Cemeteries and beer

Luckily Memorial Day weekend flew by rather quickly thanks to Mark’s parents and sister and brother in law who all visited from out of town, Mark’s parents from Iowa and his sister and brother in law from Nebraska. As part of the weekend, we scheduled a couple of St. Louisy activities (you’re jealous) because we didn’t really have other plans and because some of our visitors hadn’t spent enough time in St. Louis to have experienced them, in all of their glory, before. And our weekend included other activities too – some dinners out and good conversation and a fishing trip and a quick Monday morning visit to the cemetery where Matthew’s ashes are buried…

Truth be told, Mark and I hadn’t been to the cemetery since Easter, and before Easter, Christmas Eve, when we left a Christmas tree adorned with angel ornaments and candy canes for Matthew. On this cold, December 24, I dissolved into a heap on top of Matthew’s grave, crying, Mark by my side, also crying, Mark’s parents nearby, crying as well. I imagine it to be one of the most pathetic sights in the universe…

And it destroyed me for several days to come.

When I returned to work shortly thereafter, I encountered Mary, whose son was murdered 18 years ago, as I entered the parking garage, “Hey gurrrrrl! How was your holiday?” she exclaimed.

“I don’t know… I’ve been having a hard time… I visited Matthew’s grave on Christmas Eve…” I offered, choking back tears.

“Gurrrrl!!! What’d you do that for!?!” Mary almost scolded me, “I used to visit my son’s grave. But now I don’t. It was just too hard for me… So I stopped. Because, gurrrrrl, you know what I decided? He aint there!!! So if you go, remember it’s for you, because he aint there!”

And Mary’s words that reminded me that Matthew isn’t there comforted me. Because, intellectually, I know it to be true – that his grave is a landmark, a monument, a memorial, but sometimes I need to be reminded that it isn’t something bigger.

But, still, we returned on Easter. And it destroyed me yet again, though maybe not quite as dramatically as it did on Christmas Eve, after which my pure exhaustion resulted in my sleeping away large portions of the week following.

I know some find comfort in visiting their loved one’s grave. I wish I could say the same, but, honestly, I can’t. At least not yet. I carry Matthew in my heart and in my every thought. I look at his picture and write about him. I sometimes feel his presence in the space of my blog or in a random sign. And I adorn myself with tokens of love and remembrance daily. But visiting his grave seems to slaughter my soul every single time in ways from which it’s difficult for me to rebound.

So late last Sunday night when Mark asked, “My family wants to stop by Matthew’s grave tomorrow morning on the way to our activity, okay?” I gave somewhat of a noncommittal reply, because although my real answer was, “No, can’t they just go alone?” I think part of me thought my answer should be, “Of course,” and another part of me hoped that maybe they’d just forget.

Monday morning proceeded per usual. We ate breakfast, got ready, and headed off to our activity as planned. I’d forgotten Sunday night’s conversation, but there came a point in our trip when I realized that no one else had – I recognized our detour…

And my chest tightened. I started breathing heavily, trying my hardest to fight back the tears, the inevitable visceral reaction. I whispered to Mark, “I don’t know if I can do this…” But I didn’t hide my feelings well, because, pretty soon, everyone in the backseat had noticed them, and it became quiet.

And I just lost it, to the point of no return. And when we entered the cemetery, I lost it even more, telling Mark I didn’t think I had it in me to get out of the truck.

Everyone else exited the truck. They placed flowers and a stuffed animal on Matthew’s grave. They spent a couple of minutes there, while I continued to sob uncontrollably. (As I am as I write this.) I pondered getting out with them… But I knew if I did, I’d collapse, a la Christmas Eve, unable to recover within a reasonable amount of time. And part of me couldn’t let them see me in such a state.

They eventually made their way back to the truck. And we drove off. And I caught a glimpse of a teddy bear sitting on Matthew’s grave, another sight among the saddest and most pathetic in the universe.

And everyone apologized, saying this was a bad idea, while I insisted I’d be fine, all the while not knowing whether I’d have it in me to participate in our next “activity,” the Anheuser-Busch Brewery Beermaster Tour. Because it’s a great idea to participate in a booze tour 15 minutes following an emotionally charged event involving your child’s gravesite, and, also, you’re pregnant and can’t drink away your sorrows and your husband is allergic to beer (hops, specifically)…

Though we thought our family members would enjoy this (which they did), and we were selflessly devoted to enhancing their St. Louis experience, especially considering most of their recent trips have revolved around us – hospital stays and memorial services and funerals and burials and our grief. Plus, there was added pressure considering that our plans to visit the top of the Arch on Sunday were obliterated by a swarm of international (mostly Asian) tourists, armed with selfie sticks, who apparently think it’s the coolest flipping landmark on the planet despite its grounds resembling a war zone (they’re currently under construction) – who knew?!

So upon our arrival at the Anheuser-Busch complex I threw my sunglasses on over my red eyes and tear-stricken face. And as we entered the building to check in for our tour, Mark whispered, “You’re just going to have to majorly compartmentalize.”

And compartmentalize I did – I put on my game face and muscled my way through this two hour Beermaster Tour. Though, luckily, we’d paid for VIP tickets, so there were only ten in our tour group – our six family members, plus a group of three, plus one guide.

The tour was weird for me… I felt a bit zombie-like for most of it, listening as the guide discussed yeast and hops and barley and wheat and Clydesdales and German architecture and the August Busch family and production processes and fermentation and pasteurization and born-on dating. I watched, entranced by the thousands of bottles of BudLight methodically flying through the packaging plant.

And when I wasn’t compartmentalizing, my mind wandered, entertaining thoughts like, “I was here five years ago… My life looks no different to an onlooker than it did back then. But it’s totally different. But it looks no different… I am a failure. I am worthless. I miss Matthew. What if he’s disappointed that I couldn’t get out of the truck today? What if he feels alone in the cemetery? He’ll never play with his teddy bear. His teddy bear will just get wet, waiting for a little boy who’ll never play with it,” as I cried intermittently behind my sunglasses.

And eventually the tour ended, and Mark and his family enjoyed some beverages (some hops-free) while I excused myself to the restroom to ensure Jay still had a heartbeat. And upon my return, a lady from our tour group asked, “So when are you due?”

“August,” I answered.

“So, is this your first?” she asked.

“No, my second,” I answered without caveat, imagining what she must be thinking if she tried to piece together my story… Something like, “So she wanted to go on this afternoon Beermaster Tour so badly that she got a babysitter to watch her other kid? But she’s here with her whole family… So who’s watching him?”

Because the reality is far too awful for anyone to imagine. The conclusion is far too horrible, and maybe a bit too improbable, for anyone to jump to.

After the tour we ate lunch. And after lunch, we drove some of our family members to the airport. And upon arriving home, I collapsed onto our bed sobbing, asking Mark through tears whether he saw the teddy bear, whether he thinks Matthew feels alone out there or whether he feels disappointed that we don’t visit his grave more frequently, at which point, much to my surprise, Mark started sobbing too. And the conversation later turned from Matthew to our fear, with us begging and pleading to no one in particular, “Please, no. We can’t do this again.”

And days later, the fear remains, my constant companion, as it has been for the duration of this pregnancy and will continue to be. But the voices of fear have quieted just a bit, as I continue to allow myself to hope again too.

Though I’m still left questioning… Does Matthew feel alone out there? Is he watching? Does he know how much he’s loved and missed despite our inability to visit his grave very often? Did we make the right decision to bury his ashes? Does he look down at his teddy bear and smile? Or does he cry? Is it really true that “he aint there?”

And will any of this ever change for me? Will I always feel so slaughtered by the physical – by his room, by his clothes, by his grave? Will the powerful images that the cemetery elicits – the sea of black clothing and the Kleenexes and the tearful friends and family members and the small box of ashes with flowers placed atop and the chorus of voices singing Amazing Grace ever be replaced by more peaceful ones?

My questions might sound rhetorical. And they kind of are. But they kind of aren’t. I know it’s different for everyone, but feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, no matter where you are in your grief.

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19 thoughts on “Cemeteries and beer

  1. My heart is aching as I read this, my friend.

    I find it difficult to visit Josie as well. In the very beginning it felt like a blur with all the people there with me. But now that more time has passed I find myself feeling like I’m leaving her every time. Walking away to attend a barbecue or a Christmas celebration or a Valentine’s Day dinner. I hate that feeling, and so I don’t really go.

    Innately of course, I know that she isn’t there inside the tree, watching me walk away from her but as her mother it is a specific, deep guilt that I always sense. I too, am hopeful that someday our visits can become more peaceful. Comforting, even.

    Mike and I had a (drunken) conversation once when we were first dating, about cemeteries. He never wants to be buried, stating that he will be dead so why would it matter to him? which I can understand but I remember yelling “it’s not for you! It’s for the people you leave behind!” I like to think that Josie and Matthew would want whatever is most healing for us, whatever that may be. I try to remember that when the days and months pass between my visits. And two years “in” I can understand how those most healing things may evolve and shift with time, alongside the grief, and that whatever they are and however they manifest, that’s what they would want.

    Love to you, my friend.

    ❤️Nora

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Dan says he doesn’t want to be buried either. I think if anything ever happened to him (at least before we’re old and our children are grown), I’m going against his wishes and burying him by Lily. I couldn’t stand it if they were not together. But I’m also one of those “going to the cemetery and sitting there alone and crying is healing for me” people.
      I agree, I think our babies would want whatever is healing for us. They know we love them and miss them every second of every day. At least I hope they know that.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d feel the same way. I’d want everyone buried together, though I hope none of those decisions have to be made for a very, very fucking long time. I hope this for all of us. Xoxo

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Thank you for this sweet, comforting comment. I too think they would want what is best for us. I agree the grief and its manifestation will change over time. I too feel like I am “leaving him” every time despite that it isn’t my belief that it is really true. I guess the cemetery elicits powerful imagery that trumps intellectual understanding sometimes. Love you, friend.

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  2. When my daughter was stillborn last October, I became hyper focused on the physical. What would become of her room? Her clothes? What would I do with all her things? She didn’t need them anymore, but I couldn’t and haven’t been able to put a single thing away. All of her clothes that I washed still sit in her drawers and hang in her closet untouched. Her decorations with her name still hang in her room. Her crib is still made. Nothing has changed except everything has changed. I can no longer open the door to her room. It’s been locked for months now. I’m sure that’s not the healthiest way to cope.
    I did not bury her ashes. Her ashes are in a small pink urn on a dresser in our bedroom. It seems like such an insignificant place to put your child’s ashes. Everytime I walk by them I think I can’t effing believe it. Is this really my life? And I wonder should I put the ashes somewhere else? I know she’s not really there, so it shouldn’t matter where I keep her ashes. I am struggling to figure all of this out myself. When will all of this get easier to cope with? 5 years? 20 years? Ever? From hearing others stories that are further along, the process to “heal” is a process and is most likely very slow. But there is a small glimmer of hope that in time, I will learn how to cope with the triggers in a way that won’t leave me quite so devastated everytime.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your comment – I can relate so much. I could have written the same thing about Matthew’s room. The door’s been shut since July – it invokes a similar reaction to the cemetery, and considering it’s a room in my house, I’m not sure that it’s healthy. But it is just so freaking devastating to me… I think Mark’s visited it a couple of times, but I can’t bring myself to.

      And yes – I don’t think there’s any great way to think about your child’s ashes, whether they’re buried in a cemetery or sitting on a dresser. Nothing’s super comforting…..because they’re your child’s ashes… The reality of the situation is so freaking horrible and I think going to the cemetery, apart from intensifying my grief for Matthew brings similar feelings, “Like, how the heck is this my life?”

      I hope, for all of us, that these things become softer. It could be a long, slow process… So many hugs to you, sweet mama.

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  3. Hi Christine,

    I only lost Connor 11 weeks ago, so my grief is still very fresh but a few days after I lost him, our family friend who is 39 and lost her first born daughter 6 years ago phoned me and was tremendously helpful. She has kind of been my guiding light through it all so far. I texted her about how I am feeling and how everything is going. It’s been really nice to be in touch with someone who is on the other side of grief. Since her daughters passing, she has since had two other living children. A boy named Cole a little over two years later from loosing Jesse and recently a baby girl born this past September. She told me once Cole was born her grief evolved and a lot of joy was restored back into her life that she had been longing for. Okay, off on a little tangent now, I grew up Catholic and attended Catholic school for 14 years, however I have always been interested in other religions and philosophies, at my strongest moments one thing that has helped me is remember one of the 4 noble truths in Buddihism which is ” the root of all suffering is not accepting what is”. Sometimes thinking that way helps me. Pain is universal, suffering is not. I don’t want to suffer from my pain, I want to be happy again one day. I truly believe you cannot fully appreicate joy unless you have felt complete and utter sorrow. How can you truly know joy without it? What happened with Matthew was a horrible accident, in a lot of way it’s beyond comprehension, but you and your family will welcome joy again. Life will be happy, my best friend who lost her Mother when we were in middle school spoke words to me after Connors passing that really struck a chord. (Direct text from her) ” My experience of loss is that it doesn’t hurt less, it just becomes easier little by little to imagine your life without them”. I know Connor isn’t here so for me I just try and come to terms with that. I don’t think “today he would be 3 months old” or today he would be wearing this outfit because he actually wouldn’t be because he died. Don’t get me wrong, I am heartbroken and very sad over it but living in the present instead of grieving a future that isn’t possible makes his death easier for me
    to try and accept. I should mention this is all easier said then done but I try in keep that in mind. I really don’t know what life has in store for me, I just hope it’s a happy one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this comment. I find it truly wise and insightful and comforting. I’m so thankful you have the support of your friend to guide you through this and provide inspiration and hope of a light at the end of this dark tunnel. I’m interested in exploring these Buddhist principles further, as when I read your comment, it brought me a moment of peace – the possibility of focusing on what is… Though I’ve actually tried to do this, albeit sporadically and without knowledge of it being an actual principle, and it is easier said than done, but certainly a great reminder. Thank you again for your comment, and sending so much love to you, sweet mama. xoxo

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  4. I have Max usually in his heart shaped pearl urn, in his cot. He’s currently staying at his Dad’s, as we aren’t together. I initially was ‘excited’ about getting ‘him’ back. His funeral was almost 3 months after his birth/death. I delayed because I didn’t want to say goodbye. I insisted to the funeral director that I wanted to hold his hand one last time 2 days before the funeral. So they covered the rest of his body and had his hands uncovered. Big mistake, I was so naive to think that his hands wouldn’t have changed to that extent. I asked them to cover him back up.

    I experienced a major anti climax when I got his ashes back, I can hear them move in there. You can hear there is very little of him left, it wasn’t a comfort at all 😦

    He is there, but he isn’t at the same time. Sometimes I feel I should have a grave to visit, but I was warned that I might end up spending the rest of my life there.

    Matthew is so loved, regardless of grave visits. It’s his ashes that are there, not really him (That’s what I believe now having been around Max’s ashes) xxx

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    1. I’m not sure anything about a baby’s ashes could ever be “comforting,” because it’s, at its core, screwed up, the notion of a baby’s urn or gravesite… I too believe they are “not there,” but the gravesite makes me feel like he is, but not in a way that provides comfort… It’s so messed up! I can tell Max is so loved too. And I hope that our boys have found each other, where ever they are. xoxo

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      1. God it’s so conflicting. Sometimes I wish I had a grave to visit. But truly all I really want is my baby in my arms, not a grave or an urn xxx

        I hope I didn’t offend, I didn’t want you to beat yourself up for not going to the grave, I re read what I said and it sounded really harsh. I didn’t mean it in that way at all, I just didn’t want you to feel bad 😦 xxx

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      2. Oh gosh – no, you didn’t offend in any way whatsoever. I agree that really we just want our babies in our arms. 😦 And I’ve tried to stop beating myself up, telling myself that he’d want me to do whatever feels right. xoxo

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  5. I am the opposite. I like going to the cemetery and just sitting there alone, crying and talking to Lily. It’s one of the few things that gives me a tad bit of comfort, for some reason. Seriously, I even have a “cemetery blanket” that I keep in my car. I don’t like pack a picnic or any shit like that, but I do sit on the blanket. Oh, and I also keep rain boots in the car because the area she is in tends to stay a little sloppy after it rains. I usually don’t stay long, no more than 15 minutes. Also, she doesn’t have a headstone yet, so I like to put down flowers for her. The cemetery clears them all out every month so I have to restock every month.
    When I went back to work, I REALLY struggled with this. For the 11 weeks I was off, I went at least once a week. Since I went back last August, I am lucky if I get there once a month.
    Dan is the opposite. In fact, on Sunday when we went for Lily’s birthday, was the ONLY time he’s been since the day we buried her. H says that’s “not his thing”. Find with me though actually; I’d rather go alone. I can also sneak myself some Ted Drews down the road. 😉
    I still focus on the physical stuff too. After all, that’s all we have of our babies. Their room, their clothes, their stuff.
    Love and hugs, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Is it an orange blanket? 😉 Just kidding. I’m glad it provides you comfort. I actually might do better if I visited Matthew’s grave alone or only with Mark. I find it’s more difficult to visit in groups – perhaps too reminiscent of the funeral/burial, which I still view as traumatic? I do find comfort in Matthew’s pictures and little tokens of remembrance like jewelry, and I’m anxiously awaiting his Molly Bear, but otherwise the physical destroys me, even though it’s all I have left… Ughhhhh… The truth is, it’s just sad any way you slice it… Hugs, friend. xoxo

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  6. I understand everything you have written all too well. My husband and I agreed early on that I would not visit the cemetery alone for now because at first I thought it would help let me grieve alone. However, I like you, had the thoughts that my James was out there all alone and I physically couldn’t allow myself to leave. I got so worked up I physically got Ill at the cemetery and spent hours there because I couldn’t make myself leave. My husband and I visit together every few weeks because that’s what we can handle. Just know, you don’t have to do anything or hold back anything just because of who you are with. If you don’t want to go, I firmly believe that we get a free pass to say NO. Sending you my prayers today.

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