Generations rise and grief becomes peace

  • April 20, 2023

This is an Easter story for this Easter season. It is set in a cemetery, spans several decades past and many more into the future.

Every year on Holy Saturday, my mother gathers the family at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Thornhill at the grave of her parents. I was three years old when my Grandfather died and seven when my Nanna died.

My earliest memories of these visits are of standing at the grave and seeing Mumm cry. She lost her parents at a young age. It takes courage to be present to the pain of loss. It especially takes courage when that loss comes with the death of loved ones and even more so when those loved ones are your parents. I admire my mother’s courage in establishing this tradition.

Growing up, the visit to the cemetery was the only daylight we would see on Holy Saturday. Our family tradition was to close all the curtains in the house after the Good Friday service and stay indoors, in the tomb with Jesus.

The visit to the cemetery was also a part of this. Jesus died. My grandparents died. He was buried. My grandparents were buried. The people who loved Jesus suffered when He died. My mother suffered when her parents died. The women went to the tomb. So did my mother. It was all very real.

Sometimes, standing in the pain with courage is the way to transform it.

I can’t remember how old I was when I noticed for the first time that Mumm didn’t cry. I can’t remember when I realized that the stories we shared were not only to comfort us who knew my grandparents, but now also to pass on the memory to my younger siblings who did not. I can’t remember when these things happened, but they did.

I can’t remember the first time that we brought blankets to sit on and hot cross buns to eat. I can’t remember the first time we brought hot chocolate and coffee to share. But these things happened.

We planted bulbs around the gravestone and found them bursting through the ground the next year.

And then there were more of us. Our son, my mother’s first grandchild, was the first addition. Then came our second child. Then my sister’s daughter. Little people standing beside their grandmother. Little people gleefully searching out discarded plastic flowers on the vast grounds to decorate the grave of people they only knew by story.  The visits were less sombre and full of literal new life.

And then my mother’s sister died of cancer. Now there were two graves to visit instead of one. We would start at my grandparents’ and then move to my aunt’s. And Mumm was crying again. And so were we her children.

But once again time passed, with faithful visits every year. My own two children grew older, and more grandchildren were born. This year, 10 years after cancer claimed my aunt’s life, the new generation now outnumbered the old.

Reflecting on this year’s visit, my Elliot said, “You know, cemeteries are not sad places for me. They make me think of family, of singing birds, hot chocolate, marshmallows and looking for treasures (i.e. plastic flowers) to decorate gravestones.”

It was Elliot’s words that inspired me to share this Easter story. I marvelled at them. My mother’s courage to go to the tomb, I thought, had truly become resurrection in the lives of her grandchildren — even in my own life. Elliot’s words resonated with me. The cemetery is also not a sad place for me.

The cemetery is not a sad place for me. For now. One day it will be. One day it will be for Elliot too. But here is the difference. Because of my mother, we know that if we have the courage to go to the tomb, and be in the sad place, year after year, the tears will turn to smiles. Small hands will search for plastic flower treasures to offer. Stories will pass between generations. Our grief will ease, and we will know the peace of our risen ancestors and the true fullness of the Paschal mystery.


(Stocking is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Region, for Development and Peace.)

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