I remember going to the cemetery every Memorial Day with my family. We'd put flowers on the graves of dead relatives and my mom and grandmother would tell stories about them. Since most of them died before I was born, they were strangers to meand I'd walk amongst the headstones reading the names and dates of the people who died. I'd figure out how old they were when they passed on and wonder what kind of life they had.
Because it was Memorial Day, most of the headstones had flowers or other tokens people had left for the dead. I remember once walking amongst the headstones and hearing the faint sound of music. I followed the sound until I came to a small music box someone had left on the headstone. The music box was playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star over and over again. I thought it was a strange song to leave at the cemetery until I realized the headstone was for a baby that had died three months after it was born.
There were always some headstones that, year after year, never seemed to have flowers. One I remember in particular was a three foot tall, polished black headstone that always impressed me as a young boy. I thought someone with a headstone like that must be important. Yet every time we came to the cemetery, I never saw flowers or anything else there. When I was younger I thought, "The family lives far away and can't come every year." In my teens I took a more cynical approach and thought that perhaps the person buried there was a bitter person who never loved anyone and as a consequence his family never bothered to visit his gave.
I haven't visited my first wife's grave since the first anniversary of her death three and a half years ago. Marathon Girl was with me at the time. I remember standing there looking at the headstone shared by my first wife and our daughter then looking over the cemetery and wondering if I'd ever go back. I had just gone through the hardest year of my life and even though I had been very successful in putting my life back together, each time I visited the cemetery, I felt like I was taking a step backwards and dwelling on the dead and the past and not my future. I made the decision not to return.
I didn't tell anyone about this decision until the next Memorial Day weekend. By this time Marathon Girl and I had been married three months. At some point that weekend Marathon Girl asked when I planned on visiting my first wife's grave. Marathon Girl was surprised by my response.
"Why not?" she asked.
"I don't want to dwell on the dead," I said.
There was a pause then Marathon Girl said, "You know I'm okay with visiting as often as you would like."
"Are you sure?"
"I rather spend my time with the living."
There was a hurt look on Marathon Girl's face â€“ a look I wouldn't understand the meaning of until a year or so later when the topic came up again and Marathon Girl explained to me that she worried that if she were to die, I'd never visit her grave either.
The topic of visiting my first wife's grave comes up this time of year and we've established a standard routine to this topic. She'll ask if I'd like to visit. I smile, shake my head, and say maybe next year.
It's been over a decade since I've been back to that cemetery my family visited every year. During that time I've occasionally thought back to that polished black headstone and thought about why no one ever left flowers at the headstone. The reasons have changed over the years but today, when I think of that black headstone, I wonder if maybe the person buried there was loved tremendously but his family had made the decision to move on with life and instead of dwelling on the dead in this life were looking forward to seeing him in the next.
One day I will go back and visit the first wife's grave though at this writing, I have no idea when that will be. But when I do return Marathon Girl and our children will be at my side.