So long as we are loved by others I should say that we are almost indispensable; and no man is useless while he has a friend. --Robert Louis Stevenson
This weekend, families all across the country drove to cemeteries to decorate the graves of loved ones with a spray of red silk roses, or maybe a handful of fragrant peonies from the bush in the backyard; some left notes with touching words like “I miss you, Papa” tied to a bright balloon or tucked under a ceramic angel.
We were among them. Kneeling beside the marble slab, I trimmed down the bunch of yellow button daisies, arranged them in the bronze vase, and emptied our water bottles into it. It had been a year since I had visited Mom and Dad’s grave, and the grass has grown in thick and green, and the new trees have gotten bigger.
I stood there long enough to say a couple of prayers for them. It makes sense to do that now that I am returning to Catholicism. Catholics believe, as did the Jews and the early Christians, that those who die in friendship with God go to a place for purification before entering heaven. While there, the prayers sent up by those they left behind can shorten their time in that place called purgatory, if God wishes to grant them.
It feels good to be able to do something for my mother now that I can no longer read to her or bring her a piece of Thanksgiving pie or hug her. Of course, the doctrine of purgatory is not there to just make us feel better but is both scriptural and deeply traditional. A good explanation can be found at Catholic Answers: http://www.catholic.com/library/Purgatory.asp.
But wherever the visitors to the cemetery that day believed their loved one’s soul had gone, each in her way took a little time to honor a memory and dust off a plaque and reaffirm that life. Some spent longer, like the white-haired man we passed sitting very still in a lawn chair beside a grave, looking like, in all the world, this was where he most wanted to sit, as close as he could get for now to one who had left early.
May God bless all those who grieve. And may Memorial Day remind us to each do what good we can, while we can, for as William Penn said, “I will not pass this way again.”