The Great Cemetery Gratefulness Tour of 2018

Today is November 1st. On the Christian calendar, it is a holy day of remembrance. Called All Saints Day, it is a time to remember and honor the faithful departed. Recently, my wife and I did just that when we took a self-designed cemetery tour. While you may think that we have run out of things to do in retirement, the tour proved to be a fascinating experience.

First, you should know that my wife is an experienced genealogy researcher. When she offered to help fill in some gaps in my account, I welcomed her assistance. After all, I only knew a few details about my mother’s family beyond a couple of generations.

Since all eight of my great-grandparents lived in the same area, she was able to identify the church cemeteries where they are buried. We decided to spend a Saturday afternoon visiting their grave sites. I had memories of only one of them, so finding these graves made an important connection for me.

Between her research and the cemetery tour, I learned a number of things. One great-grandmother, who was named Melissa, actually spelled her name MELICIE. And her middle initial of “I” stood for Isabel. My mother’s father died on September 24, 1931, at the age of 26, but his gravestone showed a birth date of November 31 (?). Buried next to my father’s grandparents is a son, William Andrew McElhannon, who lived from January 1, 1883, to January 19, 1896. Visiting these sites proved to be more than just a walk through family history. On and on, little insights were gathered making the tour less of an event and more of a meaningful memory.

I have long thought that a reflective walk through a cemetery is time well spent. Yes, some may consider such action morbid, not wanting to be reminded of life’s inevitable end. Still, others, like myself, see it as a seminar for the soul.

What lessons can one learn from a cemetery tour? Here’s’s perspective on the value of a reflective walk through a cemetery.

  1. You gain an appreciation for family history. Memory and legacy are important. How many of life’s lessons did I learn from those buried here? In some cases, I learned how to live and how to die. In others, how not to live.
  2. On a practical level, it is a reminder to have an up-to-date will. At some time, you are going to die. Having been the Executor for the Estate of four family members, I can truly say, if you love your family, you will have an up-to-date will. If you want to cause further grief, pain and suffering and a heavy dose of family chaos, forget the will.
  3. You are reminded of the brevity of life. Life is indeed short, and the older you get, it seems like the speed of life only speeds up.
  4. The dash will define you. “There’ll be two dates on your tombstone, and all your friends will read them. But all that is going to matter is that little dash between them.”~ Author: Kevin Welch
  5. Life is a paradox. It is ironic that many philosophers have said that one cannot truly live life without the understanding that it will someday end. I remember reading somewhere that there are only two important days in a person’s life: Today (and what you do with it), and That Day (when we will face the Lord). We must live Today with That Day in mind. Walking through a cemetery is the ultimate reality check, a reminder that there will be a That Day someday.
  6. It is a great opportunity to re-evaluate your priorities. I often think there are three kinds of people in the world. Those that live life for pleasure’s sake alone, reflecting a life philosophy of “Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” Then there are those who act like they are going to live forever and want to avoid any reminders of the certainty of death. Finally, there are those who live today with That Day in mind. Usually, those people are ones who believe in life after death and have reconciled themselves with a loving God. Maybe the best reflection to have during a tombstone tour is whether or not you need to change your priorities, and live life differently.

Seeing these tombstones and the various inscriptions upon them reminded me of a quote by the British preacher, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892), “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you, and were helped by you, will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.”

I have decided to name our recent visit to the graves of my ancestors as the Great Cemetery Gratefulness Tour of 2018. For as I strolled through the grave markers and recalled stories I knew of each of my ancestors, I thought of how grateful I am for each of them. Yet, I could not help but wonder how many stories were left untold. My parents influenced me greatly and they, no doubt, were influenced by their parents and grandparents. These are the people who carved their name into the hearts of my parents and later myself.

Who among these prayed for me and, by God’s grace, paved the way for my own conversion. I will never know that answer until That Day. I know the names of my ancestors, I know the look of their tombstones. I look forward to meeting them face to face.

I think I will call that meeting the Great All Saints Tour of 20xx. I guess that date is still to be determined.

I am still living the dash.


Author’s Note:  For a related post check out my March 13, 2018 Reflection titled, “The Fire That Lights Our Way.”

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