“It’s never a convenient thing. You’re never just ‘in the neighborhood’ and happen to pop by your friend’s grave site.
It’s been over two years since we buried him and I hadn’t been back to the grave site since that mid-October day he was laid to rest.
But I found myself driving right by the cemetery that morning as I headed to a certification course that I was attending back near my old stomping grounds from my high school days.
When I left that afternoon, I took a left instead of a right and drove up, cresting the hill of the cemetery.
‘Can you help me remember where we buried him?,’ my husband asked me that October day, tears streaming down his face, as he and the other seven of the pallbearers had carried Leland’s body to its resting place.
‘Yes, I’ll remember,’ I assured him.
‘I just want to make sure I know how to get back here because I won’t remember,’ he responded.
‘I’ll remember J,’ I reassured him.
I looked around just before we drove away that day, trying to lock that image in my mind.
The back plot.
The tree line.
The left side of the sidewalk.
Cresting the hill, I drove towards the back of the cemetery, sure that my mind would remember when I saw the place.
Pulling off to the side, I parked and got out of my car, zipping my down jacket all the way up and shoving my hands deep into my pockets.
I started down the brick sidewalk. Walking briskly towards the place I remembered.
But I couldn’t find his headstone.
I paced a few hundred yards along that plot, sure that it was there. But none of the names on the headstones were his.
Maybe it was the next plot over? That one mirrored this one identically so maybe I had just gotten them confused and that would be understandable.
But the next plot over didn’t reveal his headstone either.
It was twenty-five degrees outside, and the sun was just beginning to set, and I could see my breath in the frosted air.
There was an energy now surging through my body and I knew what it was.
Hot, surging anger coursed through my body.
As I paced, I could feel my carotids pulsating in my neck.
A million expletives ran through my mind. It was so damn cold outside. I was frustrated that my memory was failing me and why the hell did I feel so angry!?
Grief is strange and sometimes make you think you’ve completely gone mad. It ambushes and echoes and it’s impossible to anticipate how and when it will strike.
I was angry.
Angry that he was gone.
Angry that he had to be one of them — one of the victims that I see roll through the doors of the ER every day. After all, fatal car accidents happen to other people, not my people, I somehow still convince myself in some bizarre convoluted way.
Angry at myself that after pacing that graveyard for almost forty-five minutes, I couldn’t find where he was buried.
Angry for a world where the deep visceral pain that death brings can only be healed by heaven which seems so far away most days.
My anger brought a hot prick of tears to my eyes and as I turned around on the red brick pathway to head back to my car, accepting defeat, there it was.
Leland McCoy Marrero
January 30, 1990 – October 16, 2016
Bending down, I brushed a few stray pieces of dead grass from his headstone and read the dates. I glanced down at my watch and that day’s date was January 30th, what would have been Leland’s 29th birthday.
Standing there for a few minutes, I remembered his life and his legacy.
Thankful for the time we had with him, for the stories we still share and laughter he still brings with his memory, for the joy he embodied that was his unique gift to the world.
The essence of joy he possessed that illuminated the world & still lingers even after his death.
After a few quiet moments, I pivoted and walked back down the brick pathway.
The tears that had pricked my eyes with anger a few minutes before were growing. By the time I reached my car and was back inside, out of the brisk January wind, they fell onto my cheeks.
Sinking into my seat, the tears fell hard and hot.
The tears came from a deep place within my chest, a place that felt hollowed out and visceral.
I sat there until they subsided, and my vision was no longer clouded. Turning the keys in the ignition, I put my car into drive and drove away.
I felt a stillness.
Yes, that was it, joy.
Strange and peculiar but joy nonetheless
That hollowed out place that grief creates in our souls isn’t for naught.
If we are present and quickened to it, we may just be surprised by joy.
Surprised by the ways and places we find joy and the ways it makes its way into the deep caverns of our souls that are carved out by the pain of loss.
The pain of loss can never be negated by joy, but joy, if we make space for it and are willing to be surprised by it, may bring hope and healing to those tender places of our hearts that have been ravaged by loss.”
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