Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A Young Life Lost is a Loss to Us All

I have a big yellow labrador retriever that accompanies me on my morning walk. Usually we hike the endless trails that surround our town with a friend and her dog. Some days however, when we can’t make it to the woods, I walk him alone along the streets near our home. I enjoy these walks as much as the hikes. It is sequestered time for thinking.

The route that I choose to take most frequently on these solo walks, takes me past a cemetery that has headstones dating back to the 1700’s. The cemetery is nestled into the woods along a picturesque country road. This time of year, the backdrop of the autumn leaves makes it especially remarkable. This is not an historical cemetery. There are simply family plots held by local families for generations.

About a year and a half ago, one of those teen tragedies struck our town. Two boys were involved in a car accident, leaving the passenger dead. The boys had been best friends since childhood. The passenger was a local kid who was a graduate of our local high school. It was never proven whether the driver was drunk or just hit a slippery patch of road. The cause is not the point of my story.

This young man is buried in the cemetery that I walk by. I didn’t actually realize this until the headstone was placed at the grave, a number of months after the funeral. For eighteen months I have watched this family grieve. Although I never knew the young man, I find him profoundly in my thoughts.

Through the seasons, I have watched offerings come and go. The gravesite is adorned with colorful flowers and plants, trinkets of all sorts- momentos that have such personal importance to the visitor who left it, and a beautifully hand-carved birdfeeder that welcomes life to this unfortunate final resting place. He must have been brimming with life because he continues to be celebrated in death.

On rare occasions, however, I will walk by and notice the flowers wilting, weeds sprouting and the area around the gravesite looking unkempt. It makes me wonder why the family, who is fastidious in its expression of love has let the grave site fall into such disrepair. Could it be that they are becoming more used to life without their son, or is it simply that they just got too busy with life that they can’t deal with death? I wonder how often they visit him. Always, within days, the wilted flowers are gone and replaced with more spectacular flowers than before. Just as some days we are more involved in our kids' lives than others, I suppose it is the same with this family. We spend our entire lives caring for our kids, this is all the caretaking they will ever be able to do for him.

The other day I noticed a Happy Birthday balloon tied to the headstone. An even deeper sorrow touched me. For the first time, in all the months I have passed by, I walked over to the grave and paid my respects. The day before would have been his 23rd birthday. I was struck by objects I never saw from the street: beautiful shells, small ceramic pieces with his name beautifully crafted onto the piece, engraved sayings on rocks. At the bottom of his headstone was an engraved quote by him: “This is life, live it to its fullest. I’m gone”. I discovered that this was his Senior quote in his high school yearbook.

My kids get annoyed with me when I tell them I refuse to go to sleep until I know they are safe for the night. They may think it’s because I don’t trust them but it couldn’t be farther from the truth. I just love them so much that I could never imagine my life without them. I could never survive the nightmare that this family endures. Teens and cars and accidents- it’s the one variable we can’t control - an accident.

I stood for a moment, thinking about this young life that is gone. I started to leave, and then picked up a pebble and walked back to place it on his grave. In my tradition, placing a pebble on a gravesite suggests the continuing presence of love and memory, which are as strong and enduring as a rock. Some days after I pass by the cemetery I want to call the family to let them know that I think about their son often; even though I never knew him, he is constantly in my thoughts.


Rhea said...

This was moving. I think his parents would love that.

minivan diaries said...

Thanks - I always mean to do it. They probably would appreciate it. Maybe I'll get up the nerve.

Anonymous said...

still my favorite....
I find myself rereading this often
soon "my turn?"
a friend

minivan diaries said...

I guess we'll find how who's turn it is in a couple of months! Thanks.