Friday, June 30, 2006

roll your own tombstone


where mies sleeps
Originally uploaded by suttonhoo.
Here's a tip for ya: When the time comes, you can design your own tombstone.

When my grandfather died our family delayed getting his grave marker for over a year. (That’s just the way we do things in my family.) The pack of us – my grandmother, an aunt, an uncle, assorted kids and spouses -- drove out to his graveside on the first anniversary of his death and decided it was time to do something about the cement block that marked his grave.

We gathered in the Funeral Director’s office and started flipping through the sample book and telling stories. As is also per usual in my family, the stories were rich with dark humor, and pretty soon we were all laughing.

In the office of the funeral director of the funeral home.

This was one of those tears running down the face, big gulps of air kind of laughing.

The only one in the room who wasn’t laughing was the Funeral Director.

My grandmother, always one for propriety, dabbed a tear from her eye and said to the director: “You’ll have to forgive us.”

To this day I don’t know if he was deadpanning his reply or if he spent too much time among the dead, but the answer he came back with -- with a cold stone expression was: “It helps to laugh.”

That brought the room down in a hurry.

But to my point. As we were flipping through the sample book of possible headstone designs my first thought was: “Bad clip art.” The book was overflowing with every sentimental piece of clip art that ever came pre-loaded in Microsoft Word. Roses; Irish Setters; Men fishing from small watercraft.

And were expected to pick one of these for my Bompa, who in his spare time had architected his dream home in lines that echoed Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe and outfitted the whole with modernist furnishings and fixtures (and whose only bad design judgment, in the years that I knew him, involved flocked wallpaper -- but it would be dishonoring the dead to tell that story).

It occurred to me that where there was a scrap of clipart there was an EPS file; and I was handy enough to know how to create one of those. The room was quiet at this point – the director having killed our laughter – so I asked him if he could accept an EPS file, and from there everything fell into place. He called the monument company; they said sure; I delivered it; they engraved it in the stone.

I based the design off a rectilinear Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass piece, and dropped in a Chi Rho symbol that I took as a wax rubbing off a headstone from Lakeview Cemetery where it marked the grave of an archbishop. (I never took pictures of the finished stone, regrettably, but I’ll snap a few the next time I visit.)

I was reminded of all this earlier today when Béla Fleck and the Flecktones shuffled by on my iPod. It was a wonderful live recording of Amazing Grace, and it reminded me of the day we laid Bompa down.

The graveyard was a 45 minute drive from the church where the service was held, so by the time we arrived the memorial service was already somewhat distant and the few words that the pastor said over the grave didn’t seem sufficient.

We threw in our dirt and then milled around, my aunt making tremendously talented small talk with the few guests who had joined us for the long drive.

The whole thing felt unfinished.

My brothers and sister and I gathered on the far edge of the plot -- we could see Mt Rainier in the distance (my grandfather loved that mountain) -- and we bitched a bit about how something more was needed. My dad joined our little group, agreed with our bitching, and started to sing Amazing Grace.

We joined him, and held each other. My grandmother heard us and joined our circle, and then my aunt, and then my uncle.

My grandmother was the only one who knew all the verses (of course) and she led us through them. We followed a half beat behind, stumbling through a few tears, the strength of the circle holding us up. Slowly, haltingly, we sang Bompa home.

(To this day I lose it when I hear that song. I'm usually all right until the very last verse -- and then as soon as we hit "Bright shining as the sun" I'm a slobbery mess.)

1 comment:

enyasi said...

Simply beautiful!!!! I think a natural part of death rituals is celebration, memories and laughter. Laughing about the good times eases the ache of loss and reminds you of the memories and spirit of that person you get to cherish forever.... Thanks

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