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By Forrest Hershberger
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Walking Through Memories


We traveled to a nearby memorial last weekend, a memorial garden really.

It is, after all, the main purpose of a cemetery, besides the obvious.

We have a fair amount of family in this location. I could say at least one left this world too soon, just as she was beginning to understand the springboard of her future she was standing on. And it would be true. When a parent has to let go, it is not easy, it is not clean, it is not quick, but it is necessary.

It is necessary because there is no progress if a survivor allows himself or herself to remain in one point in time.

Our experience is beginning to look like a family reunion. We have in-laws from both sides, our daughter, a cousin. As time goes on, the list will get longer.

Cemeteries often have one fault in their design. They ought to have more benches. There ought to be places where family and friends can have moments like “Forrest Gump” at the grave of his deceased wife “Jenny.” The conversation with someone he can only identify with memories and a name on a marker is familiar to countless, as are the uncontrollable tears deep from a grieving heart.

Visits to cemeteries, or moments at roadside markers, easily tear open the curtain to memories of laughs, tears of growing up, deep discussions as if two men on a porch discussing otherworldly things they can’t solve. On that list there were drives with my mother-in-law, short drives but full of her passion for her family and friends. The list is unique to each survivor and the loved one that needed their good-bye.

It is a surreal experience, like living a ghost story where new chapters are written spontaneously. Time has stopped for the deceased. It causes survivors to write chapters themselves, fiction based on facts from the past. For me, for us actually, there were what-ifs, second guessing what her future would have held. She would have pushed through college, married a boyfriend of a few years and in her career also provided us the experience of grand parenting. We filled in the blanks based on what she had shared of her goals and what we had seen of her behavior.

My dad could easily be labeled a humble philosopher. He wasn’t known for his financial status. He was a servant, giving to others sometimes even what he didn’t have. He could argue about a person’s value like a defense attorney pounding the table. Just as quickly he could recall his early days near a Mennonite community. As with my daughter, there are days I desire a gentle conversation to the point the fiction writer takes over, writing a scene of me and my dad at a coffee shop; no timeline, no agenda, just “solving the world’s problems.”

I often recall a quote from C.S. Lewis on grief. As I recall, he said it is important to let go, to let the deceased truly pass so that the survivors can continue on. The realty is it is a journey, a lifetime journey. Days like Memorial Day allow us all to be real, to allow the curtain to carefully open for a time.


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