Memorial Day

Out in the lonely ghost town of Mercur, Utah, in a canyon on the western slope of the Oquirrh Mountains is a small graveyard. Most of the graves are marked with large slabs of stone from the area, by now the names worn off so that you don’t really know who is buried where.

One exception is the grave of Annie Calderwood Murchie Jones, the older sister of my grandmother. Annie was born July 25, 1897, and died only six months later on January 10, 1898. Her mother, my great-grandmother Mary Murchie Jones, reported that Annie had spoken to her before her death, telling her that she would not be on this earth very long, and indeed she wasn’t.

For many years my grandmother’s two sisters traveled to Mercur every Memorial Day to care for the grave. It has a little fence around it, and it is clearly marked. After these two great-aunts became too old to maintain the grave, my cousin began taking her children there each Memorial Day for the same reason.

A few years back, this same cousin, in her late forties, gave birth to a baby girl named Abigail, who had a genetic disorder called Trisomy 18. Abby lived just a few days, and at her funeral, I thought again of Annie. Annie’s family had her for a little while longer than my cousin had Abby, but the grief was the same, I would imagine. For several months during my cousin’s pregnancy, my sister and I took meals to their family on Sundays, and we became connected more deeply to the upcoming birth and the subsequent loss. Abby’s brief time here had changed us and turned us from the routine, and we were better for it.

Monday all over the United States, people will be placing flowers on the graves of their dead. We will remember the veterans who died of old age just as we remember the young men killed as they fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan. We’ll be reminded of the costs of war as well as the fragility of our existence.

I expect to take my children to Mercur on Monday. We’ll pull weeds and maybe paint the fence around the grave. And we’ll remember Annie. And we’ll remember Abby.

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3 Responses to Memorial Day

  1. Mina says:

    One of the few happy family memories I have is going to the SLC cemetary on Memorial day to plant roses on family graves.

    I used to go with my mom and grandmother. I think it was mostly my grandmother’s deal—the graves we tended were mostly from her family.

    (Incidently it was from these Memorial Day visits that I was first clued in on the existence of the Japanese-American camps in Utah. There is a whole Japanese section of the place dating from that era and on Memorial Day I used to see the gifts of food and other things placed on graves there.)

    I spent a lot of time at these graves when I was last in SLC. They are by some steps, red steps, set into a small hill, that I find especially quaint. There are plenty of the sandstone “pioneer” headstones around this area and not too far, still some, completely unreadable, wooden grave markers. I hung out there a lot out of melancholy: the first couple of months I was in SLC I was in effect waiting for my grandmother to die. And a cemetery seemed like a pretty good place for that vigil. I hung out there, drank beer, photographed interesting headstones and listened to Lyle Lovett’s version of “Flying Shoes.”

    Of course this year, it would be my grandmother’s grave I went to. And she is not buried in the SLC cemetery, but near her husband, my Grandpa Andy, in a small cemetery in Holladay. I’m not as fond of that place now, though I have fond memories of it from years back. Now its been taken over by new management. A new company that wants all the gravemarkers to be uniform: ugly metal garbage that “lasts.”

    Weathered headstones, slowly fading to unintelligibility—that’s the appropriate memorial for our short time on earth.

  2. Olga says:

    After moving far away from my place of birth, and my family’s place of death, it’s the visiting of the graves that I now miss doing. It used to be forced on us, this visiting of the cemetery every single weekend for as long as I could remember. As a child, I came to dread the weekends because of this requirement. These visits were never a time of speaking fondly about the deceased, but only about doing what our parents and aging relatives thought we all should do. Shoulding our way through life is a miserable way to grow older.

    Now I look back and think of all the missed opportunities, of all the forgotten family wisdom that could have been quietly, smilingly reminisced about instead of the very depressing time these graveside visits always were. Children shouldn’t grow up seeing their older relatives mournfully sad at the cemetery week after week, year after year. Children should be shown that though these losses will be with us always, we can move forward in our own lives after our loved ones pass on. That the surviving members of the family don’t need to mourn out the rest of their days, but can instead share the fond memories that only they know along with the bittersweet that we always feel upon the passing of a loved one. That we all have permission to find the joy in living again because it’s what our dearly deceased loved ones would have wanted for us.

    I wish I could go to the cemetery this weekend to fondly remember, and to smile at the good in the lives that my loved ones all lived. I wish that instead of a legacy of eternally mourning those who’ve gone on ahead of the living and, thus, of mourning out the rest of our days, my family would have left us kids with a legacy of how to be at peace with what happens in life because last I heard, none of us gets out of this life alive. Of all the things we can leave in our wake, peace, love and understanding are what I hope to leave in mine.

  3. K*tty says:

    Mina and Olga, thanks for your thoughts. Our experiences about death when we are young, seem to profoundly stay with us.
    Since we don’t get out alive, here is my song for my funeral. I am also planning on speaking, but that is a subject for another day.

    Do not stand at my grave and weep

    Do not stand at my grave and weep
    I am not there. I do not sleep.
    I am a thousand winds that blow.
    I am the diamond glints on snow.
    I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
    I am the gentle autumn rain.
    When you awaken in the morning’s hush
    I am the swift uplifting rush
    Of quiet birds in circled flight.
    I am the soft stars that shine at night.
    Do not stand at my grave and cry;
    I am not there. I did not die.

    written by Mary E. Frye

    May you all take comfort in this song, like I do.

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