I wanted to have a visit with my parents this past weekend.
I didn’t want the fact that they lie side by side in a New Orleans mausoleum to make the visit an unduly short one. I didn’t want to walk away from their names on the marble slab and wonder what that standing in front of their names had been about. I didn’t want to have to cry to be able to convince myself that some part of me had really connected with some part of them.
I went to the mausoleum Saturday morning equipped to have a visit that I would remember. I wanted a visit that would be close to the kind of visit I would have loved to have had with these kind, thoughtful people over the years.
I knew I wanted to pray. I knew I wanted my parents to hear what I sound like when I talk about what’s important to me. I knew I wanted them to know what some people say when they want me to know they care.
On the beautifully clear Saturday morning, I started by saying the rosary in front of my parents’ places. I don’t know how other people pray at their parents’ graves. I have sometimes spoken into the air around me and mentioned my parents’ names and God’s name and brought some petition, some thanksgiving, some plea for forgiveness into words.
This time I simply took a rosary out of my pocket and began reciting the customary prayers from my Catholic childhood. Fingers on the crucifix, I prayed the Creed. Fingers slipping to the first larger bead, I recited the Our Father. Fingers gaining on the first three smaller beads, I repeated the Hail Mary’s. I walked the mausoleum corridor where my parents’ places were located, up and down, lips moving, fingers moving, eyes moving over all the names on the wall of graves. I lengthened my route to include a corridor near my parents. Unaware of anyone nearby who might overhear me, I went through all five decades, saying the prayers in a low voice but still out loud.
In praying the rosary aloud, I was doing something that I would like to have done with my parents while they were alive.
The next stage of the visit focused on something I had written last November around the time of my birthday. I had brought with me an essay I posted on this blog last year under the title “An Unsettled Anniversary.” I read the essay out loud to my parents lying there in the mausoleum. I read about the death of a friend’s grandfather. I read about the experience of watching parents grieve the loss of their own parents. I read about a heart scare and a hospitalization. I read about the exhaustion of approaching the first anniversary of that hospitalization, wondering what toll it might exact from me.
When I had finished reading that essay, I addressed my parents, “That’s what I sound like.” I wanted to acknowledge to them and to myself that I had just confidently spoken in their presence about what my life sometimes feels like. I needed to acknowledge out loud that it was all worth my saying, all worth their hearing, and that more of our visits over the years should have included opportunities not only for me to listen to their stories but for them to hear mine.
Finally, I brought out the texts of three short messages that I had received in the past six months. I wanted my parents to hear what someone might write to me who considered himself a good friend. I wanted my parents to know that I had friends who talked of missing me, of holding me close to their heart, of being happy about how real it could feel to spend time with me. I needed my parents to know that friends could be eager to share their lives with me.
Without ever having heard my parents talk about being happy that I had friends and such good friends, I wanted to close a visit by imagining a time with my parents feeling like a vote of confidence.
I wanted by the end of that Saturday morning to feel eager to have another visit with my parents.
I am happy to say that I succeeded.
Image from Rookwood Independent Cemetery