Thursday, July 19, 2012

Thoughtful Thursday -- Thoughts at My Daughter's Graveside

On Monday of this week, I traveled to Hot Springs Village to speak to the Kiwanis Club there.  I had been asked to share on the topic of dyslexia, which is my area of specialty as a speech-language pathologist.  This event has been on my calendar for several weeks now, ever since the day I spoke to the Malvern Kiwanis Club about the same topic.  I've been looking forward to the trip, not so much because I was excited about giving another speech, but because the occasion afforded me the opportunity to visit Hannah's grave ... alone.

Let me explain.  When the time came to make a decision where Hannah's body would be buried, it was not hard at all to decide.  There's a beautiful cemetery in Briggsville, Arkansas, where the Sullivan family farm is located (aka "the deer camp").  Hannah spent many happy days at the farm ... hunting, riding 4-wheelers, and just hanging out with her cousins.  Occasionally, we would stop at that cemetery and visit the graves of her great grandparents and other relatives.  She always loved to walk around and read all the different headstones.  It's a beautiful country cemetery, on a hillside with lots of trees and a gorgeous view.  We knew that was the right place.  The only problem is that it's about an hour and 45 minute drive from our house.  Which, as you know if you've read this blog for any amount of time, has really not been a problem for me.  I'm not one who gets comfort from visiting the grave.  In fact, I'm the one in the family who avoids visiting Hannah's grave ... there's just too much finality there.  I don't like seeing my daughter's name engraved in granite, and I especially don't like seeing that ending date on there.  And because I never go to Briggsville unless our whole family is going there, I've never been to Hannah's grave alone, even though it's been 3 1/2 years since her body was placed there.  And lately, I've kind of been wanting to.

So, since Hot Springs Village is over halfway to Briggsville from our house, I decided to head that direction after the Kiwanis meeting finished up.  I felt like I needed to bring Hannah something (just like a Mom, huh?), so I stopped at a florist and picked up three long-stemmed roses ... one from me, one from Bethany, and one from Brad.  The drive seemed to take forever, but I finally pulled up and parked outside the gate.

The cemetery is on a hillside, and Hannah's grave is nearly at the top of the hill.  In fact, it's a bit of a hike to get up there. The day she was buried is a bit of a fog to me, but one thing that sticks out in my mind is watching the pallbearers carry her casket up that hill.  It bothered me that the casket was not level as they climbed, and I worried that all the things in there ... her stuffed dog, the letters her friends had put in there, the cross necklace that Mrs. Pat had put in there ... were sliding down to her feet.  I also worried that her body was shifting downward.  It bothered me because I knew that Hannah always liked everything "just so".  Such a strange thing to worry about on that day, but that's just the way grieving minds work sometimes.

Anyway, I made the climb to the top of the hill and sat down on the ground beside her grave, with my feet resting about where her torso would be.  And the thoughts started to roll around in my head like crayons on the floorboard of a car.  Since this is "Thoughtful Thursday", I'm going to share some of them with you.  Hang on tight ... It's kind of a wild ride!

  • I thought about moving my feet.  I mean, isn't it disrespectful to have your feet on a grave?  Then I realized that it reminded me of how I used to sometimes lay on the couch and put my feet in Hannah's lap, and I decided to leave them there.
  • I thought about how, if I had come to the grave alone in the early days (weeks, months?) of my grief, I would have laid right on top of her grave with my face in the dirt and sobbed, just to feel physically closer to her.  I  did not feel the need to do that on Monday.
  • I thought about how I would someday lie beside her, assuming Christ does not return before I die.  When we made the decision to have her buried there, we reserved enough room for Brad and I to be buried there as well, marking the corners with granite squares.  
  • I thought about how brokenhearted Bethany was when she realized we did not plan space for her as well at that cemetery.  We tried to explain that she would grow up, have her own husband and children someday, and would want to be buried near them, but at the age of 13, she simply could not imagine ever wanting to be buried anywhere other than right next to her sister.  Dear God, please, please do not let her be buried next to her sister.
  • I thought about how glad I was that I brought the roses.  Many people get great comfort from decorating their loved ones' grave with flowers and other special items, but for whatever reason, I have not been able to bring myself to do that.  As I looked around the cemetery at the other decorated graves, I thought to myself that maybe I was ready to start thinking about doing that myself.
  • I thought about how sweet it was that Bethany and "other Brad" planted sod and built a rock wall at the grave this past spring.  Of course, the sod and flowers they planted have long since died due to the drought this summer, but it still looks so much better than it did!  
  • I thought about how unfair it was that I had to sit in the dead grass in front of a granite slab to "visit" my daughter.  She should be home this summer, having completed her sophomore year at OBU, working a job, and sleeping in her own bed.  
  • I thought about how pretty she looked in the picture we'd had placed on her monument.  Bright, clear eyes, thick, luxuriant hair, and her trademark smile.  So different than she'd looked the last time I'd seen her, with about a quarter inch of baby fine hair, eyes closed permanently, and the hideous peach-colored lipstick the funeral home had chosen for her.  And, for the first time, I noticed her attitude in this picture.  She's leaning forward, eyes wide, hands clasped together, with an expectant expression on her face.  Exactly as I believe she appears right now, as she sits at the feet of Jesus, hanging on His every word.
  • I thought about how I felt no need to "talk" to Hannah.  On the drive there, I had wondered if I would do that, telling her about her new cousin, catching her up on all of Bethany's activities, and filling her in on all the latest gossip ... but once I was there, I realized that there was no need to audibly speak to her ... she wasn't there, anyway.  Instead, I contented myself by speaking to her Savior (and mine), asking Him to tell her how much I loved her, and that I couldn't wait to see her again.
  • Finally, I thought about how blessed I am to have had 17 1/2 years with this beautiful young woman, my daughter.  I am a very fortunate Mom indeed.  

The Hot Springs Village Kiwanis Club has asked me to speak to their club again this fall.  Looks like I'll be making this trip again ... and I'm okay with that!


Paula Roberts said...

What a blessing of a trip, for you Jill. Your candidness helps the rest of us feel like we are "normal " in our thoughts as well. Thank you for your honesty and openness... Praying for you, my dear friend! Love, Paula

A Mother's Love said...

So glad you got to visit her "spot". I love that picture of Hannah too, she is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, it sure made me feel better about not being able to visit Grayson's "spot", as it's in Alabama and we're in Texas.
Love, Kelley

Cathie said...

Your blogs are a blessing. They also are helping fill up my eternal bottle of tears... :) And that's good. The more tears we have, the longer we get to sit at His feet while He tenderly wipes them away.. Right?