Lessons from Life — and Death

I visited my father the other day.

Generally, these visits consist of my kneeling before a concrete slab, embedded in which is a plaque bearing Dad’s name and two salient dates. I tell him how much we miss him and how glad we are that he’s in a better place, and then I bring him up to date on the latest happenings.

Visits with my father are quiet, contemplative times. Catching the Breeze by Steve Henderson.

Visits with my father are quiet, contemplative times. Catching the Breeze by Steve Henderson.

Nobody looks funnily at you when you speak aloud in a cemetery; the only other safe place I have found to similarly converse is the interior of the car, when I am its only occupant. (The bathtub doesn’t work — even though no one else is in the room, the walls are thin. “Who are you talking to in there?” some family member shouts out.)

Anyway, when I was done, I looked up and around, my eye drawn to the memorial section across the path, pretty difficult to miss since it is filled with large, opulent, easily observable marble and concrete creations, in stark contrast to my father’s side of the tracks, replete with quiet, self-effacing ground level plaques and diffident floral offerings.

“Wow,” was my first thought. “Even in death the rich push themselves forward.”

But death is the great equalizer, and I wandered over to the other side, to see who was represented there.

And discovered that these people — and most significantly their survivors — are rich not so much in finances as they are in pain.

One eight-foot monolithic obelisk bore the embedded photo of a young man, 30-something when he died. Flanked on either side were flower pots etched with images of three young children — his? They would be in college by now.

It's so easy to say, but so difficult to truly grasp: the things that matter in life are love, friendship, family, laughter -- rich and poor, we can all strive for these. Afternoon Tea by Steve Henderson

It’s so easy to say, but so difficult to truly grasp: the things that matter in life are love, friendship, family, laughter — rich and poor, we can all strive for these. Afternoon Tea by Steve Henderson

Another long slab bore testament to Our Much Adored Son and Our Treasured Daughter-in-law, young when they married, too young when they died, their parents’ grief memorialized in two simple etchings.

There were a surprising number of babies, and toddlers, and schoolchildren, jumbled amongst people whose two dates spanned 80, 90, 100 years — what we generally expect to find in a cemetery — and the people left behind expressed their aching loss in Bible verses, perennial plants, and heartrending phrases, like, “Sleep, Little One.”

I was humbled, and mentally slapped for my quick jump to judgment. Death is, indeed, the great equalizer, and walking through a cemetery you get merely a glimpse of the lives impacted there, with just enough clues to feed your imagination and fuel your questions.

A large memorial may, or may not mean, that the person was rich and influential, or poor and well loved. A simple plaque hides a lifetime of achievement and grace, or bitterness and hate, or everything in between. I know that my father’s basic plaque says nothing about his famous all-day-to-cook spaghetti sauce, his research in tropical diseases, his inordinate sense of pride the first time he replaced the knob and lock on the front door.

People -- big, small, old, young, cranky, sweet -- these are worth investing in. Seaside Story poster by Steve Henderson

People — big, small, old, young, cranky, sweet — these are worth investing in. Seaside Story poster by Steve Henderson

And when I turn to the land of the still living, I see people dressed in everything from rags to imported Mongolian Yak leather, ranging in confidence from nothing at all to far more than I can handle right now, bossy and humble, sleek and disheveled, skinny and . . . not so skinny, outside projections protecting the person deep within, and I ask myself,

“Can I possibly avoid being fooled by outside appearances, and take time to be patient with this person?”

I hope so, and I’ll keep trying, and the next time I visit Dad, I’ll let him know how it’s going.

Just launched — inspirational posters at Steve Henderson Fine Art: Steve’s artwork on 11 x 14 matte posters, with or without the encouraging saying, $10.95 plus $2.99 shipping at Steve Henderson Fine Art. A new poster is launched each Thursday on the Steve Henderson Fine Art Facebook page — follow us, share, and, on Wednesdays, be the first to correctly solve Steve’s clue about the next day’s poster, and win the poster!

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About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. In addition to her This Woman Writes blog, Carolyn writes a regular art column for FineArtNews, an online newsletter for artists and art collectors.
This entry was posted in Art, blogging, Christian, Culture, Current Events, Daily Life, Encouragement, Family, home, inspirational, Life, Lifestyle, Personal, Relationships, religion, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Lessons from Life — and Death

  1. totemkate says:

    You got me. Once again. 🙂

  2. Amen and amen, Carolyn. You have said it all… really the whole thing about what we do and don’t know. Re: talking out loud to God… I found out quite late in my Christian walk that praying out loud works really really well. I instituted a prayer schedule with a lady who had never prayed aloud IN PUBLIC…always aloud when apart from all others’ ears! She edged herself beyond her shyness, sharing a three-way talk to God on regular occasions. But the most amazing things happened when I began to be less afraid of my own voice aloud to God in an empty house, or the car, or in the woods. It’s powerful stuff to come before the living God and speak out loud to Him.
    He does hear, and makes it clear that he does.

  3. Jana says:

    Great new name!

    Deep comments, thought to ponder in your post. I NEVER visit my dad’s grave but think about him, imagine how he’d respond to various things, remember his humor and wisdom, and wish for his presence regularly.

    And being visual, it takes regular practice to not judge a book by its cover or a human by his appearance. God looks on the heart, and we can learn! If it were easy, everyone would do it.

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