It is folly to be unwilling to think of death, which is certain, and on which eternity depends,
– St Alphonsus Liguori
In January, my husband and I traveled back to California for three weeks. For the past 40 years, I have lived far from home and going back always affects me deeply, especially now that I am the matriarch of a large family. I can’t help but consider my own death as I remember all those I have lost.
Each time I pull up into the driveway of my childhood home, after my long cross country flight, I half expect to see my mother waiting to greet me on the porch. The garden which is always beautiful, no matter the time of year, still bears the imprint of my father who loved and tended it so well. And though the house has been repainted and cosmetically altered through the years, its bones remain unchanged – it’s still my home and I recognize that even after it has been sold to someone else someday, it will forever belong to me.
Through the years, we have tried to make a point of stopping by my mother’s and my brother’s graves in a nearby cemetery, but on this trip we had more time and were able to travel much further to my father’s burial place. It had been at least 25 years since I had stood beside his grave. This time my husband and I were accompanied by one of our grandchildren, eight year old Clare.
The Veteran’s cemetery was vast, with green rolling hills dotted by white crosses, an oasis of death situated between two busy freeways, whose distant roar sounded to me like enormous waterfalls. Life was roaring around and around us at full tilt as we three stood still beside his grave, praying our rosary.
At our feet lay a worn gray marker, indistinguishable from the thousands of others, except for the words: Maynard Garrison, Major US Army, World War II, Korea, Vietnam.
“Was that it,” I thought, “just this small marker?” It was so ordinary and disappointing. But then again, I wondered, how could any gravestone ever adequately pay tribute to my father?
My dad was only 19 when he left San Francisco to go fight Hitler. I imagined my grandmother kissing him goodbye and immediately pictured our own 19 year old son, Ben. It was painful to think of him leaving us to fight a war. “He is so young – still unscathed by the brutality of evil. How would he fare if he were called to do what my father had done? How would we manage, knowing as we said goodbye that he might never come home to us again?”
All around us, that gray and misty afternoon, we read the names of others who had also lived but a very short time upon this earth. It was jarring, this collision of life and death, promise and eternal finality and I was profoundly moved. As I held Clare’s small white hand, I wondered, what legacy would I bequeath to my family? What of my life, if I were to die today, would endure?
It was a poignant reminder that each day is a pure gift and that while I still have its light, I need to love unreservedly, because in the end – only love endures.
“There are in the end three things that last: faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13
Follow this link below to hear a powerful song about our journey to our final home: