Headstone(d) (and looking for advice)

When I was nineteen and he was twenty four and we had a several-thousand-dollar hospital bill to pay because we’d just had a baby, he died. After paying thousands of dollars for an expensive casket because my mother-in-law didn’t want her son’s body eaten by bugs, ever (perfectly preserved forever, which isn’t how nature works), I had little money left for a headstone.

This was what I could afford.

I majored in English and had another baby, so money hasn’t exactly grown on trees. Every time I visited Bruce’s grave I apologized for offering such a poor representation of his life. But finally, thirty-eight years later, he’s getting a new headstone. Even though I know he’d tell me to spend my money on something more useful, we can all use a makeover once in a while, and this makeover is overdue.

I’ve spent most of the pandemic writing a memoir about Bruce and how I (finally) learned to integrate grief into my life. (Truth: writing has NOT been without copious tears and consumption of adult beverages. There are days when I might make Hemingway look like a teetotaler.) My inspiration for writing this memoir comes from the Buddha, who didn’t shy away when the demon Mara came to visit him before his enlightenment under the bodhi tree. He said to the demon, “I see you, Mara,” and integrated Mara into his meditation.

Despite the tears and the once-in-a-while distraction of wine, I am doing all I can to welcome Mara, too. To welcome grief and write about it in the most honest way I can. And that’s why Bruce is getting a new headstone. I’m ready, financially, but mostly I’m ready emotionally.

People visit cemeteries for many reasons, and not always because someone has died. Sometimes it’s just for exercise (cemeteries are usually flat or reasonably hilly). Cemeteries can also be calming and educational. You can learn a lot about people from their headstones and see they’re not so different – or that they’re very different – from you. When people pass by Bruce’s new headstone, I want them to learn a little something about the man, not just his name and dates. Bruce was an amazing singer. He was also a dad, a husband, a son, a brother, an uncle and a friend. I can’t write his biography on a 20”x30” stone, but I want to encapsulate – in as few words as possible – the culmination of his twenty-four years on this earth.

This is not an easy task, my friends. And so I ask you: What is your experience in creating a headstone for someone you love? Is there a poem, an etching, a something you needed to include that would speak to the passerby? Something that said, “This person lives here now, but here’s something important I want you to know about them.”

It feels good to make this public, to say it out loud. Maybe now I’ll eat more salads and consume fewer adult beverages. I kid… I eat plenty of salads!

Jasper (MN) friends, the tentative dedication will be on Saturday, September 4. Our daughter, Carlene, and I will be there, and if any of you would like to say something about Bruce and how you knew him, please let me know. This will be a celebration of his life, not like the day he was buried, when it snowed and we were all exhausted from the loss. I can’t say I won’t cry, but that’s OK. You can, too.

5 thoughts on “Headstone(d) (and looking for advice)

  1. When my husband was killed nine years ago, the cemetery said I could think about the headstone and do it later. It took me five years. I could not figure out how to sum up a life in that space. When I would visit I looked around at the others. At first I thought I was supposed to do something basic and traditional. Then as I wandered around and looked I realized I liked the more personal ones. I picked stone that was in the shades of his motorcycle because I thought he would like that(grey with black and red flecks). I put two hearts on it because hearts showed up a lot after he died(and to make it easy on the kids there is a space for me) It was not easy. I now find cemeteries to be peaceful, something I did not think before. I have been told I should write a book(the circumstances surrounding his death are unique) but I don’t want to relive it. I can imagine it was really hard for you to do that.

    1. Thank you so very much for your response. Believe me, I understand how you don’t want to relive it by writing about it. It’s not often people like us “find” people like us and I’m glad to know you’re out there reading my blog. I’m sorry for the circumstance, tho.

      1. Thank you. I have been reading your blogs for awhile. I found you through a weight loss blog. I started with the other blog and found you here. I think I may have commented once before. I guess I tend to be a lurker. I almost commented on a post from a couple of posts ago because I related to that too. I had two dreams before my husband was killed. I dreamed a blonde lady had taken him from me. I was in a rage at her. I assumed it meant he left me and I told him about it. After the second one I told him “you left me for that blonde lady again” and he laughed. If felt like a premonition. A few months later he was killed by a negligent driver while riding a bicycle. She was blonde and looked like the dream lady I was so angry at. Maybe we get warned? It is comforting to read the words of people that have gone through this. I plan on reading your book. I can’t imagine what it was like to be so young at the time. I was 45 and that seemed too young for this.

  2. I pray for blessings and comfort and peace for you, Lynn, and for Jill P.

    I hope this celebration of his life, and new memorial, will bring joy – even through tears – to you, your daughter, and all who grieve for Bruce.

    Since I was a child, I’ve always thought that cemeteries felt like gardens of peace and history.

    “A beautiful soul, with a beautiful voice. He was loved beyond words can tell.”

    1. Awww…thank you, Sharyn. You are very kind. He indeed was a beautiful soul with a beautiful voice.

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