To some people, a cemetery can be a frightening and sad place, full of painful memories. But to Marsha, she was growing up in rural and cemeteries were her playgrounds. Her father was the groundskeeper for several state-run and private cemeteries in the country.
One day Marsha’s father was sick and he asked Marsha to take his truck out to one of the cemeteries and lay some of the stones on several of the markers. For some reason, this was very important to him and it had to be done that day.
Although Marsha did not understand why this was so important, she agreed to do this for her father. When she reached the cemetery, she parked on the hill over looking the ground of graves. Immediately she could see that she was not alone. A woman, bareheaded against the cold November wind, had come to visit one of the graves Marsha was to leave a stone on. As she bent to leave the stone, she heard the woman whisper softly, “Thank you”.
It was then Marsha noticed that the date of death on the grave was that same November day. The grave was that of a child only five years old when he died some fifteen years ago. Marsha looked at the woman. She appeared to be around fifty, her face lined appropriately. Marsha expected to see sadness in her bearing; instead she saw quiet dignity and calm acceptance.
“He was my son,” the woman said, “but where is your father? He was always the one to leave the stone.”
Marsha told her that her father was not well but that he had asked her to come and leave the stones. “He said it’s very important to him,” Marsha said. The woman nodded in a way that implied she understood just how important this small act was to him. She then explained.
“I don’t know your father well. But his kindness has meant more to me than anything else in my life. You see, when my child died, I came often to the grave to visit him. It is our custom to leave a stone on the marker. It lets everyone know that the one who is buried here is not forgotten but is thought of and missed. But, then we moved away … so many painful memories, we moved, family, friends, and there was no one left to visit the grave and I was so afraid that he would be all alone.
But your father marked the grave every time he came. Each time I have returned here, I have seen that stone and it has always comforted me. Your father is the kind of man who would ease the suffering of a mother’s heart even though we are strangers.”
The woman reached out and touched Marsha’s arm. “Just tell him you saw me today, won’t you?” she said. Then she turned and was gone.
As Marsha sat in the pick-up truck, waiting for it to warm up, she understood. Leaving the stones may have been something her father learned in his youth or maybe he just saw people like this woman do it. A small stone had marked the grave of a child and the heart of his mother.
She was suddenly comfortably warm – a warmth that penetrated all of her. She put the truck in gear and went home.