My sister had told me where to find her this time, but I still couldn’t locate the grave. She’s section 49/50, up near the front near the building where we played “Sailing” by Rod Stewart and everybody cried. The place with the ashes—the columbarium. She’s a bit underwater, though. Jude came with me and now he keeps repeating “Grandma’s underwater! Grandma’s underwater!”.
After ten minutes of traipsing through the mud under the grey skies and whipping wind of an extended Michigan winter I found my grandparents: Mary Jane and Carl Brown. Grandma was covered by murky water, leaves and sediment clouding her headstone. Grandpa looked a little better; here I could see: here rests Carl Brown, loving husband, grandpa and father. I placed one purple coneflower in each puddle and resumed searching for my mother. Panic rose within me as I sloshed from one grave to the next, knowing she was in the row before or after my grandparents but not remembering which. And wasn’t she by that tree? Before it or after it? This happened the first time I came here, three years back, and I was certain I’d never find my dear mother and that she’d never known I was there—until I saw the back of my sister’s jacket, her head down, the sunshine glinting off the pink carnations she held in her hand. She was in front of the tree, I knew it.
What kind of daughter can’t find her own mother’s grave? I kicked six month old leaves out of the way, splashing water everywhere looking for her. I was about to lose it when a man appeared. He had on heavy duty waders, boots and a beige jacket. He was maybe my age, and smiled kindly.
“You need some help?”
“Yeah, I can’t find her.” I lowered my head.
“I can radio it in, what’s the name?”
“Carol Gaydos. Carol Brown. I’m not sure what name it’s under! That probably doesn’t sound good.”
“I’ve seen that name around, I know it. She’s right near here.” He smiled.
“Paging the office: yes, looking for a Carol Brown Gaydos. Ok. Section 49/50, plot 35? We’re on it.”
He led me to a tree nearby with a small silver plate of which, unbeknownst to me, had a number on it. In addition to the curb markings, it turned out, were these additional plate markings to help bereaved people find their dead loved ones.
“You can always look at these to find her,” he said.
We sloshed about five yards away and there she was, her headstone submerged in three to four inches of water.
“I wish I could clear the water out for you, but at least we found her.”
I thanked him profusely and he walked away, back across the street to the graves on the other side. He climbed up into the digger and resumed pulling up heaps of Earth, clearing the way for the next lifeless body, and the next, and the next. Did he often help guests of the graveyard in this manner? Acting as a grave concierge of sorts? Did he actually remember her name or was he simply being kind? Who did he think Carol was to me? Was it obvious she was my mother? Should I have told him? Would it have made any difference?
The man had provided me comfort through companionship, however fleeting. I’d chosen to go to the cemetery alone, intent on listening to classic rock during the forty minute drive there and back, playing Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, and Stevie Nicks in her honor. One of the best concerts we ever saw together was Stevie out at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, back before Little Caesar’s Arena was built, back when they still had concerts at the Joe. The handicapped section had kick ass seats, which wasn’t the case at most other venues, and we had a clear shot of Stevie and the band. The summer after Mom passed, Bob Seger held his final tour at DTE Music Theatre—formerly known as Pine Knob, known only as Pine Knob to people like my Mom, who grew up frequenting the lawn seats and seeing every good rock band under the sun. Seger rocked the hell out of the joint for two weeks straight—a sold out, all-out bonanza, a glorious end to an era that will never, ever be recreated. Not a chance. I sat in front of the ticket page for hours but couldn’t bring myself to buy a ticket. It didn’t seem right to without her.
We only visit the cemetery a few times a year across my family and I—this was my first visit in two years. I feel guilty about that now. The only thing worse than imagining Mom underground was seeing her tribute stone covered in murky water, shrouding the words she chose and we executed on:
"Here lies Carol Brown Gaydos, loving Mom, daughter, grandmother and friend."
Later that week, in relaying my story to a friend, she tells me I shouldn’t feel bad about not getting out to the site more often. There is no annually required time minimum to be met—no universal standard on graveyard visits. Nobody is judging you for how often you do or do not visit your Mom. My mom has been going to my grandma’s grave every month for the past five years, but she lives right down the street, you know? And is it healthy to go that much? Who defines what’s not enough or more than enough to present a problem?
My friend’s mother spends the warmer months trimming back the grass around the headstone and planting flowers. In a few weeks’ time she will be clearing away the dead leaves and decay from last year’s seasons, making way for new life. I am neither gardener nor botanist; most attempts I’ve made at growing things have turned out mediocre at best. As I drove off that day I caught the tops of wild violets peeking through as the sun emerged, offering a beacon of light and hope and a reminder to the mourning that there is beauty and peace in permanence, if you pause long enough to look.