I wondered this as I peered at rows and rows of perfectly straight bleached headstones; bone clean, pristine bystanders overlooking the San Diego cliffs. The sun rinsed them as the sea spray sanded them clean. Perpetually baptized this way, these mini-lithic effigies peer down at the harbor and downtown's metallic spray of skyscrapers. From Point Loma, the gravestones frame downtown San Diego like patient mystics bobbing their knowing heads. This too shall pass. Dust to dust. A reminder that everything ends.
As we drove up the Point towards my father's grave my three-year-old told stories. There are monsters here. The skeletons will get us. The only protection from his imagination was the blue sky, the warmth of the sun, the vibrant green crab grass, and the friendly rolling hills.
I told my kids we were going to see my father and their grandfather. Someone who loved them both very much. But he insists this is a scary place.
A cemetery is a time machine. A place where we can walk across death and reach out to the ones we loved and still love. They are places of love. They cradle our faith in life. Hug our memories tightly. They make lost time real and emotion tangible. We honor ourselves, our ancestors, our mortality when we visit them. They ground us.
I tell my children that their grandfather is everywhere, in our hearts, in our blood, in our trees and in the air. He is everywhere like all of us will be when we die. We are all connected.
Yet as we drove to his grave, I knew I was going to him. It is his place. This cemetery is my father's home. It is where he is.
I was taut as we drove through his lot’s gates. I did not know where he was exactly. I knew we were close. I was feeling my way back to him, remembering coordinates from a pilgrimage made thirteen year ago.
When we parked, I pulled Dana along with me to the end of the last row of headstones. My father's ashes are in a wall, a plaque with his name, birth and death year. The wall reaches from one end of the cemetery to the other. The plaques extend up ten high and deeper than I can remember. I wondered how I could remember where he was in the undeviating grid. But the instant I had the thought, I spotted him. In complete focus. All other plaques blurred and dispersed.
He is squatting height on the wall and in an indiscernible spot. His location is my beacon. His plaque’s power is unique to me.
I placed my hand on him and pull my daughter closer to me. Years of tears were jerked from me. This was the first time they met. Dana my father meets Dana my daughter.
When Daire arrives, I pull both kids tight to me and present my family. I want him to be proud.
After my family retreats to the car, a disarray of light, color, images, sound, animation, smells cascade around me. My father's face, his words, his support, images of dying, my childhood, his hug, his smell, his laughter . Emotions that only rise in my father’s presence, feeling that are only feelings for my father. They bath me. I’m cleansed. I remember him and in doing so remember who I am.
The plaque was stone and cold under my hands. I kiss his name and feel his closeness. I inventory 15 years. "Am I doing the right thing?” I ask him. “Am I doing ok?" I think so but I don't really know.
But I have peace. I have peace with death. As I live my life fully, I have peace as I follow his footsteps.
And I’m grateful for the power of his place.