Choices in Death

I know it may seem odd since my business is cemetery decorations but I like the idea of green burial. It’s more than just the ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in a word-simple. I think it’s important to have one final decision in life and that is how your death or life will be celebrated. Now this is not a simple choice if you have a child that has proceeded you in death, a husband, a sibling, a partner. I had to make choices for my family members without knowing exactly what they wanted. I tried to make decisions that were appropriate, respectful, and loving but those were choices I made for them, and it was a long time before I forgave myself for something I had no control over. My parents, and siblings have been gone for over 25 years and the pain doesn’t flood me as it once did. The deaths just came suddenly but not surprisingly. I lost my mother, younger brother, and father all within 9 months. I had already buried my stepfather and my oldest brother, and my middle brother would follow in just a few years. I was afraid, afraid to talk to them about death even though most of them were inevitable, but it was so much simpler to just put it away in the back of my mind. What I wasn’t prepared for is I would be the only decision maker, the only one left to make those choices.

My brothers birthday, November 22, 1962

I started making my crosses over 20 years ago. I lost most of my childhood family and I needed to process my grief. These crosses came to me one night while I was lying in bed. It wasn’t until ten years later that my daughters would convince me that others would also like my crosses. And the rest as they say is history, no it’s my life.

My youngest brother was born on Thanksgiving Day in 1962. My mother would make him a pumpkin pie every year for his birthday. She said it was his favorite but I think it was her way of paying him back for the Thanksgiving she missed in 1962. My brother would celebrate his first birthday with pumpkin pie of course but it was not a happy celebration as that was the day that President Kennedy was shot and died of his injuries.

I had to call the caretaker and ask that his stone and that of my other brother be lifted. Twenty years of Kansas weather can bury a headstone.

My brother would die on New Years Eve of 1999, yet another holiday that would not be celebrated for years following his death. I always like to make something special for his grave celebrating his life, his birthday. His favorite color was orange and so it is very easy to decorate his grave for Fall. This year I decided to break from this tradition and decorate his grave with a bright green and yellow wreath I made. The wreath is thick enough and just heavy enough to be held by his vase alone. Very cheerful, he was a very cheerful kid.

Another small Kansas Cemetery

Like every state in the union Kansas has many small Cemeteries. Mount Zion is one such cemetery. This quiet little piece of green earth is along highway 160 and almost appears as a highway rest stop. Some of the earliest buried there are from the 1800’s with the latest burial in 2020. Mount Zion was once referred to as the Kellogg Cemetery. I can only assume that the cemetery sits on land that was once owned by the Kellogg family. There are four Kellogg family members laid to rest there in the late 1800s and early 1900s. When you visit this cemetery of roughly 200 souls on Find A Grave you will notice two things; one the family names are repetitive and very few died of old age. The Hubbard family have 7 children all under the age of 17 buried there, all with different dates and years of death. The Hubbard parents and extended family are not laid to rest there, which makes one wonder if they had too much of the Kansas prairie and left for a better life and less painful memories.

A park, a tree, and a memorial

I have changed my mind several times as to what I want done with my body when I am gone. I have at this older age made my decision and it is my final choice. Unfortunately my past has made me think of this more than others might. I have personally planned every family members funeral. I spoke at most of them. I have learned what I don’t want. I walk for an hour each day for exercise and for my dog, he loves the walks. There is a park very close to my house and I have walked through it thousands of times. A friend pointed out the marker one day as we walked together. It has sunken a bit but it sits by a tree , a tree that was planted in honor of his passing. Of course most cities would never give permission to allow such a tree planting or a marker placed but 30 years ago they did. I’m sure others have found it over time and others will find the maker in the future. What a nice place in a park, under a big tree.

Change – it happens

I think one of the best things about being born and living your entire life in the same city is nothing really changes, not really. Yes new streets are paved and old ones torn out, buildings go up and are torn down, people move into the city and move out, but your memories in the city never change. I can drive down any street in my city and it will bring back a memory, some sad, some not. Change is hard for all of us to some degree or another. Most of us when we are young we see change but it doesn’t seem to bother us a lot. Now as we age we have a tendency to resent change. I’m sure you have heard others say, “ things were better in our time” or “things aren’t as good as they used to be” These statements are true of course, or maybe you just roll your eyes when you hear someone older than you express that sentiment. The loss of someone you love is heartbreaking and of course this brings change. Change you are never ready for , but still it comes- relentlessly. I have found this to be true , this time right now, this very moment is everyone’s moment. As long as you are alive this is your time.

Death and COVID 2020

The weather has been warmer and my walks have been longer. I live in a neighborhood that has parks, sidewalks, and friendly neighbors. I ran into a neighbor that I heard had lost his wife in 2020 , but I had not had the chance to tell him personally how sorry I was. His booming voice called me over and I told him how sorry I was to hear of his wife’s passing. He and his wife would walk in good weather even after hip and knee replacements. His voice started to break as he talked about her. My heart broke as I listened. He explained that the “virus took her”. I finished my walk and began to think about everything he had said. This couple was not young but they took good care of each other. They got their flu shots, pneumonia shots, and went to the doctor annually. I thought even beyond his loss and about the total loss of life to COVID. To date 500,000.00 people have died of COVID in the United States. If you consider for one moment that each life lost affects 10 other people spiritually, emotionally, and financially then that total comes to 5 Million. Five million + souls walking around in 2020 trying to understand what happened. Be kind people, it was a very hard year.

What Happened 2020?

2020 passed so fast and drug on so long. I look back and say to myself, “Where did 2020 go?” My 2020 started out with so much excitement. Two new grandchildren were born just a day apart and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was so see new life come into the world. I spent 5 years burying all of my family so new life brings new possibilities. I felt so content, and then came March 2020. Everyone has their own story for 2020. My year was odd. I was so caught up in the virus and the election year that it took the place of things I would normally do; volunteering, the gym, activities with family. Everyone had to make a new kind of day for themselves. I watched in horror how Americans were dying so quickly and Americans that were so divided in politics, or was it because I just had more time to notice? One thing is for sure my life is good, I’m not wealthy, or a world traveler, or even good looking, but I have a good life. I did learn a couple of things this last year. I was reminded to be more humble and more grateful. It was just one year but a year that no one will forget, no matter their story.

The days in between the holidays…

If you have lost of loved one whether it be years ago or as recent as this past year then you know how difficult the holidays are. You might even have some well meaning person to remind you of how hard holidays are without a loved one , as if you didn’t understand.

I lost many loved ones on special or holidays, New Years Eve-brother, Christmastime- brother, stepfather- my wedding anniversary, 4th of July- mother, my birthday- brother. Although this is an unusual amount of loved ones to lose by the age of 40 , it is also an odd number of celebrations to loose loved ones on. I decided i needed to embrace these holidays which is how my business FloralMemorials came about. My husband was a contractor and often had wooden stakes and the idea came to me to paint and decorate them so I could have something to decorate the graves for any holiday or celebration. This need to celebrate has been an amazing experience for me and one that I am most grateful for.

Those deaths have been 20-30 years ago and I have found that those days in between holidays have brought me the most comfort, understanding, clarity, and peace. Every single day a thought drifts through my mind or I drive by a part of town that sparks my memory but always with a smile and no longer with a tear or lump in my throat. Those days in between are just as important if not more than the few holidays we share. Own those days they can’t be given back to you and they are amazing.

Roadside Memorials

Often customers will reach out to me and ask if anyone uses my memorial crosses as roadside memorials. I explain that unless a customer shares with me I don’t know what they intend to do with the crosses they purchase. Some of my customers have used my crosses for roadside memorials.

Roadside memorials have become quite controversial in the last few years and some cities have gone so far as pass laws forbidding the placement of roadside memorials. City and county governments have complained about the cost of disposing forgotten roadside memorials.

Societies and there rituals change with time and dealing with death is no different. Memorials whether they be a decal on a vehicle, a brick with a name, a tree planted in memory of a loved one, and yes, a roadside cross that marks the place where a loved one died. These are all are new rituals in society for dealing with grief and loss.

Cremation has become more affordable and less looked down upon than 50 years ago. I often wonder if these new ritual memorials have come about due to the loss of being able to place flowers at a cemetery as a memorial. The human need to remember and hope that others remember the loss of life.

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