Life as Lou

Thoughts On The Dead, As Penned By The Living

  • June 6, 2012 9:58 pm

bleeding hearts, grown in my mother's garden

The day after school got out I packed up the kids and headed home to North Dakota.  It was a quiet trip, relaxing and free from so many of the obligations that usually exist when a person goes home, and I had time to do some things I had wanted to do for a long time.

I got to visit the cemeteries where my family is buried and that was really wonderful, but also emotional.  I haven’t been out there in many years, not since before my grandmother passed away, and it used to be something I did yearly.  You know how when you grow up you move away and find you miss the oddest things?  Well, I have found every Memorial Day especially hard because we always spent them visiting these graves and remembering and honoring our ancestors and those who served our country, and being so disconnected from all these people I loved stirred something in me that was really uncomfortable to deal with.

I feel a responsibility to take care of these graves and to pass that knowledge and memory down to younger generations. I understood the sacredness of grave sites as a very little girl, piece by piece, maturing through countless visits with generations of my family’s women by my side, sharing histories and tears, silently teaching the stoic acceptance I’ve come to find comfort in. This dedication is something born in me- and not something I know how to pass on any other way.

My children visited with us this trip and I was pleased to see them interested and respectful at an appropriate level to their age, particularly my daughter, who expressed such fascination with the engravings and the names and dates.  These hallowed grounds are perfectly mitered into my heart, into the reality of who I am and where I came from. At one cemetery alone, I find myself surrounded by two sets of grandparents, great grandparents and my brother. At another, the generations go back much farther. It makes sense to me that I would eventually end up resting there as well- the cowboy song lyrics, “bury me not on the lone prairie,” always made me laugh a bit- because the lone prairie outside of Enderlin, ND is precisely where I wanted to be buried.

Of course, I am a grown married woman.  I have moved away, and it is likely that even my own parents will end up in a different plot of land all together . My husband wants to be interred in Manti- and I understand that desire- his family are all there. I am part of that family now, and so it follows I would rest there as well. As macabre as it sounds, I find myself wondering if they could just cut me in half- just as split between families in death as I am in life.  It would be gory, yes, but fitting nonetheless.

What bothers me most is that I will someday be left motherless and likely live too far away to visit those graves.  This ancient practice of respect and connectedness for one’s ancestors will lie squarely on my shoulders, and I will almost undoubtedly default on those responsibilities due to the practicalities of the living.  I do have siblings who could be there, but they will both likely live even farther away, and have even less reason to return to a home with no living relatives, and I feel that the responsibility has always been mine, as if assigned in some predetermined destiny.

The scriptures say to let the dead take care of the dead- and I get that. You can’t sacrifice your life on the alters of the dead.  It isn’t right or reasonable, and certainly wouldn’t reflect what my family would want. But I feel that someday all this will be forgotten, and that much of that forgetfulness will stem from my own choices to leave the land I was raised in. The sod generations of my family broke and planted and created lives on year after year will cease to be home, and the graves will become overgrown, cracked in the harsh winters, and ultimately forgotten.

I’m sure many of the people whose mortal shells lie in these graves understand why my heart is wrenched by this.  After all, they left their native homes in Norway and Germany, places where generations go back hundreds of years, to immigrate to America. They knew they would never return, and I can’t imagine saying goodbye to both the living and the dead with such a sense of finality.  I wonder how deeply they ached when they received news of their parents passing. I wonder if they wept because they couldn’t press flowers into the mounds of earth that covered so much of what they held dear. An ocean must have seemed like an eternity, as unreachable as heaven from earth.

Sometimes I feel like I’m somewhere in the middle of that ocean, reality steering me to safe moorings, but with pieces of myself left wandering on distant shores.




  1. Lauralee Hensley says:

    Very profound and moving. I guess I don’t feel so torn to take care of the marker, plot, headstone of those who have passed. I know they are in heaven with Christ and I know the graves are in properly cared for cemetaries. I actually prefer to remember there memories away from the grave because then I remember the good times and not where the period of sad time when their earthly lives were ending. I just trust the graves are being cared for by the cemetaries in which the bodies of the departed were placed, as they are still operating cemetaries with not yet filled capacities.

  2. Dave Roberts says:

    Leah, your words have starred my heart. Thanks for the beautiful words. I wish I could express myself so eloquently. Not to worry though, my weakness are given me for a wise purpose. In reading this, I am remained of your brother, whom I can only remember seeing once. It was at church and Rena commented to you mom how beautiful he was. Then a while later, Rena asked your mom where her son was. Her reply was, he died. But the best memories I have, is of your parents. It was when Rena and I saw them together for the first time and we knew that they had been twitterpated. And they still are. I love them both very much. I want you to know that I am a fan of yours and always read your FB posts, as well as you blogs. I pray that by now your health is sufficiently improved so that you can faction as a mother once more.

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