[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, and allowing a second chance for those who missed them the first time, I reprint them here, with permission. The following ran in The Forum newspaper on June 7, 2014.]
Living Faith: Gravesite flowers summon conflicted feelings
By Roxane B. Salonen
In the days leading up to it, we’d been too focused on my niece’s graduation and daughter’s birthday to consider the confluence. But when the holiday arrived, it seemed the absolutely right thing to do.
I gasped at the entry, noting the flowers and other memorials speckling the grounds from every direction, along rows of perfectly uniform headstones. It hadn’t looked anywhere near this resplendent during my last visit.
But regret quickly came. What kind of daughter visits her father’s grave empty-handed?
Approaching his headstone with the tiny American flag perched in front, our family paused to hold hands and say a prayer.
Though moved by the spontaneous, meaningful gesture, I couldn’t push away feelings of inadequacy. I’d blown one of the few chances I’d had to bring something lovely to my father.
Even while wrestling with this, however, a sense of peace began to come.
I thought back to the summer before our fall wedding, when I’d suggested to my father that he rent a tux. He’d pushed aside that idea with a laugh, saying he wouldn’t be caught wearing a “monkey suit” anytime soon.
He wasn’t one for show, so would Dad really care if we’d come to visit him unadorned?
After lingering a while to absorb the patriotic songs now resounding through the cemetery – the kind that would have brought tears to Dad’s eyes – we departed, and as the cemetery faded in the rearview mirror, so did my feelings of a missed chance.
I realized that as powerful and necessary as visiting my father’s grave has been, his presence has felt much more tangible elsewhere – in hearing birdsongs, a certain brand of humor or in our reminiscing over his unique characteristics.
A few days after our cemetery visit, a friend mentioned how a division had erupted within his extended family over whether flowers at gravesites are necessary.
One of his siblings had lamented how she was the lone flower-furnisher at a loved one’s resting place. But he did not feel this same urgency and suggested it was a matter of personal preference.
Through some online research, he’d also discovered that in the Jewish custom, a stone is the preferred memorial.
A stone, I wondered?
Extrapolating on this custom, an article by Aron Moss notes that while flowers are a beautiful gift to the living, they mean nothing to the dead.
“The body, like a flower, blossoms and then fades away, but the soul, like a solid stone, lives on forever,” Moss writes.
Reading this brought comfort and affirmation to my wondering.
To be clear, my father admired living things. He loved caring for our lawn and tending to the petunias that adorned the walkway leading to our house in earlier years. Children and animals also had a special place in his heart.
But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed a stone would be more fitting than floral to the man who called his youngest daughter “Rock.”
Flowers for loved ones who have passed are a touching offering, and I wouldn’t deny anyone this tradition. Even if the dead do not care the living do, and that’s enough reason to beautify a grave.
Someday I will bring flowers to my father’s grave. The offering will lift my spirits and I know he will be pleased, too. But I think the next time I visit the place where his body rests, I will bring a rock – a simple stone to honor a man who chose subdued over superfluous, and searched for solidity in life.
At our future reunion, I imagine him reaching out to me, a stone in hand. “A rock for my Rock,” he will say as he lets me fall into his sturdy chest – as beautifully resplendent a place as anywhere, in this world and the next.