31 Days of Art, Day 25: Cemetery

I’m not sure what this is or where it came from, but today’s writing prompt was “cemetery,” and I couldn’t think of anything horror or spooky. Maybe it’s because I don’t tend to see cemeteries as inherently fear-inducing. I mean, I’m probably not going to go hang out in one at midnight for the heck of it (not to mention, that’s way past my bedtime.) But to me, cemeteries have always seemed peaceful places, where the dead are respected and loved. And so, this came out way more personal essay and journal reflection-y.

Day 25: Cemetery

When I die, he says out of the blue, I think I’d like to be buried in this cemetery.

He thinks about it, mulling over the options. His attention turned inward, I can track him turning the idea over and over, glimpse the moment in his eyes when he dismisses the idea.

It would be very expensive. Yes, it probably would. We’re entitled to a plot in the veterans’ cemetery.

I’ve often thought about this, myself. The VA cemeteries are calm, peaceful, with their regimented rows of white on green, each stone telling exactly the same and right information.

When I’m feeling melancholy, I picture that stone. There it stands, nestled next to my spouse, our names and ranks and religious denomination square and neat and delineated, two little stubs in a sea of perfectly maintained lawn.

I remember my first assignment on active duty orders after graduating basic training and advanced individual training. With my newly-minted certification in hand, I showed up to my unit. Do you want to join the funeral detail? I’d never thought about it. It’s a six-month order, and you will be paying respects to the veterans.

It was only a one-month gig; the detail ran out of money and was taken over in a rotating duty schedule. But for four weeks, I dressed to the nines in my Class A uniform with my one national defense service ribbon proudly displayed on my chest, and drove around the boroughs of New York City, laying to rest veterans. Mostly elderly, mostly men, but some who were younger, some who were women. Veterans who had served in conflicts I’d learned about in “poignant vignettes” during training. World War II. Korea. Vietnam. One, even, from Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

I was too young, then, to really think about where I would end up, although I found a distant comfort in the pomp and ceremony, even if at that time we played TAPS on a CD player with a remote control. Almost twenty years later, in the midst of a pandemic, I find myself revisiting memories, wondering again where my spouse and I might want to go, if it will be a place our children will want to visit occasionally, if they will be close enough to get together for the weekend and stop by to see our plot, remember the ceremony. If one of them will keep the flag. Where the mementoes of our service will end up.

I make a note to look it up later, a future to-do list, how to reserve a burial plot, how much they cost, who will handle the arrangements. A heavy topic for a beautiful fall day, with the shrieks of our daughters and their cousins filtering in from the outside, where the glorious foliage still clings to the valley. Days like these grow fewer with each one that passes, and I’m not ready to start on that final to-do list.

Someday.

But not today.

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