Grave Wanderings

My personal tradition calls for a visit to the cemetery during Easter weekend. Somehow, the credibility of the resurrection needs to meet with the mortality of my ancestors.cemetery

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.

Mom – the Nurse

She accidentally became a nurse. Her life’s ambition and the prophecy from her high school yearbook stated that she would someday become a famous writer, weaving thousands of words into paragraphs and books.

But World War II interrupted everyone’s plans, so she signed up to become an army nurse. The only way she could afford an education was to let Uncle Sam do it for her.

Ancestry.com lists her as Arlene Renken Ediger, a nurse in the Army Cadet Corps from 1942-1948, but since 1950—I have known her only as Mom. Arlene Renken - nurse

The war ended before her nursing class shipped overseas, but she continued to work as a registered nurse, supplementing her husband’s farm income and taking care of her three children. Her 3-11 shift at the hospital worked well for our family while Dad drove us home on the school bus, made supper and helped us figure out our math homework.

Although I remember her white uniform, starched and ironed so that not even a hint of a wrinkle showed, it was her hat that signaled she was ready for work. Neatly bobby-pinned to her hair, she proudly wore her hat and made sure that any stains were successfully bleached out. Even the bobby pins were painted white. She never understood how modern-day nurses sacrificed their hats nor how they substituted those colorful scrubs for the white dress uniform, white support hose and white rubber-soled shoes.

“A nurse has to look the part,” she said. “Professional…always.” Even jewelry was forbidden, so she surreptitiously wore a tiny cross underneath her uniform to remind herself that as she served others, she also served Christ.

Her nurse’s training also bled into our chores at home. When changing the beds, she made perfect hospital corners. She taught us to do the same. Our bed sheets were so tight, quarters bounced off them like hailstones during an Oklahoma storm. I was in my fifties before I dared to leave my bed unmade.

It seems now a cruel twist of fate that Mom has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She can no longer handle a syringe, and she mixes up her own medicines. She forgets to eat and recently, we had to take away car privileges.

The doctor helped us confirm the “no driving” rule. He wrote a prescription that stated, “Arlene can no longer drive.” That finally convinced her. When she reads the script, she obeys because that’s what nurses do. They follow doctors’ orders.

Mom may live with Alzheimer’s for many years. We take it one day at a time, knowing it is a losing battle. She will eventually forget who we are and even her memories of nursing will one day disappear. Over time, she may forget how to speak and how to smile.

But I’ll always remember her in that crisp white uniform, on her way out the door to take care of someone who was sick.