Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people. —Genesis 25:8
Monday morning brought me to a veterans’ cemetery in South Florida. There, family and friends gathered to mourn and remember a man who, like Abraham, died “an old man and satisfied with life.” Those of us at the cemetery felt he left us too soon, but there was no denying he fully lived his life.
In one of the more peaceful moments of the morning, mourners stood near his headstone and spoke quietly of him, while some of the family wandered off to find the grave of his brother—buried in the same section of the cemetery nearly five years ago. The two brothers were close in age and closer in friendship growing up, and so it’s fitting that, in a way, they have both now been gathered to their people.
By the time the sun began to set, I was miles away, visiting some of my own people and standing in a quiet cemetery full of familiar names.
My cousin and I welcomed the shade of the trees as the hot day waned. We talked quietly at the graves, and she told me family stories I had never heard. She is fifth generation in this town; her husband is third generation. This cemetery is where so many of their (our) people are gathered.
“The young people don’t care to come here anymore.” I can’t remember if my cousin or her husband said this, but I know the truth of these words. I cannot imagine my nephews being anything other than politely bored if I brought them here.
As families scatter across the country more and more, this kind of gathering is lost. The family cemetery is not simply a gathering place for the dead, but also for the living to come to remember, to celebrate the old lives lived well and the young lives cut short, to tell family stories new and old. The family cemetery is a place to gather the threads of a family’s collective life and help us understand who we are in relation to the generations that have gone before us.
Do you have a family cemetery (or cemeteries) where you go to remember, to gather the stories of your people? While the place may stir up sorrow, does it also bring you peace?