Courier-Post columnist Danny Henley shares finding his deceased parents' grave site.
Like countless families across the United States, part of my Memorial Day Weekend was spent laying flowers at the gravesite of deceased family members. But even though the flowers were for my parents, I can’t take credit for this simple act of remembrance.
Memorial Day Weekend happened to coincide with the high school graduation of a great-niece in Jefferson City, which happens to be the community in which my parents are buried. My wife, Nancy, proposed after attending the graduation we swing by the cemetery so we could lay the artificial flowers that she had purchased five years ago.
Yes, it’s true. Since my mother’s passing in 2008, I had not been back to visit the gravesite where my parents are buried.
Some people avoid cemeteries like the plague because it reminds them of their own mortality. I can’t claim that. I’ve spent numerous hours quietly wandering through cemeteries, reading old headstones and snapping photos.
It is not uncommon for individuals to not return to the burial sites of folks they weren’t particularly or fond of while they were still above ground. And while my father and I weren’t particularly close, I loved my mother, even like many lug-head children, I didn’t tell her I how I felt often enough.
Was it the distance between Hannibal and Jefferson City? Considering I gave little thought to traveling that far to attend the graduation of a family member that I hardly know, I can’t use that as an excuse for not visiting my parents’ graves.
Following a morning of steady rain, I privately wondered if our trip to the cemetery might be rained out. However, following the graduation and a subsequent family gathering, the rain had all but stopped and following some gentle prodding by my bride, we set a course for the cemetery.
After some minor challenges finding the graveyard, an even bigger hurdle arose – finding my parents’ graves.
It’s been 28 years since my father passed away. While there are still a lot of memories from the ‘80s rattling around in my head, the location of his gravesite isn’t one of them.
I remember my mother’s 2008 funeral. I also recall because of heavy rain that day the graveside portion of her service actually took place in a nearby chapel. All I recall being told was that mom’s grave was “down that way.”
Consequently, Nancy and I were only armed with some vague directions from my brother-in-law, when we arrived at the cemetery. GPS wouldn’t help us now as it had when we were looking for the cemetery.
After initially searching together, Nancy and I eventually went in different directions. After a while, Nancy headed for the office in hopes of finding a layout of the graves. Meanwhile, I continued my random wandering among the graves, many of which were adorned with flowers and small U.S. flags.
Periodically I’d find a grave whose marker began with an “H” or “H-E,” but it wouldn’t be the “Henley” grave for which I was looking.
With the office already closed that Saturday afternoon, and with a light rain beginning to fall again, it began to look like our search might be in vain.
I decided that instead of wandering among the graves I’d begin a methodical, row-by-row search. Surprisingly, just a few minutes into my search I found myself standing at my parents’ gravesite.
Not sure what proper cemetery protocol is for getting someone’s attention, I softly called to Nancy who was a couple of sections away. After gaining her attention I waved her over.
Over the next few minutes a few photos were taken of my parents’ grave markers and the red flowers Nancy had purchased years ago were placed in the empty vase at their grave.
And while tears filled Nancy’s eyes, the wave of emotion I half expected never arrived. Why? Maybe a sense of satisfaction prevailed that day because a son had found his parents.