Two of my kids attend a small school housed in an old New England church building. Beside the church sprawls this cemetery. This fall, we discovered that we could cut a couple minutes off our morning commute if we drove through it. Every weekday morning, you’ll see our car cutting through the cemetery en route to school.
As we wind down the narrow road, we call out the names on the stones. Roberts. McCormack. Finley. Reed. Each one a father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, friend. Each one a person loved and missed. Because the cemetery is so old, family plots are littered with tiny stones, a now-faded tradition. Many lean, sunken with the shifting ground of years. I can’t read those names from my perch behind the steering wheel, but I know who they are. They are the babies, the toddlers, the children taken with fever or accident or some unexplainable reason long before their time. The cemetery reminds us daily: life is full of sorrow.
As if our family needs that reminder. My children now have an intimate familiarity with graveyards. They chose the design that decorates their father’s stone. They understand the rules on wreath placement and plastic flower decorations. From the back seat my 10-year-old remarks, “I want to put something funny by Dad’s grave when we go there.” And I feel my heart ache. You might say to skip the cemetery commute; my kids have had enough of death.
Yet, for millennia, humans have lived side by side with death. Since the garden of Eden, we have been acquainted with grief. Parents bury their children, women bury their husbands, children bury their fathers. We say, “It shouldn’t be that way,” and yet it is. The curse of sin runs so painfully deep. Our culture wants to ignore or forestall death, but it will come to us all. It doesn’t help anyone to avoid looking at death. Especially for those who grieve, a culture that shies away makes our sorrow feel even more isolating and harder to bear.
I like to think that our trips through the cemetery are a daily retelling of the story of our life with loss. We drive along, and the stones affirm our life of sorrow. We too love someone who rests in the ground awaiting resurrection. Life the expanse of the cemetery, our grief spreads out wide. And in the most appropriate of endings, our commute ends in the adjoining church parking lot. Backpacked children scurry across the pavement, laughing and chattering with each other. My kids jump out of the car, smiles on their faces. In this world, we indeed have trouble. But just as sure, we are promised life in all its fullness. Now and in the end.