I've been to a lot of cemeteries, but I've only been to a handful of funerals. The cemetery visits are part of a hobby that has spanned almost a decade. I like to take pictures of the graves of famous people. (And — believe me — "famous" is a relative term.) I have been to over two dozen cemeteries to search for and chronicle the graves of the famous. On the rare chance when I find myself at a cemetery for an actual interment after a funeral service, I find myself wandering around the grounds, searching for the plot of a noble departed.
Just last week, a dear friend of my in-laws passed away. I attended the funeral with my wife. After the service, we joined the procession to a nearby cemetery for the burial. We carefully navigated the narrow pathways in the cemetery, following the helpful blue arrows placed by the groundskeepers, and were directed to the plot. My wife pulled our big SUV along the side of the pavement, the passenger-side wheels just resting on the grass. I got out of our vehicle and looked around. The area looked familiar. Very familiar. The last time I was at this cemetery was in 1994, over twenty years earlier, for the unveiling of my father's grave marker. (Just after the first year of a loved one's passing, in Jewish tradition, mourners, family and friends gather at the grave site to ceremonially "place" and dedicate the grave marker. My father was not a follower of most Jewish traditions, but Jews of every level of observance usually participate in this ritual.) Just before the actual burial began, as more cars from the procession were snaking around the cemetery, I wandered off to find my parents' graves. It was weird how the surrounding were immediately familiar, despite the amount of time that had passed since my last visit. I recognized a low chain-link fence that separated the grounds from the backyards of the neighboring homes. I recognized the houses that jutted above the trees, in spite of two decades of growth. I slowly strolled along a line of flush-to-the-ground plaques, reading each Semitic name to myself. At the very end of the row, I came upon my parents' graves. Two small, sun-baked bronze plaques — unidentified and probably unnoticed for years. The last time I saw these plaques, my son (who now owns his own house) was entertained by Thomas the Tank Engine and my politically-rambunctious nephew was just a few months into this world.
After my mother died, my father visited the cemetery regularly in the two years until he joined his wife in the adjacent plot. He would call me after nearly every visit and ask if I had been there yet. When I told him I had not, he would say, "When you're ready, you'll go." My desire to not go to my mother's grave had nothing to do with "being ready." I just never saw the point. What would I do there? How long was I supposed to stay? Ten minutes? An hour? I certainly wasn't going to talk to a gravestone. And, as far as I was concerned, my mother, most certainly, was not there. I was not going to jabber aloud about my day with an expanse of grass. After my father died and after his unveiling a year later, I knew it would be very unlikely that I would ever return for a visit. Unless I was at another funeral... and, sure enough, that's exactly what brought me back.
So, here I stood in a cemetery, a position in which I have found myself many times over the years. Once again, I found myself looming over a pair of headstones I had successfully located. So, I did the only thing I instinctively knew to do. Something that I have done countless times in this same situation: I took a picture. Then I texted that picture to my brother, since I wasn't sure if he had considered himself "ready" for a trip to the cemetery.
Nevertheless, as the text exchange with my brother reveals, there's always time for a little dark humor in the "gravest" of scenarios: