(The previous post is here.) I wrote this piece in December 2003, after my first visit to Erie after the death of my mother.
When I was home in Erie at Thanksgiving, I tried to find the grave of my mother. I searched, but I could not find it.
From very early on, my family had established a few principles about funerals. A Ben-Ezra funeral needed to be a worship service. The body needed to be buried as an act of faith and a testament to the resurrection of the dead. And, besides that, keep it cheap. And so, when Mom died, Dad followed the principles. The funeral was a worship service. He buried the body of his wife as an act of faith that she would rise again on the last day. And, in everything else, he kept it cheap.
That included the headstone. A simple marker was enough. Why go to all the expense of an elaborate stone? It makes no sense. And so my father purchased a flat tombstone for my mother and for himself, when his time on Earth is finished. It was a simple, unassuming tombstone. Or so I imagine. After all, I never found it.
It was a beautiful day when I set out to visit the grave of my mother. True, the weather was a bit brisk, but the sun shone brightly, sparkling from the newly fallen snow as if the ground were covered with diamonds.
However beautiful it may have been, the snow caused a practical problem. The flat tombstone that my father had purchased was completely covered. I remembered the general area where we had buried Mom, but the turning of the seasons and the snow left me confused. So I began to search.
Wandering in a cemetery is an instructive experience. As I passed back and forth, trying to locate the one headstone that I was seeking, I found myself reading all the others that I was passing. I found myself reading names, dates, epitaphs. The husband, dead of heartbreak mere months after his wife had passed on. The grandfather and lover of crossword puzzles, whose epitaph was carved in crossword-form on his gravestone. Old and young, men and women, from many times, all gathered together in the grave. “All go to one place. All are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.” (Ecclesiates 3:20) My footprints threaded in and around the monuments of the fallen. I passed up and down the corridors of the dead, seeking my mother.
But I could not find her.
The morning was wearing on, and I began to realize that God did not want me to find what I was seeking. So I bowed to His wisdom and returned to the van. But, as I was driving away, I recalled the words of Jesus. “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read that which was spoken to you by God, saying ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?’ God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:31-32)
I laughed to myself. Of course I couldn’t find my mother! I had been looking among the dead. And my mother is among the living.
I drove out of the cemetery and never looked back.