I called my husband to see if he could pick up a prescription from CVS on his way home. I thought he was still on the road, doing his Saturday morning errands.
“I’m with Ted now," he answered.
Ted – My husband was visiting his grave again.
Can you believe a friend of mine can’t get cell phone reception in her Brooklyn apartment, but my husband can out in the middle of a vast cemetery?
Later, he told me that he wasn’t the only one who’d had his cell phone ring. The family of Ted’s gravesite neighbor was visiting their mother, and the daughter’s phone too had rung. Something about not to forget to pick up a shirt at the cleaners, and about when they’d meet for some afternoon engagement. When she hung up, they’d all chatted about this and that, drinking their morning’s coffee and eating bagels and muffins.
When my husband first visited Ted, he'd brought him flowers. Making sure no one was around, he had talked out loud to Ted, angry at him for not seeing a doctor about why he had to be “sucking” on an inhaler, what his co-workers said he was doing two days before he dropped dead of the blood clot in his lungs.
My husband seems to really like this cemetery, "Like a condo for the dead." He told me about the garden sculptures, and that Ted was between two magnificent trees. Some graves have these little levers, and if you turn one, a vase will pop out of the ground to hold cut flowers. He was most impressed that there was not a single clover to be had, and the grass seemed freshly mowed. My husband, who works hard all summer reseeding our own brown spots,is the first to notice a perfect lawn.
Saturday, when he returned to the cemetery, perhaps he’d hoped to talk with Ted some more, as this seemed to be helping him cope with the reality of his best friend’s sudden death. He also wanted to bring him the promised “proxy” bagel that he would eat for him.
What he discovered was that on a weekend, the cemetery is like a picnic ground – everyone else seemed to have the same idea, to have their morning coffee there, even bring a whole breakfast. The garbage cans were already full of paper cups, bags, etc.
He liked that people seemed to come not to pray, not to contemplate their deceased loved ones, but just to spend an ordinary moment with them, even if that meant talking on cell phones. “Ask me a week ago, I would have said something different,” he told me, never having even visited his own father’s grave, a cemetery over. Before returning to see Ted, he’d stopped over there for a visit, and to bring flowers.
I’ve never been back to visit my own father’s grave. Not sure why, really. Maybe because his cemetery is so large, I could imagine never finding him, even with a map. Or maybe because I’ve never thought of my father as really being “there.” He is wherever I need him to be, in the sound of waves crashing on a beach, as he had loved the ocean.
Still. when my grief was fresh, I'd planted a small tree in the woods behind our house, as a remembrance to him. I would visit that tree regularly, and it was a way to compartmentalize my grief. Maybe that’s true for my husband, as he navigates this terrain of his own fresh loss; he is able “to get some work done” when he visits his friend’s grave, then perhaps better focus on the details of his own daily life, once he leaves. But leaving is perhaps not so hard, as he knows he can always return, if just for a cup of coffee and a bagel.