Last week, I finally went to the gravestone store (that’s not what it calls itself, but that’s what it is) to order Myra’s gravestone. It’s been over a year, yes, but I have several reasons for the delay. 1. When my dad died in 2002, the funeral home took care of his headstone. We went to the gravestone store to buy the bench for both my parents, but Dad was in the Navy and got a veteran’s headstone. I think we paid $125 to have it set at the cemetery, and we paid the funeral home. So I thought the funeral home would take care of Mom’s matching stone. But nope. And 2. I was too fucking sad for the last year. It’s an awful thing to have to bury your mother a decade or more before you expect it. I needed a year to go by so I could walk in to the gravestone store and not sob uncontrollably.
So V and I went to the gravestone store, which is lovely, if you’re into that sort of thing, which we are, and explained that we needed to buy a matching stone to my dad’s, for my mom. Tyler was our salesman, and if we’d had more time, I totally wanted to ask him how he got into the gravestone sales business. Like, was he born into the business? Did he dream of this as a little boy? But we had shit to do. We found the matching stone, and filled in Mom’s birth date and death date, and Tyler found some lovely irises for the corners. But on a veteran’s stone, there’re two lines of text where the time and type of service is detailed. As the widow of a veteran, Myra just had a big dumb gap in the middle of her stone. So Tyler told us that we could chose up to six words for free (well, with the cost of the stone. Which, by the by, is $1284, with sales tax. SALES TAX. And $1284! Seriously!). Each word after six is $36. So six words it is, Myra.
I had to think of a placekeeper, so I threw out “The greatest of these is love.” It’s nice, it’s from the Bible, and I love my mom. And it’s better than the lame-ass suggestions Tyler had, which included “Rest in Peace,” “Gone but not forgotten” “Resting with Jesus” and some other insipid phrases. I mean, you can use those phrases if you want, but Myra raised a poet and a musician, ornery ones at that, and there was no way we were going with the old standbys. On further thought, though, Jess and I agreed that”The greatest of these is love” wasn’t quite right, either.
I thought naming a child was difficult, but you know what’s worse? Summing up your beloved mother’s legacy in six words or less. Seriously. Try it. V can change her name if she likes when she turns 18, but Myra’s stuck with whatever we choose for as long as the cemetery stands. It’s really practically impossible. The pamphlet Tyler provided was worthless, mentioning as it did a lot of blooming and rest and beloveds.
So we went through things Myra liked to say. “People in hell want icewater, too” had the lead for a while, but while she had a great sense of humor, she also had a sense of decorum, and I wasn’t convinced she’d want that on her eternal resting place. I favored “You can’t win for losing,” just because that’s pretty much the essence of death, isn’t it? It’s certainly not winning, and Myra said that all the time.
Jess and I worked on this for a good while. One of Jess’s first suggestions was to pick the 6 longest words we could think of, which I loved. We decided “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” six times was a little silly, though.
In the interest of public service, in case you have to chose six words or less to honor someone you love into perpetuity, we offer these alternatives to Tyler’s lame-o pamphlet:
“I never liked you.”
“I thought I’d have more time.”
“Know when to walk away,” thank you Kenny Rogers…
“Jesus called her home; she went.”
“Don’t try this at home, kids.”
“I’d rather be with you guys.”
“If not hand in hand to heaven, then hand in hand to hell” (This is from Shakespeare’s Richard III, and I love this quote beyond all rational thought. But it’s also way more than 6 words, and would cost an extra $324, and it’s really not worth that much).
This choice was about Myra, though. My mom was many things to many people. She was a daughter and granddaughter; a sister and cousin; a wife and a widow; a mother and grandmother. She was a teacher to hundreds of students; an aunt and great-aunt; and a friend to many, many people. She was a gardener and a card player and occasionally enjoyed a beer. She loved children, loved reading and traveling and laughing and shopping. How do you boil 71 years into six words??
In the end, we kept coming back to a Hans Christian Andersen quote: “‘Just living is not enough,’ said the butterfly, ‘one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.'” It is obviously too long, and it wasn’t quite Myra enough for us. We went back and forth a few times, before settling on four words we thought covered what she most loved, besides her family. I hope she would have liked it. I wish she could’ve stuck around awhile.
“Books, sunshine, friendship, flowers.”
It’s really all any of us need.