Today we embark on our annual cemetery visit here in New Jersey. Beth Israel Cemetery, where my husband’s parents are buried, is one of those typical East Coast Jewish cities of the dead. There are street names and stop signs and all matter of instructions on how to find the graves you’ve come to visit. Too bad they don’t have a kiosk that sells little rocks to place on each headstone. The decades and the custom have made the grounds pretty much stone-free. Someone could really make big bucks selling pebbles.
We visit along with my husband’s sister and her husband. That’s our tradition. We tell Mom and Dad the tales of the past year and ask for their blessings for the coming year. No new babies this year. Last year we had two, one each. One marriage. Just last week our granddaughter was the bride in a beautiful wedding. She and her chatan have been a couple since they finished high school and met at Camp Ramah in Nyack, so this wedding was long awaited. Lots of “relationships” of which we approve heartily. And, as always, some sickness for which we yearn for complete recoveries. But, we know that old people rarely recover from chronic illness. We just pray for sustenance. Life is sometimes a challenge but we opt to be like the Mississippi, just keep rolling along.
The headstones are endlessly fascinating. What did the deceased’s heirs choose to have chiseled into the stones? Are they words of meaning or just easy trite nothings. It’s certainly hard to capture a life in a few words but, surely, some of the euphemisms are pretty trivial. Often they’re also self-serving. The words “forever in our hearts” seem to suggest that we will stick around forever. Wishful thinking or not, it’s a pretty meaningless phrase that I’ll soon be seeing in abundance.
We said about my mother-in-law that she was a strong woman. That summed her up very neatly! And she would have liked that description. A lot. She was strong, tough and determined. She was also very smart and capable. She worked hard her entire life so that her children, my husband and his sister, would fulfill her dreams for their success. And they did!
We described my father-in-law as a gentle man. And indeed he was! My husband is a lot like him. And so are all of our children and grandchildren. I think I’m the only non-gentle person in this family! All these nice people came from two fiery women, my mother-in-law and me! Genes are funny sometimes.
But the cemetery, above all, reminds me that I’m old. So many of the stones have ages etched into them that are younger than I am now. I’m now of the age that my own death would not be considered tragic. Of course no one wants to be a tragic figure so I guess I’m pretty lucky. Hooray for me. I’m the youngest of our foursome of visitors so I guess each of them has a similar thought. Maybe they put ages on the stones to taunt us. Or maybe they’re supposed to remind us that life is short and we should damned well try and do our best with the time we we’ve got left.