Columnists Mark my words

Column: Cemeteries keep memories alive

by Father Mark Goldasich 

If we get stopped by the cops, what will I say?

Quite honestly, that’s what I was thinking this past Sunday afternoon. I wasn’t worried about the “Click It or Ticket” campaign that law enforcement is now conducting; I was wearing my seat belt, as was my mom, who was in the passenger seat.

No, I was concerned about accounting for all the “stuff” we had in the car. It looked suspicious. First, there was the large green bag that my mom was holding on her lap. Inside were a large Phillips screwdriver, a bag of pebbles, dried-out palm branches, five foot-long wooden crosses, and a little bottle of holy water.

“Uh, don’t mind us, Officer,” I could hear myself explaining, “we’re professional vampire hunters. We sprinkle them with holy water to stun them, then use the wooden crosses (with the pointed lower edge) to finish ‘em off. And when we run out of crosses and holy water, we fend them off with the screwdriver and the pebbles.” Convincing, am I right?

The other suspicious thing in the car was a cardboard box filled to overflowing with colorful flowers. What in the world could two people do with that many flowers? A sharp police officer would suspect that we’d stolen them.

Happily, we didn’t get stopped by the police. But why did we have all those things in the car? Simple: Mom and I were heading to Mount Calvary Cemetery in Kansas City, Kan., to decorate graves for Memorial Day.

We’d intended to go on Palm Sunday (hence, the dried-up palms) or Easter Sunday (hence, the flowers — not real ones, but pretty nonetheless), but ended up being busy both those days. Then other things intervened on subsequent Sundays — first Communion, bad weather, the Knights of Columbus state convention, Mother’s Day — explaining why we were just now, in the middle of May, heading to the cemetery.

Of course, the crosses and the flowers make sense for decorating graves, but what about those palms, the screwdriver, the pebbles and the holy water? My Grandma Modrcin (my mom’s mom) always insisted on blessed palms being placed on graves, so we do that in her honor. The screwdriver is for punching holes in the ground for the flowers and the crosses. The holy water is sprinkled in a Sign of the Cross over the grave after praying for the person(s) buried there.

And the pebbles? Those are for my dad’s grave. He has a stone vase there and it’s tough to put flowers in it and make them secure in wind and rain.

After trying all sorts of things to no avail, the pebbles did the trick.

This last visit to the cemetery took about 90 minutes. As the years go on, it takes longer and longer, because there are more graves to visit. And naturally, as we walk to the graves of relatives, we see those of other friends and stop and pray there as well. It’s even more time-consuming once we get into the mausoleum!

But it’s time well spent. It’s a chance to remember those who have influenced our lives and helped form us into the people we are today.

To be sure, a cemetery visit is bittersweet. Our hearts can’t help but ache as we remember those we have loved who have died. Lately, though, I’ve drawn comfort from the words of this little poem by Don Blanding:

“I have seen death too often to believe in death.

It is not an ending — but a withdrawal. As one who finishes a long journey,

Stills the motor, Turns off the lights, Steps from his car,

And walks up the path

To the home that awaits him.”

(Found in Anthony Castle’s “Quotes & Anecdotes for Preachers and Teachers.”)

Make time in the Memorial Day weekend to visit a cemetery. And don’t worry if you have no flowers or holy water or crosses or a screwdriver or pebbles. Your presence and prayers are all that’s required.

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Fr. Mark Goldasich

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