Friday, June 13, 2014

Of Graveyards and Visiting The Dead

A mother should not have to see her child's tombstone.

That was the thought that went through my mind this morning as I skimmed through my Facebook feed.

A fellow grieving mother had posted a picture of her son's new grave marker, dates less than 20 years apart.

I wept for us both and for the other moms I know who have stood where she stood.

I still haven't been back to Ethan's grave. I'm not sure if it's cowardice or because I'm not one tied to graveyards. Ethan was long gone before we placed his body in the ground last December and I don't feel like going back will be visiting him.

In fact, since Ethan's death I've had far more empathy for the families and friends who erect memorials at the scene of a loved one's death. There is where I would feel some connection. The roadside crosses that mark the site of fatal accidents, places I once found disturbing for the memories they triggered for me after photographing crashes for so long, now draw me instead. There people can treasure that last earthly connection, remember the moment when bonds with a body were severed and a spirit soared free of pain. There heaven and earth touched for a moment as a loved one pulled free of the pain of the moment and slipped into the arms of the angels.

I still have the vision in my mind of that moment for Ethan. That heaven-sent glimpse of his smiling face and glowing countenance as he rose from his battered body, escaped the addiction and pain and fear he'd lived with so long, and took the hands of the shimmering angel who escorted him home. That is a moment I'd memorialize, if I could. But I doubt the new residents of his apartment would appreciate flowers and a cross in the bathroom, let alone a weeping woman at the door.

There, I've finally managed to make myself smile with that mental image, and I feel more connection to Ethan in that smile than I expect to feel in a windswept graveyard full of discarded shells.

There will be memories, because the old family graveyard has been part of our family for so long, but there won't be an immediate connection. They will be memories of a blond-haired boy decorating summer graves with my granny, memories of a curious middle-schooler wondering about the names on the markers, memories of a quiet teen and a struggling young man putting in a familial appearance. There will be plenty of memories to make me cry, but I can summon them wherever I am.

Yes, one day soon I'll visit the grave where his body has rested since December. I expect I'll go alone, wanting that time to myself -- my boy and I had that streak of solitude in common. But I won't go thinking I'll find him there.

I'll look for him instead in the inappropriate smile, the dance of the sun on a million summer leaves, the bite of a winter breeze, the twinkle of a firefly, the heartbreaking sight of another young man walking down the sidewalk, the homeless man I slip a few dollars. I'll greet him there with a smile, a tear, or a prayer for a stranger.

I'll visit him when I'm home and never have to say goodbye.


  1. This is so beautiful and moving. I am sorry for your loss--it's just not in the natural order of things to lose a child. Blessings to you and yours.

    1. We feel it is not natural, but it is oh to common, even going back to Eve. I feel this connection with all the other mothers who have lost a child. If they could and do survive it, I can as well.

  2. I can't imagine the pain you endure on a daily basis. I wish there were some way to take even a small part of it away for you. I think of you often and for some reason have felt a connection to you and your story. All of this time I thought it was because of my stepdaughter and some similar experiences. It's a story I have not felt like I could talk about yet but it is a big part of my life. Then today the first thing I see is Ethan's headstone and it really shocked me. I've never talked about this but my stepdaughter is a heroine addict that until recently we had been looking for for 3 years. We lost her before we could even get to her. So the heartache and the waitjng starts all over again. But my son is an Afghanistan vet and has been suffering from PTSD as a mother I have been so worried about him. He was born the exact same day as your Ethan. I hope your heart heals some very soon.

    1. I understand the fear and uncertainty of living with a child's addiction and imagine it must be equally hard to know your child is in harm's way. Knowing the shared birthday brought a tear to my eye. I pray for a happy outcome for your children's journeys.