A lesson in family history is as near as your family’s cemetery. Teach your children and grandchildren about those who have come before them.
Several years ago I attended my grandfather’s funeral. Living into his late eighties, my grandfather had lived a long, eventful life, first with my father’s mother who died after more than 40 years of marriage, and then with his second wife, whom he shared his life with for more than 20 years until he died.
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When my grandfather died, his wife, who is now in a nursing home, forever said goodbye to her third husband and my grandfather was buried next to his first wife, the mother of his four children, in the small farming community where their children had been born and raised.
When we arrived at the burial site, I didn’t at first realize all of the family history recorded before my very eyes. My aunt, my father’s sister, had lived all of her almost 60 years in this small community, and she knew the history of each relative buried there, dating back to the early 1800’s.
As we walked in between the grave stones, my aunt told me story after story of the people who were laid to rest in this quiet peaceful place–grandparents, great-grandparents, great aunts and uncles. She told me the story of how my grandmother’s mother had died when my grandmother was a small girl, and how she and her brother had been sent to live with relatives until their father remarried and they were brought back to live with his new family.
My aunt showed me where my great grandparents were buried, as well as my great uncle. My grandmother was buried on the other side of the cemetery, however, with my grandfather’s family–his family had also been buried there for generations.
I got goosebumps as I looked in awe at all the history before me. My grandfather was buried right next to my grandmother, where she had been patiently waiting for him for more than 20 years.
After the burial services we went and visited at the home of my grandmother’s half sister, a great aunt I had never met. My father’s family is a quiet bunch who normally keep to themselves and their own lives, and I’d never been with so many members of his family at once.
I made a point to take lots of pictures and later made copies of them to send to his brothers and sister. I knew in my heart that if I didn’t that moment would be lost and gone forever. They would probably never be together in one place again.
I left with a small sense of sadness and a great awareness of my mortality and my duty to preserve my family’s memories. I wished my daughter had been there with me to see what I had seen. She still does not have a sense of connection to the family members who have come before her.
My mother’s family lives closer to us, and this Memorial Day I have made the commitment to journey to the small community where my mother grew up to visit the graves of her family members.
Her sister, my aunt, still lives there and still remembers the history represented by the solemn grave markers. I will take my daughter with me this time, and I will talk to her of those who have come before her.
I want her to grow up with a sense of purpose and a sense of connection to the past so she can more consciously participate in the future to come, affecting the lives of those will come after we are gone–those who might visit our graves and wonder what great things we accomplished during our lifetimes.
What will people say about you when you’re gone? I hope people will say about me, “She was a loving wife and mother. A source of strength to all who knew her. May God bless her and give her peace.”
Written by Rachel Paxton.