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.