On my morning walk I decided to take a different path to spice things up so I turned into Middleton Farm. As I walked deeper into the neighborhood I saw a monument sitting on top of a small hill. I felt a nudge to walk up and take a look. The monument read “At Rest… Bradley” and there at the base of the monument lay a yellow carnation. Just as I had done the day before in Maryland, someone had stopped by this grave and remembered the lives of those memorialized by this monument.
Why does someone do this? Why take flowers and lay them on a gravesite hidden in a development? My own trip to the cemeteries only a few days ago was about honoring the request my father made before he died. His was a tradition of visiting five family cemeteries on Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day and Christmas. At each grave he would leave either a yellow or a red rose (I took carnations because, let’s be honest, roses are expensive!). My trip Friday was for my Dad, in fact, at the end of the trip I added a visit to his gravesite in Arlington.
As I stood there Sunday morning at the gravesite of the Bradley family I realized others were doing the same thing (and with yellow carnations too!). It occurred to me that it may be more than a ritual. Standing over a family grave is an opportunity to reflect on the lives that are woven into the tapestry of my own life. Friday I visited my grandparent’s graves, the graves of their parents and their grandparents. I stood before tombstones with dates as far back as 1865. More than a hundred fifty years and six generations were remembered on that journey.
I thought back to Friday afternoon and how I stood there at Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church listening to the church bells belt out the hymn How Great Thou Art and how I sang along, “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home what joy my heart shall find. Then I shall bow with humble adoration and then proclaim my God how great thou art.” I realize now that the trip to the cemeteries is more than a promise I made to my dad to care for and worry about the graves of our ancestors. It is a reminder of the cloud of witnesses that now enjoy the presence of God. Remembering them is remembering the importance of family and the promise of eternal life. I am honored and humbled to have the privilege to visit the graves of those who came before me and I look forward to the day when I will meet them and hear their stories.