It is a Mennonite cemetery, on the same acre of land as the old hand-built church, crafted by men who wore beards and black hats. Many of those same carpenters and farmers now lie below the soil, that rich dirt that grows hard red winter wheat just an acre away.
My father’s shell lies under that soil. Yes, I know he is not really there. He lives in heaven, now joined by seven brothers and sisters, his parents and two of my children.
But it is his shell that I miss. The strum of his fingers on guitar strings, his baritone voice singing “Blessed Assurance,” even his bow-legged stroll through the pasture on frosty mornings.
This year, I kneel beside his grave and marvel at the passing of time. Has it really been nine years since we laid a bouquet of wheat and wildflowers on his coffin?
I caress his name and his dates, carved into the stone. May 11, 2004 – his death date and the ending that marked a heavenly beginning.
“Ah, Dad, I miss you so much. I need you to help me past this lonely place in my soul. I long to hear you pray for me once again and watch you find a verse for me in the leather Bible you held. I miss having my daddy in my life.”
Too many tears shed over this grave. I stand and walk through the cemetery. So much history in this resting place of my ancestors. So many untold stories which only the Alpha and the Omega know.
Names of Sunday School teachers and pastors, of twins who lived only one day – a tiny sheep engraved next to their names. Vets from the World Wars and Korea lying beside veterans of the faith.
A solitary grave near the wheat field. Another baby – this one died in 1930. But fresh flowers point heavenward against the aging stone. Who has been here to remember this child?
The creative writer in me longs to stay here and write make-believe stories about each grave, but I am due at the assisted living facility. It is time to visit my mother who still lives within the shadows of Alzheimers. Her ending and beginning dates not yet carved into the stone she will share with my father.
Spend time with the living while I can.
And rejoice that even in a visit to a cemetery, I hear a sermon. For each soul who lies in this consecrated plot of land now resides somewhere eternal.
Although I feel a palpable grief at the reading of each name, I know this is not the end. On this Easter weekend and every one to come, resurrection claims the final victory.