Finding Grace in a Cemetery
In the months that followed Grace’s death, I heard parents in grief groups talk about the hours they spent at their children’s graves. Many times, the caretaker at Swan Point had to gently tell Lorne to go home. What was wrong with me that I didn’t want to go there? I tried. I’d drive through the East Side of Providence, across the wide and shady Blackstone Boulevard, through the grand entrance to Swan Point Cemetery. I’d park my car and sit on my daughter’s grave and cry, just as I’d been doing back home. Her grave, without a headstone yet, was covered with flowers and seashells, small perfect stones and notes, left by the people who’d loved her. I took comfort in these things, in knowing that she’d been loved and not forgotten.
At Christmas and on her birthday, Lorne and Sam and I visited the grave. We brought flowers and a tiny Christmas tree, and once I left a roll of Smarties, her favorite candy. With each visit, I cried; I hated that I was standing at my little girl’s grave. The injustice of it, the lack of sense to it, the enormity of loss overshadowed everything else when I stood there.
As the years passed, my father-in-law was buried beside Grace, my friend Barbara a few graves away. We came to know the parents of the young woman who had died a day before Grace and was buried right nearby. Each of their graves was marked with a headstone, but this final act for Grace remained undone.
We took a trip to Barre, Vermont, and walked among whimsical, outrageous headstones in a cemetery there. Holding hands, we read aloud funny rhymes and marveled at the boats and motorcycles and sports equipment etched into stones. I was reminded on that trip of the day Lorne and I had spent in a cemetery in France, seeking out the graves of Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, and Maria Callas, and of other cemeteries we’d visited, simply to behold the grave of Shelley or Shakespeare. Like the tiny forgotten one from my youth, these cemeteries had seemed removed from grief. But now I imagined the parents or spouses or children who had stood at those graves.
One night, my husband took me to hear a woman speak. She was an artist, a stonecutter who carved incredibly beautiful headstones in an old barn in Foster, Rhode Island. She spoke of how she talked with families to learn about the person who had died. She spoke about etching letters in old-fashioned scripts, and of buying pink and gray stone from Ireland. She spoke with love and pride. I knew she would make Grace’s headstone, and I knew it would be beautiful. But that knowing did not ease my grief.
Over the course of many months, we met with her, bringing pictures of Grace and telling stories, choosing colors and fonts, talking about life and hope. Still, when the headstone was finished, with its elegant curves and writing, with the magnificent figure of a dancing girl and the circle carved from it to allow light to shine through, I could only cry at its beauty, and at its necessity in my family’s life.
Last Christmas, we went to Grace’s grave, just as we do every year. From there, we drive to my mother’s for a lunch of antipasto, Italian wedding soup, and lasagna. Like that sugar cookie waiting for me, the thought of that lunch, served on my mother’s red Christmas plates on a poinsettia-covered tablecloth, gives me strength. Our son, Sam, towering over us now at 6 feet 4, and our daughter, Annabelle, whom we adopted from China four years ago, come with us. Lorne leaves one long-stemmed white rose. The winter sun shines through that careful circle in the headstone. The little girl carved into it dances.
We stand silently, each lost in our memories, our own grief. Back in the car, Lorne begins to slowly pull away. Stop! Annabelle shouts. We have to wait for Grace to get her flower.
It doesn’t work that way, baby, I explain, thinking, wishing, If only it did. In that moment I realize why I don’t go there. No matter how beautiful the stone, no matter how abundant and fragrant the blossoms, I don’t find Grace there.
In grief, we seek that which we can no longer have: our brother, our father, our daughter. Grace is nowhere, and she is everywhere. I find her as I walk along the beach; in the summer rain; in the opening notes of a Beatles song; in Sam’s hugs and Annabelle’s laughter and my husband’s hand in mine. I find her.