A few Saturdays ago, I mapped out a path around town to take care of some errands. You know, the usual stuff. A suit that requires “Dry Cleaning Only”. The tape dispenser that I’ve been meaning to refill. The paper towels that are on sale. But I also made a stop that I hadn’t quite planned to make.
My car inspection has been due for some time. I should have really taken care of it first, but being the free spirit that I am, it kinda didn’t feel like I should rush — that is, until I waited until three in the afternoon and went to three gas stations — each one saying that they either didn’t do inspections or that it was too late. I kept looking around for about an hour. It was a pretty dreary, foggy day, but it was still bright enough to be considered ‘daytime’. As I drove around, I had a strange urge to take a turn that I normally wouldn’t take. And then, all at once, I realized why that urge came. My father’s grave.
I usually don’t like to share this with people, but my father passed away when I was only two months old. I came on February 8…. he was called home on April 6. Two months. Fifty seven days. Not a lot of time to do a lot of bonding. I never really spent much time feeling bad or deprived for it. For one, it’s hard to miss something you never really had the opportunity to know. And more than that, God has filled my life with so many men who have stepped in — for however brief a moment in my life — and taken the baton and then passed it to the next man….and so on. I never felt as if I had been deserted. But I think one can’t help but wonder about some things. Strangely, my mind always goes to the finer details that I’ll never know. How did he speak? Was his voice as high as mine? Did he hate meatloaf too? What pissed him off? What made him cry? What was his favorite cereal?
As I drove by the grave (and almost drove past it), I had a strange feeling suddenly come over me. Normally I would have used this as an opportunity to procrastinate. There’s plenty of time…. you need to get your car inspected. It’s late. It’s rainy. The sun is going down soon. Just come back some other day. But I couldn’t. You see, it had probably been close to thirty years since my last trip there. We didn’t make a lot of trips to the grave. Too many bad memories. ‘Why keep bringing him here? Better to focus on the future,’ I’m sure she thought. But somehow, I got the strange feeling that this was the time and today was the day. And with that, I eased my foot on the brake pedal, made a turn and a half of the wheel towards the right, and drove through the cobblestone columns.
When I pulled in, the first thing I noticed was how alone I was. I expected to see at least one other car. Maybe a family standing around a freshly topped grave, sharing fond thoughts. Or maybe a buddy drinking a Heineken and slurring thoughts of old times as he drank and poured equal amounts of beer into the ground and himself. But there wasn’t a soul nearby. And there wouldn’t be a soul for the next two hours while I was there. Yep — I was in this one all alone.
On top of the solitude, it was a pretty foggy day. Eerily foggy. But I seemed to be too focused on the task at hand to feel fear. I decided to take some images to document the visit.
As I said, it had been about thirty years since I had last visited the grave. These are the times in your childhood that you try to forget. The way that they try to steal a glimpse of your face. Trying to detect a hint of sorrow from a child who’s not quite old enough to understand the finality of death — much less the fact that his paternal history has taken residence in another world. And so, I’d just try to get through those visits. We’d only been there about four times — I’d say six, tops. I barely remembered the general area where we visited. As I drove up to the general area where I thought he was, I realized how cold it started to get. About forty-one degrees according to the indicator on my dashboard. But I didn’t reach for the spare hat in my glove compartment. No — this is a trip that I’d have to make, sans-comfort.
Not visiting the grave for close to thirty years has filled me with a huge degree of guilt. And walking past the other graves, as I searched for my place to reflect, didn’t help alleviate that sense of regret much. As I surveyed the rows of the ‘dearly departed’, I found myself feeling the most sorrow for the headstones that spanned such a short period of time. 1987-1998. Wow. And then I felt sadness at the fresh graves of folks that had just been laid to rest. I began to notice the older graves and that gave the place a sense of perspective…. there were graves that had spanned as far back as the 1800s. You had just about two decades covered here. But as I moved through the cemetery, there was one thing that I began to realize wasn’t covered here — the location of my father’s grave.
As I went back into my car for a moment (and noticed how cold I had been in contrast to how warm the car was) I decided that I would drive around and find out where his plot was. And so I drove around and walked up to what can only be described as a “small cottage” near the front of the cemetery grounds. I grabbed the little brass ring and tapped it against the door a few times. Nothing. I took a look inside the windows, browning with signs of grime and neglect. There had to be someone who maintained the site. But I guess even grave keepers deserve to spend Saturday enjoying life. And with that, I decided that I didn’t want the grave keeper’s guidance in finding the location of my father’s resting place. Not because I didn’t need it. But because I was too embarrassed to admit that I needed it. As I realized I’d been our there for close to an hour and had seen a couple of hundred graves, I began to get upset at myself. I’ve had the fortune of only having to attend a few funerals in my life. And the one person who helped to bring me into the world…who was buried only about 25 miles or so from where I sleep every night, couldn’t count on me to at least put a bushel of flowers on the ground in tribute of his 26 years on this earth. After all, God gave me eight years more than that as it was now. And that, too, has served as a source of guilt.
I decided that I wasn’t looking hard enough. I needed to give it another look. A more determined look. And so, as I exited the grave site — to come back around and drive in again — I gained a sense of determination. All of the Saturdays spent watching re-runs of sitcoms that I’ve laughed at a thousand times…. of watching YouTube movies and reading tech articles about gadgets that I’d be ashamed to admit I owned in five years….all of the idle time….wasted…and time that could have had fifteen minutes carved out to visit the grave. And with that, I decided that I would not leave the site — not until I found the final resting place of Gary John Grant.
On my second pass through, I decided that I would park close to the exit of the grave and then simply enter the car after I’d covered the distance of the area where I believe that he was. And with that, I started for the very first row of graves. But not without my music.
Music plays a huge role in my life and somehow I felt that I needed the comfort of music as I walked through the cemetery. I wasn’t trying to play happy music to draw my thoughts away from the death that surrounded me. Instead, I used music for the same thing that I’ve always used it for — to act as the soundtrack to my life. I’m no different from anyone else. I remember the place that I was when I heard certain songs that I’ve grown to love. In my adult years, I’ve used music to accentuate the mood. A little jazz while I clean the house. Metal while I’m angrily lifting weights. Slow R&B while I’m convincing her that it’s far too late to go home now. But for a situation like this, I wasn’t quite sure what music to search for. And so, I did what I always do. I let the iPod do the selecting.
As crazy as this may sound, I’ve enjoyed a strange relationship with my iPods over the years. I’ve been an iPod owner since they first came out in 2000. As strange as it may seem, over time, a relationship begins to form to the point when I feel as if the iPod on shuffle is able to pretty consistently pick the music that accentuates the mood that I’m feeling. (Well, of course I pick the music that ends up on the device, but I digress….) Somehow when I’m feeling rather sentimental, and usually during major times in my life lately, the right song will play and put things in perspective. The last time I felt this was before the Giants Super Bowl appearance a few months ago. In the two weeks leading up to the game, I had this feeling of being content with winning the NFC Championship. “Hey, I never thought we’d make it this far!” Who was I to ask the heavens for more? Sometimes I like to just take a late night drive. 2am. 3am. It clears my head. On the Saturday night/Sunday morning before the game, I took such a drive. 3am. Just me and the Toyota driving down a normally crowded boulevard with empty parking lots. I began to reflect on the strange season. Windows down. iPhone strapped in next to me. Music on shuffle. And then, all at once, with one uninitiated track change, I knew we were going to win….because Phil Collins began to sing….
“I can feel it…com-min in the air of night…oh Lo-ord.
Well I been waiting for this moment…all my life….oh Lo-ord.
Can’t you feel it, com-min in the air of night….oh Lo-ord….oh Lo-ord.”
Yeah, I know. Sounds silly to most. But right then, I knew the Giants were going to win the next day. Yeah, I was nervous, right up until the end of the game. But the music gave me confidence somehow. And at the grave site, it wasn’t any different.
I don’t really cry when I think about my father. And I didn’t think today was any different. Despite my strange desire to drive into the cemetery, I didn’t feel much like crying. I didn’t feel much of anything. I just felt like I was standing there, walking through graves of other folks whose children actually cared for them. And then, I began to feel something. I felt regret. And with that, I turned on the iPod.
At first I skipped through a few tracks and I finally came across the right one… a song that just seemed to match my feelings. Vicious Traditions from The Veils played….and that took over for most of the first time through the cemetery. Somehow the line “blood red vision for all the good intentions” seemed to resonate in my mind as “blurried vision for all the good intentions”. Looking back, I realize I was torturing myself for all the years of neglect.
As the space that I had left to search began to dwindle and realizing that I was reading graves I had read the first time through, I began to get more frustrated. I needed something to match my spirit. Instead of letting the iPod do the selecting, I decided that I knew the song that fit the mood. The song of regret. The song that reminds me of all that I wished my life would be now. The song that reminded me that I’m living proof that sometimes things don’t go quite as you’ve planned. The song that almost makes me feel as if Staind wrote it, knowing I’d come in search of this grave someday….
“And it’s been awhile since I could
Hold my head up high,
And it’s been awhile since I first saw you.
And it’s been awhile since I could stand
On my own two feet again,
And it’s been awhile
Since I could call you.
And everything I can remember,
As fucked up as it all may seem,
The consequences that I’ve rendered
I stretched myself beyond my means.”
And the regret began to take hold. I should totally have been someplace else in life right now. I’m pretty much alone. I should have been in much better shape right now. I’m not really happy about anything other than technology, being alive, and the promise of something better someday. And that regret only took root stronger as I realized that I was now more than halfway through the grave…an hour had passed…. and I wasn’t any closer to finding the grave.
I saw a few ‘Grant’ stones, but none were my dad’s. I began to get frustrated. I was frustrated that I didn’t even know if I was looking in the right area. And even though I now am pretty sure that I was, I even began to wonder if I was in the right cemetery. This definitely wasn’t the trip that I had planned for it to be. And the frustration began to get real as I got closer to the car. I wasn’t any closer to the grave and it was starting to get dark. The sun was going down. I couldn’t even do this right. And Staind continued to play….
“I cannot blame this on my father,
He did the best he could for me…”
And just then I had thoughts of just “ending things”. What could you do with the next thirty years of your life that would be any better than the first? I’d never really ever had thoughts of wasting life and I believe life isn’t really ours to take. Even our own. But this is probably the closest I’ve been to thinking about “making those plans”. And just then I realized that as much as the song, fit I needed to change the track. And quick. Eight times on repeat walking through a cemetery was enough. I decided that I’d just skip through some tracks and look for some inspiration. Something to cheer me up. Anything. And after skipping through a few tracks, that inspiration came. It took about ten or so times pushing the next-track button, but then that inspiration…and a strange feeling of comfort… came over me in the form of a song written and released just three years after my birth…and his death…
Carry on my wayward son,
There’ll be peace when you are done,
Lay your weary head to rest,
Don’t you cry no more.”
It’s hard to describe how I felt at that moment, but strangely I felt almost as if he were there. No, I didn’t get any closer to finding our how tall he was or if his voice was like mine, but I did strangely feel a presence. I’m sure Christ was covering me there. He’s never let me down and I’m sure He wouldn’t then with me feeling as vulnerable as I was in a cemetery alone. Whether it was simply Christ’s comfort alone or my father’s as well I’m not quite sure about. But I do know that at that moment — much like that night in the car when Phil Collins music was playing — my spirit felt as if there was a reason for me to keep going. There’s something that I’m here to do. And while that point in my existence might not have reached me yet, the feeling I had gave me some insight that it’s something good. Better still, I had a feeling as if I was headed in the right direction. As depressed as I’ve been lately, I’m eternally thankful for that moment of clarity. And I know God was there and He knew that I needed it. No, I hadn’t been crying while I was erratically trying to find a stone lodged in the ground with an etching from 30-plus years ago — but I was now.
I’m not quite sure why, but God gave me a sense of relief….”lay your weary head to rest….don’t you cry no more.” I’m not a person who wallows in self pity, but I have been beating myself up pretty bad about a lot of things lately. Things done. Things not done. Just everything. But I thank Him for giving me a bit of peace — even if only for that day — from some of the demons that haunt me.
And at that moment I decided to forgive myself. I decided that even though I didn’t find the grave, at least I had come. And while I didn’t come with flowers or a six pack of Heineken, I came with an open heart and without obligation. At least I had taken the time to seek. And I had the best of intentions. “Good intentions“, as The Veils had reminded me earlier. I decided it was time to leave.
I turned around and began to walk back to my car and saw something strange in the sky….
I had seen sunsets before, but there was something odd about this one. I couldn’t quite capture in these pictures the live image that I saw, but behind a wall of clouds was the sun. It looked almost like fire peeking through this strip between the clouds. It wasn’t the most beautiful sunset that I had ever seen. But it was unique. And as you can see from the images, as I walked closer to my car, the sun lit up the sky even more brightly than it had been. And almost like the rainbow that signified the covenant between God and man to Noah, this sunset seemed to signify something for me as well.
I’m not done searching for the place where my father’s remains were placed yet. Perhaps the stone is simply missing. Or maybe you have to pay these folks every ten years for rent or else they move your kin. Maybe the keeper realized that after decades of people with no visits, perhaps he’d just use the space for someone whose family would actually visit. Whatever the reason, hopefully I’ll understand. It’s all a strange tradition to me, anyhow. I’d rather my friends remember me in spirit than come and visit the place where they dumped my lifeless body. But I guess it’s something that we just do.
And I’m sure that I was in the right place at the right time. Even leaving the cemetery — 6:40 at night, I found a sign: “NY State Inspections”.
“You guys do inspections?”
“Well, it’s kinda late, man.”
“I know. I can bring it back. Let me know when you’re open.”
“Okay, drive it in, sir.”
And despite the fact that I had a few things that probably should have caused me to fail, I’m sure God’s favor extended. My 2009 inspection sticker is there to prove it. I consider that a celestial gift from my father.