My parents are buried on a shady hill in an old cemetery in Hastings, Michigan.
They share a headstone, like they shared the headboard of their double bed for sixty-four years. She is on the right, he is on the left, but I can’t remember if this is how they slept while they were alive. I don’t recall ever seeing them in bed. Their door was always closed while they were sleeping and then they were awake and dressed, their bed made with the same white chenille bedspread that I have, carefully folded in my own linen closet. It was the only bedspread they ever owned.
Every year on Memorial Day, we go to their graves, my husband and I. He takes our dogs for a walk in the woods next to the cemetery and I set about planting geraniums and petunias and other plants with small white flowers, the name of which I’ve forgotten. A few years ago, I bought a real urn for their grave, inspecting dozens at the local garden store before finding one sturdy enough to last on a hill in Michigan winters. It’s beautiful when it’s full of flowers, worth every penny. Sometimes I buy a bag of thistle seed and scatter it around their graves. In my mind’s eye, finches will flock when we are gone.
Before we leave, I take a picture of their headstone adorned as if to say to myself, I’ve done right by my parents. Not always. But today.
This year, we didn’t go.
My husband had back surgery a few weeks ago so we put off the trip to Michigan. It’s fine, I thought, we’ll go later in the summer.
I messaged my friend in Hastings to tell her we couldn’t come. We share history, this friend and I. Her mother was my mother’s maid of honor. When we were children, we played on her family’s farm and stood side by side in her dad’s sugar shack watching maple sap boiled into syrup and maple sugar. And then we moved away and I didn’t see her again until she tapped me on the shoulder at my mother’s funeral fifty years later. “Hi Janice,” she said. “It’s me, Carolyn.”
She messaged me back:
“I drove past your Mom and Dad’s and saw that the urns were empty but thought I had just missed you. Would you like me to put some flowers on them?”
At first, I think yes although it is a lot to ask since my friend has had so much hardship herself this year. That I would ask her to do additional grave tending for me seems too much. So as I often do, I don’t respond. I don’t know what I want.
I want to ask her to go talk to them. I want her to tell them I’m late but I’m coming. I want her to lean down and whisper to them that I haven’t forgotten, maybe wipe away some of the moss from the letters of their names, smooth her hand across the top of the granite like she would a feverish child. Tell them I’ve forgotten nothing. I remember everything.
Tell them I’ll come with geraniums and petunias. This year, I’ll bring bird seed. And this will be the year that the birds will flock.