Hallowed Ground: A Wintry Visit to a Fresh Grave

“For those who have surrendered themselves completely to God, all they are and do has power. Their lives are sermons.”
Jean-Pierre de Caussade

“It’s right here, along the fence,” Fred told me as he drew on a napkin. “The road comes around in front, but back near the fence there’s a gate that’s right by the spot.”

We were having lunch a couple weeks after Fred had said his final goodbyes to Debbie, his beloved wife, a stalwart mother and grandmother, and a true pillar of our local Catholic community. That sounds trite, but it’s absolutely true in this case. As Fred testified, so many people had been sharing with him anecdotes and testimonies about how Debbie had served them, quietly, humbly, almost invisibly, but substantially and always on the mark. I added my own testimony at lunch, telling Fred how important Debbie’s ministrations were to my young family way back when. At the time, we were new parents and had just moved to the area, and, frankly, we didn’t know how to cope. Debbie showed up to help us over the hump, and she did it with so much grace and good cheer. What’s more, she lent us a heaping portion of her confidence – “You can do this,” she silently communicated.

And we believed her. It was easy to believe Debbie.

 

Although I attended the funeral, I had to miss going to the graveside due to teaching duties, so I was glad Fred brought it up. As he drew his napkin map, it dawned on me that Debbie’s final resting place was in a large cemetery near my workplace. Until that moment, I’d no idea there was hallowed ground there, and I’d been driving past it for some 20 years. “I found out by accident myself,” Fred told me. “Before Debbie got sick, I was talking with Fr. Chris about his new parish assignment, and he mentioned that it came with a graveyard – and the expenses associated with its upkeep.” To help him out a bit, Fred purchased two plots side by side in anticipation of the inevitable, but the inevitable came too soon for Debbie.

Fred also mentioned that her grave marker was still being prepared, but that in time I’d be able to drop by to pay my respects since I was so close by. “Where’s the spot exactly?” I asked him – I didn’t want to wait for the marker. That’s when he started drawing on the napkin.

A couple days later, on my way home from work, I followed Fred’s napkin coordinates and located the drive that would take me into the Catholic part of that little cemetery. Sure enough, a small sign indicated that I was entering a consecrated area associated with Fr. Chris’s parish.

I guesstimated where to stop and, since there were no other visitors, I left my vehicle in the middle of the drive. It was cold, and there were deposits of snow along the tombstones and memorial markers. Piles of leaves from last fall peeked out from corners here and there; old, dried flowers randomly adorned the frozen grounds. I saw the gate along the fence, near an outbuilding that no doubt sheltered a backhoe and mowers. I tromped past areas encompassing several generations of Catholic families – weathered stones from the 1800s with flattened inscriptions side by side with crisply engraved markers of more recent vintage.

And there, just in front of the gate, was a slight depression in the ground covered by a collapsed display of shriveled flowers. Next to it was an undisturbed plot of the same size, and I deduced I was in the right place. “Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord,” I prayed, “and let perpetual light shine upon her.” Birds were landing to peck at the grass clumps exposed by the melting snow, and there was a muffled din of nearby traffic. Otherwise it was silent and still and peaceful. I asked Debbie for her prayers.

As I returned to my car, I made a mental note to return soon. By then, the marker will be in place, but I’m glad that it wasn’t there for my first visit. Its absence, for me, corresponded with Debbie’s extraordinary vocation of selfless hiddenness. I trust that her new hiding place in Him will serve to expand her reach.

Richard Becker

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Rick Becker is a husband, father of seven, nursing instructor, and religious educator. He serves on the nursing faculty at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana. You can find more of Rick’s writing on his blog, God-Haunted Lunatic, and his Facebook page.

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