Wednesday, October 5, 2011

For Maureen

In June I wrote of my trip to Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan "in search of my father". It was a spiritual quest, a journey of enlightenment, reconciliation, peace. And while I found little evidence of my father in that place, I felt his spirit on my journey and found many answers I had been seeking, within me.

When my father passed away over 16 years ago, he was cremated. Not a man given to ceremony, he insisted there be no marker, no burial site where those who loved him could visit. Being a man of rigid conviction and strident voice, we listened. After his memorial service (there will be no mass said for me, my father had insisted) we cast his ashes into the bay in a place he loved. A bagpiper played Amazing Grace and we stood on the pier, feeling the swell of the waters beneath us and said good-bye.

In life, my middle sister was 'the obedient one' while I was known as 'the rebel', or, as I was often called, 'the brat'. It was in my father's passing my sister became, 'the rebel'. She could not fathom not having a place marker for our father's passing. "We should put a plague on the side of the pier," she said with conviction.

"The city won't let us," we her siblings replied. "The pier is city property," we reminded her.

My sister didn't care. She had a brass plague made and under stealth conditions, my brother-in-law affixed it to the underside of the dock. It reads, In loving memory of Louis John Gallagher.

Whenever I have been in that city (see I'm still keeping it a stealth operation by not revealing the name of the place), I have visited that spot to say a prayer for my father, and to assure myself the plague is still in place.

There is comfort in feeling it there beneath the pier, just above the high water mark. There is peace and I believe that my father forgives us for having ignored his wishes. Plus, he'd get a kick out of knowing his marker is thwarting bureaucracy, bordering on the 'illegal' placement of signage on city property. That would have made him smile.

Maureen Doallas' essay this morning at Writing Without Paper does not make me smile. It makes my heart ache and my blood boil. Maureen writes about the real and heartbreaking events surrounding her recent journey to her father's gravesite at Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC, "the most prestigious cemetery in America", Maureen writes.

There is so much wrong with what has transpired for Maureen and her family and countless other families whose loved ones are interred at Arlington. So much disregard for humanity. So much inexplicable disrespect for brave men and women who served their country with honour and are now being disserved by the very people who promised to mark their passing with honour and are now treating their gravesites with little concern or consideration for those who come to honour their fallen loved ones.

Uneven ground. Sunken earth. Black plastic garbage bags covering headstones that have been displaced.

These are only a few of the travesties Maureen encountered recently at Arlington and through the course of her journey to ascertain if her father really was buried where Arlington National Cemetery said he was.

Please take a few moments to pay your respects to Maureen and hundreds of others who have been so poorly treated by Arlington National Cemetery they didn't even know there were 'Turf Renovations' as the sign read last week, where once their loved ones rested in peace.

Please read Looking for My Father and leave a comment for Maureen. While I don't know there is anything I can 'do' to change what is happening, I know we can offer support through our bearing witness to her journey.



Maureen said...

We don't know what the use of the black plastic garbage bags means, and that's one of the things that bothers me. That such a covering would be used over headstones, and that families, such as mine, would visit and see them and not know why their loved one's gravesite is, in a manner of speaking, made invisible. And then what we saw across from that hillside was equally disturbing. If headstones are going to be removed, they should be taken from the area, not pushed off to the side. Nor should temporary markers ever been left like the three we saw.

Thank you for your support. I'll update my blogpost if and when I ever hear from the cemetery.

And I like that little act of rebellion on behalf of your father's memory.

sharmishtha said...

I know how you feel, we Hindus too dont have any system of keeping a memorial of our loved ones who have passed away.

there are rituals, annual, but if the priest is not good then they became lifeless glibberish.

lots of love.

Beverly Diehl said...

Louise, I love your plaque story.

My parents both donated their body for scientific research (as I will be doing with mine) so there were no graves or ashes. However, I felt a bit unsettled about my mom for many years, having no place to visit or "touch base" with her. I have photos and such, but it wasn't the same.

When last I visited the place where we lived (and she died) I intended to gather some leaves from the trees in front. Turned out I'd misremembered; the trees in front were pines. I gathered some of the pinecones, and used them to create a decorative holiday basket, with artificial mums and poinsettias which I now put in a place of honor each year.

Even if there isn't a traditional grave, or it is disturbed, we can find ways to honor our loved ones and create a special space for them.

S. Etole said...

My heart sank as I read Maureen's post ... for her and for the families of others buried there.

Louise Gallagher said...

My sister called me today to tell me that the plague had fallen into the sea. I wasn't sure I should tell anyone, she said. I'm going to replace it.

I laughed and said, it was okay. I didn't really worry too much about the plague. What I loved was the story of rebellion.

Good luck in your quest maureen. May the sun shine on you and your family.

Louise Gallagher said...

Hello Trisha -- I believe that in the end, I carry my loved one's in my heart. And that is the best and safest place to hold them :)


Louise Gallagher said...

Love the pine cones Beverly.

also love how the memory was of leaves and the reality pines.

I've got lots of memories like that.

one about a girl who stole my boy who was actually a different girl which I didn't discover until after I'd been rude to the girl I remembered had stole my boy.

Whew -- and a run on sentence to boot!

Lovely to meet you here.

I've dropped over to your place -- wow! I'll be staying awhile to visit.

Ruth said...

I like your plaque story too. And apparently you were named for your father?

I am sorry to hear about Maureen's father's gravesite. I'll go read, thank you.

Louise Gallagher said...

Hi Ruth -- yes, I was named for my father... sort of. My eldest sister is actually Louise Jacqueline and I am Patricia Louise.

She's called Jackie.

And me... you know :)

Not sure what my parents were thinking -- but it can be confusing! -- using the second name that is. ;)