The fragrances of many flowers fill our vehicle as we travel from cemetery to cemetery and grave to grave to decorate family graves. Their scent evokes dozens of long-term memories of similar pilgrimages on other Memorial Days.
The Memorial Day experience this year was different. After visiting several cemeteries, we concluded our pilgrimage with a stop at a cemetery with many ancestral graves. Just across from them, a young widow sat in deep despair on a rock next by her husbands one-week-old grave.
My mood changed immediately from celebration of my ancestors lives to deep concern. Fathers and grandfathers will do about anything to protect their wives,daughters and granddaughters from pain. The body language of despair coupled with gulps of air told her story. Her beloved was gone.
As much as I wanted to comfort her, I could not intrude on her privacy. I was an unknown. A well-meaning unknown but whose intrusion was undoubtedly not wanted or sought.
I grieved over her pain and over my lack of the ability to assuage it in any way.
Within a few minutes, she recognized that she was no longer alone in her cone of grief. With a final gesture of her hand toward her husbands grave, she entered her vehicle and drove away.
Deep in thought, I stood watching her vehicle disappear into the distance.
Had any of my ancestors felt pain like hers over an untimely death? I only had to look up to see the headstones of two sets of my 2nd great grandparents to get the answer.
Yes. They had.
One of the couples lost a baby daughter without her father every seeing or holding her. He left England to come to America to establish a new life for his family. I don’t think he even knew his wife was pregnant when he left.
He worked hard, saved every penny he could and was finally able to send for his sweetheart and their 7 children. Partway through the voyage, the new baby, Emma Dorothy, died and was buried at sea.
They knew pain. The pain that grandma experienced immediately upon the of her baby. The pain she felt when explaining the loss to her remaining children. The pain that she felt knowing she would have to break her husband’s heart right at the time he was greeting them after a long and difficult separation.
Yes, they knew of the pain of an untimely death.
Turning a few degrees I gazed upon the headstone of another set of great grandparents. Had they experienced similar pain?
Unfortunately, yes, they had.
Their third child was born small. Silas was called a midget by society of that day. A group of seemingly good men from the area had approached the family. They asked if it would be possible for Silas to join them for the summer as they toured their little circus from town to town.
Silas would be a main attraction in the center ring. His joyful personality and laughter would bring cheers from the audience.
“We’ll take good care of him.” “We promise.” “He’ll earn more money than his father over the summer months.”
Things went well until 3 September 1869 when the troop was returning back to their homes. One of the rough circus crew had become increasingly jealous of little Silas during the summer. His popularity far exceeded the attention created by the clown paint on the face of the ruffian in their circus performances.
Seeing his opportunity to destroy his supposed enemy on the narrow cliff-side road ahead, he maneuvered his horse between Silas and the high side of the road. A simple jab in the ribs of his horse caused it to shy into the horse carrying Silas.
Both Silas and his horse went over the cliff and were killed.
Nothing could be proven to bring justice to Silas’ killer. He claimed the incident was an accident, yet almost everyone in the circus company knew of his hatred of the diminutive youngster.
Pain. There was deep pain in the hearts of his parents. The guaranteed safety and good treatment of their son was invalid.
He was dead.
His father acted as the town undertaker in addition to his carpenter jobs.
He had to build the casket for little Silas — the son he had allowed to travel with ‘safe’ men for the summer.
He had to dress and clean his little body before placing it in the coffin.
He had to dig the grave.
Pain. Real pain in the hearts of grandpa and grandma.
Today, far removed from the immediacy of the incidents, view of ancestors lives in celebration when we visit their graves on Memorial Day, and rightly so. Their lives should be celebrated.
Because of them, we are here, enjoying our lives and growth opportunities that sometimes include pain. Without them we would not be here to gain those experiences.
I am grateful every day for the gospel of Jesus Christ and the knowledge and promises it brings us. You see, I know that families can be together forever.