Monday, May 25, 2009

The Touch of Granite - Bay Pines National Cemetery, Memorial Day, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day we drove to St. Petersburg to spend some time at the Bay Pines National Cemetery, to touch Leif's memorial stone, to be with him. You can never really be with a deceased loved one but the cemetery offers a symbolic place, a tangible physical place to go with one's emotions.

When I was growing up, I understood the purpose of Memorial Day, but not the real force and truth of it. Now, with my husband, brother, two sons, and two nephews, having served in the armed forces, and after losing Leif, I do.

When I was a kid, Memorial Day meant the opening of the swimming pool, a parade, picnics, speeches. Older guys in uniforms, VFW or American Legion hats, a day off of school, but it hadn't pierced my heart yet that so many young men ha died and so many others been wounded in body and soul. My mind, yes, my heart no. Now, I can't even listen to the "Honor Roll" of those servicemembers who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan without crying. I think not only of them, but of all the others, military or civilian, dying in wars. What a sad and terrible blemish on humanity that we still wage war, that we are still compelled to expend the lives of our young on defending us.

On Memorial Day, each in-ground stone is remembered with an American flag, and those in the columbaria have flags at the foot of each column. The beautiful green grounds are full of flags, each a reminder that here lies a man or woman who served our country. So many, many flags in so many national cemeteries throughout our nation. We should be awed and grateful, but also saddened that so many had to die.

When I was growing up, I understood the purpose of cemeteries but not why people derived some kind of comfort or emotional release from visiting them, because I had no experience with it, no one so close to me that had died and was buried where I could go to visit their graves. Now, after losing Leif, I do.

Bay Pines National Cemetery is a beautiful place. I'm glad of that for all of us whose loved ones are there, though those whose remains are placed there do not know of the stately live oak promenades, the wide green lawns, the granite-faced columbaria. I wonder whether I will ever go there and experience a feeling of peace. Just looking at the grounds, i appreciate the beauty.

I am thankful for all the many, many men and women who served our country, and saddened at all those who died or whose lives were forever mutilated in that service. I am glad to see their loved ones coming to pay respect and remember. But I do not feel peace. I hold my hands over Leif's niche, lean my head against the granite slab above his, and cry and cry. It's a release, but it doesn't last. The feelings, the pain, the questions, do not go away.

But I have done what I came for, to be there, to touch his resting place, to make that trip to be as close to him as I can be and show my love and respect.


  1. I am an Army combat medic veteran and came across this web page while surfing the net for photos and videos of my son's Color Guard performance at Bay Pines Memorial Day service in 2009. This man, your friend, your son - has touched my heart and I don't even know him. God bless you all. God bless your soldier. I shed tears for him as I type this message and for all those who many would give up their lives for, for just one more minute with the one they love and lost. THEY WILL ALWAYS BE REMEMBERED... AND THEY WILL ALWAYS BE MY HERO.

  2. I came across this blog as I was looking for pictures of Bay Pines National Cemetery-the place where one day, hopefully not anytime soon, will be my dads final resting place. Ironically, he & my mum live across the street from there & we've taken numerous walks throughout the grounds of the cemetery & VA grounds there-talking about his time in the Army (during Vietnam, though he was never deployed there), about friends we've both lost serving in wars since then, about the people who are buried there & what kind of people we imagine they were, and about the loss in the hearts of all of those who love them.

    I can only imagine what it's like to lose a son to war, because my sons are still teenagers-but I definitely understand a mothers loss. I have lost 2 children to miscarriage, and twins (son & daughter) who were stillborn. I can't attest to which is "more difficult"-losing a child you never truly got to know, or losing one such as in your loss, that you knew for 33 years. Neither is easy-of that I am sure, and my heart goes out to you this Memorial Day as I know all that is on your mind & in your heart today is the loss of your son who bravely defended the freedom of this great nation of ours. As an American, I am forever thankful to your son & to all who have served, past & present, to keep us free.

    I will be attending the Memorial Day ceremony at Bay Pines today as I will every year forward, but today, because I just happened to come across your writing, I will know a little piece of a brave young soldier who is there in his final resting place. I want you to know that I will seek out where he is & say a little prayer & thank him for his service...and I'll tell him what I've read here & how much he is still loved.

    God Bless you & comfort you on this day, and every day. And God Bless all of America's heroes...Always Remembered, Ever Honored.


  3. Thank you, Tanya. I appreciate your comments. I can't imagine how painful it would be to lose so many children and my heart goes out to you. Thank you to your father for his service.