravesites of my own parents. I'm sure it's my own 'stuff' getting in the way.

I'm glad for you that this was a different experience for you, that there was and is a connectedness instead of the sense of estrangement that I get.

Blessings to you and yours. And I'm glad for the purposeful journey made--especially for your sister who must be struggling so.


eaprez said...

I hail from an Irish Catholic family and every memorial day my sisters and I trek out to the big Catholic cemetery and spend a couple hours there walking around - telling stories - looking at the ornate headstones. One of my hobbies is visiting cemeteries and taking photo's. I found a headless jesus a few years back. Last year I got my sisters to take a pic of me behind it with my head where Jesus' head would be :) Cemeteries are great places to reflect, bond and contemplate.

susan said...

Life and death are all part of our experience and growth toward a deeper understanding of All That Is. I think your plan is a wonderful one.

ps - The Art Institute of Chicago has some of Man Ray's work.

Spadoman said...

When I wrote this, I didn't exactly know how to say what I wanted to say. I couldn't really describe the feelingsd and emotion. But your comments defined it for me and I appreciate it very much.

Shelly.. Peace and continuity. Yes, that's it. They are all there in Spirit. Yes, I remember them in other ways as well and keep their Spirits alive, but here, there is a place. Thanks so much for stopping by.

View... I never thought of those that don't have a pl;ace for whatever reason. I'm not sure what I will ask my plans to be. I thought maybe I wouldn't participate, but now I wonder what my responsibilities mught be to my family. (then again, how would I know what they do with this old carcass?). Thanks for beimng here.

JoyACookin.. Thank you for your insight. Yes, nature will be the judge in everything. The ritual is part of my families culture and I never thought that way before. Feels good to latcch on to that right now.
By the way, I like your blog and will return and talk food with you in the future:-)

Mel... Another of the British influence mentioning that they might not have a place to go like this. Yes, I did feel connected. Yes, I have felt estrangement in the past. You nailed it again. Thanks for coming by Round Circle.

Beth.. Irish Catholic, Italian Catholic, not much difference really. The Italians eat, the Irish drink, (traditionally and stereotypically). I have taken photos of headstones myself a time or two. I like to make fun of the names. Jesus never forgets you know.
Thanks so much for coming over here. I appreciate it.

Peace to All.

Sorrow said...

Sadness at the lack of a loved one being near at hand maybe, but going to a place, be it a cemetery or a place that there was a deep connection, is always sacred.
It is a mystery to me the whole cemetery thing.
My grandmother passed away 4 years ago. She is buried beside my grandfather whom i loved and adored.
I am the only one who goes there, who places flowers there.
simply because she asked me to.
For me, I tell my children stories about her, so that she lives on in their memories.
that is what I would like, more than a marker, I would like to be a good memory.

katherine. said...

There is a small town cemetery in Tennessee where generations of both sides of my Mama's family are laid to rest. There are photos of her and her siblings standing by the headstones. There are photos of me and my siblings and our cousins at the headstones...and there are pictures of our children...standing at the headstones. There is a sense of family and culture.

however...there is one place where ashes are laid to rest that is not so soothing to visit. And that has made me want to be scattered somewhere. Well that, and have beads made from the ashes.

It didn't occur to me that someone may be sad there was no place to visit. Perhaps I should find out.

mig said...

My family are buried all over the country. But though I have missed out on the closeness and culture of having a family plot, I do have the feeling that there are many places I can go to remember those special people.
No, I don't think this is morbid. It's about our foundations and the people from whom we grew.