On the birthday anniversary of my recently deceased Mother in July, I went to her gravesite in Rochester Hills, Michigan at the Guardian Angels cemetery. When I went, I was not exactly sure why I wanted or needed to go. Sure, I’m a person who believes in the afterlife, but I’m also a pragmatist, and not much of a sentimentalist. I think: “Since my Mom’s current life is as a soul in the afterlife, the body she left behind is no more than an empty container… it’s not the real her. I can’t see that body anyway. It’s in a grave. Also, I can remember her from anywhere on the planet, and if spirits can hear humans, then she can hear me from anywhere. So I was not really sure why I went.
When I stood over her grave (and the grave of my departed father and my brother Jim), I thought, unsentimentally: “Hmm, the grass above their graves is pretty dry, sparse and has weeds. I might pull the weeds. But what would that matter to any humans on this earth? Would that really matter to my Mom, Dad, and Jim? That seems so incidental. It affects nothing. Very few if any family members come here. If I did care for the grass, would I be doing it so that the rare visitors would have a better experience? Doesn’t it seem that the same minutes could be better spent doing something for my own immediate family members, who are still alive?” While I was thinking about that, a Chrysler Minivan pulled up several tens of yards away, and an old short man walked out and over to a six foot tall black curved-top marble monument with some Greek name on it. He made the sign of the cross on himself, indicating to me that he was either Catholic or Orthodox. I wondered what he thought as he motioned that hand pattern. Did it help him in some way? Did it help his dead relative in some way? Did it help God in some way? It seemed not valuable. (I’m being difficult in this posting to set up a contrast. Of course I see value in it, but not in the way that most people define value… it’s a confirmation of my own beliefs to me and to my God).
Then the man said something in another language, which I guessed was Greek. I’m sure he was completely unaware that I could hear him. I guessed that he was talking to his deceased wife. It seemed loving and respectful. Then he touched the highest point of the corner of the monument, above his head -- and bowed his head, leaving his hand there. Then he started to tidy up the already-very-neat and healthy and colorful flowers that made a thoroughly thick bed around the monument. He got out the hose that was several yards away, and watered the flowers and grass for quite some time. I noticed that the grass around the grave was much greener than all the other graves.
Then he put away the hose, stood directly in front of the monument, which I saw had two names on it: Nika and Marica. A photo of the two of them had been etched into the stone, and the face of the man was his. The name Nika did not have a date of death yet. He paused and looked straight at the faces for about three minutes. Then he left.
I no longer thought of the act of watering the grass as meaningless. It is almost certain that this man Nika would have behaved in exactly this way even if he never expected any other visitors to this site. His actions were obviously meant the benefit of exactly one person: his wife Marica. I say ‘for her benefit’. How exactly can these acts of gardening and touching a stone and saying some words possibly ‘benefit’ a dead person? From the perspective of science and objectivity, they do not.
But there was no question for me that this man had loved his wife, and in fact still does.