Missouri has four national cemeteries, the closest of which is Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. My grandfather, whom I never met, is buried there. While national cemeteries get more attention during Memorial Day weekend, one doesn’t have to venture very far in Perry County to find graves of those with significant ties of past military life.
A private in the Kentucky militia who served in the War of 1812 is buried in the St. Rose of Lima cemetery in Silver Lake. A relative of Confederate general Robert E. Lee is buried at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in rural Perry County. There are probably more. I only found out about these two examples on a mid-March drive around the county.
Growing up, I wasn’t afraid of cemeteries. Where my siblings and I spent much of our youth, it is close to a cemetery at Grace Lutheran Church in Uniontown. There were times when we’d be outside playing and they would be digging a grave in the nearby cemetery.
By my estimation, I’ve been to cemeteries in multiple states, including Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin. That’s a fact of life when grandparents aren’t from the same city and you’ve moved as many times as my parents and I have. A few have been in more urban settings. Others were in more rural areas.
No matter the location of a cemetery, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the past, and cherish the memories we have of those no longer with us.
This is not a column about funerals. Few would ever admit to enjoying them. They typically elicit feelings of sadness and anguish. Rather, it is about properly remembering those who have gone before.
No one should ever feel comfortable about death, one of the two guarantees in life (for those unaware, the other is taxes). However, there is certainly comfort and peace in a cemetery.
The grave markers, many times with Scripture verses or crosses included, provide a calming message of hope and eternal life. There are also many varieties of flowers as well as American flags denoting military service.
In my final year of college at Concordia University Wisconsin in the spring of 2004, the professor of a class titled “Interpersonal Communication” had the entire class take a trip to a nearby cemetery.
I can’t remember the exact location, other than it was somewhere in southeast Wisconsin, possibly in Cedarburg, Grafton or Mequon.
The point of the visit was to take a few quiet moments and reflect on what was there, and try to answer this simple question: What’s the most important part of a tombstone?
The correct answer is the dash between when the individual was born and died. No matter how long life lasts — whether it ends briefly in infancy, abruptly from an accident or in their “golden years,” perhaps as an elderly grandparent or godparent, people are remembered by their accomplishments. A small dash on a cemetery stone pales in comparison to the memories everyone has of moments shared with loved ones.
It’s true that for most everyone Memorial Day marks the start of the summer vacation season. Try to make sure there is time spent at a cemetery to reflect on the memories of those we hold near and dear.
Daniel Winningham is the managing editor of the Republic-Monitor. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 573-547-4567.