When I visit Ireland, I go with a wish list of things I hope to do. These days, most of my activities involve seeing family, particularly my late father’s remaining siblings. I’ve learned, however, that getting together isn’t always possible – and to not take it personally or as a rejection. We’ve all got busy lives and the aged aren’t always up for company. 

One thing that I have done consistently, though, is visit my father’s grave. After growing up without him, knowing where he is gives me comfort. Although it may seem strange, I can’t imagine being in Ireland without going to see him. 

I don’t recall who took me to Deansgrange, the cemetery where my father is buried, on my first trip to Ireland. I know it was one of his siblings but can’t remember which one. Seeing the onyx black headstone, etched with the diminutive form of his name, communicated a permanence to the situation that was undeniable – he and I would never meet.

This was as close to him as I would ever be.  

Last Friday morning, later than I had wished and planned due to an odd lingering nausea that left me moving slowly, I took the bus to Deansgrange. At one of the gates, I found the flower sellers who always seem to be there and selected a bouquet of white lilies. My calling card. 

I walked up the small incline to the area where I knew he was buried and wound through the rows of graves reading headstone after headstone while searching for the distinctive green stones that covered “Jerry’s” final resting place.

After about 20 minutes, I acknowledged to myself that I couldn’t find what I was seeking and went to the cemetery office for assistance. Map in hand, I returned to the area labeled St. Paul’s and, after a few minutes of orienting myself, I spotted my father’s marker partially obscured by a mass of weeds.

It’s been four years since I last visited my dad. It would be impossible for me to know if he has had guests since that time, other than the wind, of course, which brought gifts of random trash. I took my jacket off and set to work, bare handed, as I tugged and yanked at a massive invasive plant whose roots reached closer to my father than I would ever be. 

While I worked, I talked to my father. I told him about my trip with my beloved and the cousins I had had the good fortune to spend time with in the past week. I told him that his grandsons were doing fine, finding themselves and making their way through a world that at times overwhelms me with its violence and challenges. I told him I missed him and that I wished I had known him. I cried a little, as I am now. 

I placed the flowers on his improved, but far from perfect grave and told him I would see him again.

Two days later, at home, I read the words below in a column in the New York Times discussing the ethics of ceasing to visit a loved one gripped by dementia, and seemingly unaware of the advice seeker’s identity. 

“…akin to tending a grave, something you do in honor of a past you shared.”

Kwame Anthony Appiah

I understood that tending a grave isn’t always about honoring a shared past. Sometimes it’s about showing appreciation for a future given. While I never met my dad, he gave me a family for which I will never stop thanking him. I hope he rests with the same peace I feel for having been given that true gift. 

See you next time, Dad.

2 thoughts on “Grave.Tender.

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