I am always pleased when I am invited to Mikaeli's school for Grandparent Day. This year it was held on a Wednesday which is my day off. That meant that I didn't have to get up extra early to take her for breakfast. Instead I suggested that we would go for a steak sandwich (her favourite) at noon. She topped that off with a huge slice of chocolate cake and then said she wanted to ask a favour of me. "Can we go to a cemetery now? You see I have never been to one and always wanted to go there". I first I thought she was joking - but she wasn't!
My mind immediately went back to small town Saskatchewan where, many years ago, my mother would take my sister and me to care for the graves of her parents. We would wash the tombstone, pull weeds and water the rosebush that had been planted there years before. When my children were young, mom would take them there to do the same tasks. She would answer questions and tell stories about the family - stories that would otherwise have died with her. I started to think that perhaps the visit to a cemetery request was something that would be appropriate.
Mikaeli spent over an hour walking down the rows and reading the inscriptions on the stones. She would get excited if she saw a date from the 1800s and explained "You and I are a lot alike, Grandma. We both like history. Come and look at this one".
She would ask me questions that really surprised me like "Do Catholics go to heaven?" A long time ago I learned that it is best before answering a child's question to ask "I am wondering why you are wondering". Glad I remembered to make that statement before launching into any theoretical perspectives. Mikaeli explained "I'm wondering because there is a sign pointing to a separate area of the cemetery for Roman Catholics". Isn't it easy to make assumptions or develop misunderstandings?
Mikaeli wanted to know if we knew anyone in this cemetery and where our ancestors were buried. Then she asked about a family friend's grave and I was faced with explaining cremation in a simple and non-traumatizing manner. I told her that Ron was in an urn on his wife's mantel and she stated "That's a little creepy". We talked about how Uncle Abel donated his body to the University of Saskatchewan for research and then, three years later, the family gathered to spread the ashes on the lake where they owned a cabin.
I explained that I am an organ donor and am hopeful that someone who needs a heart or lungs or eyes will benefit because of this. She innocently asked "Do you think anyone will want your arms?" I had no idea about how to answer that one.
We talked about the Family Tree that now has 6200 relatives and how difficult it is to find accurate information when cremation occurs rather than burial. It was obvious that we both enjoyed our discussion and time together.
Suddenly Mikaeli looked sad and stated "I don't want you to die, Grandma". I didn't have to think long about my answer to that. I said "But that's the goal! You can't get to heaven when you are alive. And besides I will never leave you because I will always be in your heart and memory". She smiled.
She then sent a text to her dad to tell him where we were so he wouldn't worry. His text reply was brief. It said: "Morbid. How about taking her to Ruckers?" Well, that planted another idea in her head and she quickly asked if we could go there next. I asked "Does your dad take you to cemeteries?" and she said "No". "Well I don't take kids to Ruckers". End of discussion.
Death is very much a part of life but often we either don't talk with our family about it or share the beliefs that we have about it.
What if you are the only person who has special family stories and history that you don't share? When you die it is gone forever.
Legacy is about what we leave for generations to come. It includes stories and values and memories.
What are you leaving for your descendants? You don't have to take them for a cemetery tour but you can write down things that you experienced and tales about the relatives you knew who are long gone. You might be the only one who can help them latch onto their roots.
Better than a trip to Ruckers. Anyone can take them there!