May 14, 2017

The Dead Don't Need Flowers

Today I drove up to the cemetery on the hillside overlooking the lake, where my grandparents ashes reside. I wanted to bring my grandmother some flowers for Mother's Day. It was quite pleasant this afternoon, warm and bright, and so it was unsurprising that when I arrived at the cemetery it was bustling with people paying respects to their own mothers and grandmothers.

It was a delight to see all the fresh flowers on the gravestones. An array of colours and arrangements flowed here and there across the manicured land - a wandering river of plants that spoke of fondness and remembrance. I saw everything from a simple posy of fresh-cut lilacs placed on a plaque, to elaborate floral vignettes set up just-so. 

A red-tail hawk circled overhead, and a small mule deer, shaggy and shedding its winter coat, grazed on the hillside while those of us below went about our duties. From the look of the tulips I left for my grandma last week, I suspected the deer must roam through the cemetery, nibbling, after everyone has left their tasty flowers behind. I brought an oatmeal cookie for my grandpa on my previous visit (he always had a sweet tooth) but that was long gone, possibly scooped up by birds or squirrels. I bring him simple treats (no chocolate) because I'm fairly sure the local fauna clean it up after I leave and I'm not interested in poisoning anything. 

Several folks were hanging out on or near specific markers. One woman had brought herself a chair and a picnic basket and was eating and chatting with her gravestone of choice. A gentleman was leaning against the bank, making time with the sunshine and occasionally looking down to gaze at someone's name. After my usual ritual of washing my grandparents' plaques and setting up my grandma's flowers and having my visit, I followed the winding road through the large property and nodded and smiled at those who looked up to note another embodied soul passing by. 

I always pay my way through the cemetery gates, in both directions, usually with as many dimes as I have in my purse. I'm fairly inconspicuous when I let the coins slip from my fingers at the threshold but today with the crowds of folks around I'm sure the tinkling of silver was heard by someone. I didn't mind so much. Though I couldn't help but notice them today, the living aren't really who I am interested in when I cross through that land. 

I glanced at the lake as I left, and I saw sailboats skimming along the water taking advantage of the wild spring wind. They always remind me of my grandfather. He would fold boats out of any piece of paper he could get his hands on. Newspaper sheets became large vessels and captain's hats, and sugar packets transformed into tiny ships. Sometimes, when I miss him so terribly, I fold joss paper into a sailboat and burn it on my altar for him. It will take me a lifetime of practice to make perfectly folded boats as quickly as he did, but gods-willing I've got some time yet to improve my technique. 

I don't go to the cemetery to feel close to my grandparents. I have an ancestor portion to my altar that gets concentrated care and offerings, and I feel my grandparents with me often. I simply like visiting that large piece of land on a bluff with the stunning view of the lake, and it gives me the opportunity to actively do something with my hands and attention. The dead don't need flowers or cookies. They don't even need cemeteries. But sometimes the living do.