Last weekend I received an email from my oldest brother in Holland. He asked me and my other three siblings what we should do with the grave of my grandparents on my father’s side. He had received a letter from the cemetery administration. Apparently the 50 year term for the grave had expired and now they wanted to know if we would renew the term. Besides the question of the renewal my brother wanted to know if we would consider a family grave. We had laid my parents to rest at the same cemetery and now we had the option of reuniting them with my grandparents in a family grave, we could all choose for our final destination. It was a strange impersonally written email with a very personal content, requiring a very personal response.
We all had spent our childhood practically next door to the cemetery, which is part of a biblical outdoor museum in the middle of a beautiful forest. It has no resemblance with a grave yard what so ever. It is more a park with beautiful old trees. I remember as a child we would take our dogs on long walks, my father up front followed by my three brothers, me, my sister and mom. We would always end up at the spot where my grandparents rest in peace. It is indeed a peaceful place and with all the footprints of our childhood it did make sense to ask the question of a family grave. But it was strange to see it written in such a formal way. It caused a back and forth over the email, first emotionless, serious and later with a more humorous touch.
That’s when I started to recognize my siblings again. We were always in for a joke and emotions were not shared that easily. We had gone through the death of our parents together on an early adult age, but we had not really shared our sorrow together. Grief and our emotions had been reserved for ourselves and were handled in a more private way. We had always been a family of joy and fun with not much room for black clouds. So here we were thinking beyond our lives, writing down wishes we normally would not speak of. We don’t like to speak of death, especially if it is our own. So it was quite extraordinary to read the different wishes of my brothers and my sister, who all had clearly thought about it, even before my brother had sent out the email. We also realized that we had to take responsibility for what we were going to leave behind for the next generation in my family. My brother had mentioned in his email that his son and two daughters were not ready to be included in this decision. They are in their early twenties, too much going on in their lives; their focus is on other important life issues.
Of course at that age we were no different and death was certainly not a life issue. It is not often before we mature that we learn about death being part of life. Still, here I was bound to make a decision which might affect them too. Although we all know that this life we live is not forever, it is difficult to make arrangements for the end of our earthly existence. I have learned that as my life changes, it’s course and the loved ones around me determine my last wishes. Family grave or ashes spread in the ocean, whatever I choose now, might change again in the future. But one of my greatest wishes will never change; that somebody will carry the imprints of my days into the future. I like to believe, we can live our lives with purpose, we ourselves can give it significance and someone will care enough to value the imprints we leave behind and remember us.
For more information on end of life, bereavement and grief support you can contact the office of the Alberni Valley Hospice Society 250.723.4478 or visit our website www.albernihospice.ca