Finding Closure: How a Gravestone Helped Me Say Goodbye


Just by chance, the grave plots my parents purchased happen to be near my home, so it only made sense that after my father’s death that I would be the one to drive to the cemetery to meet the funeral home’s representative to determine the exact location of their plots. When I arrived, an older man climbed out of the funeral home van parked alongside a grassy area. I waited nearby as he and his assistant tromped about the grass with a measuring tape and clip board, arguing back and forth about where the grave was located. As I stood there listening to their bickering, a sense of indignity swelled up inside. This might be just a  job for them, but it was my father they were talking about, and their callous attitude was painful to witness. I kept up a brave face, but the little girl inside wanted to kick one of them in the shins and tell them to shape up and show some respect. (I’m really glad the little girl inside didn’t win that particular inner battle.)

After the coworkers finally agreed upon the exact location of the plots my parents purchased some forty-odd years ago, the gentleman used his foot to push aside the grass and uncover a small metal plate marking their eventual final resting places. After verifying the location imprinted on the metal place, he kicked the grass back in place and bent over to press a thin wire in the ground with a white flag attached. The name Sasser was scrawled in black sharpie across the attached thin square of fabric.  It was all so matter of fact, just another day, another coffin to bury in the ground with only a last name on a piece of fabric to give that coffin any identity of the life that was buried inside.

A couple of days later, we buried my father with our family and dear friends gathered together to remember the man who had loved me from the day he and my mother brought me home. It was a hard day, but it helped to be surrounded by those who loved and respected him. After the last visitor said their goodbyes and went home, I drove the few blocks back down to the cemetery to make sure the workers had finished their work. As I walked among the pots of flowers strewn over the newly laid patch of grass, it somehow felt as if my dad had just disappeared. Even as the edges of the grass grew back and blended in over the following weeks, I would find myself driving out to his grave just to make sure things were okay. Sometimes on really hard days, I would go and simply sit nearby the tiny patch of grass where he was buried. It made the ache a little less, the worry a little less heavy, just to sit there in the quiet.

And finally today when I visited my father’s grave, his marker was in place. As I approached and saw the bronze and marble marker, I expected to experience a new wave of grief. Instead I felt relief. When I saw his name emblazoned on the bronze plate along with the words reminding the world for generations to come that this man, Charles Paul Sasser, this soldier who served his country, this man buried in this place, this man was a beloved husband and father. With his marker in place, I finally found closure.

Today I found a moment in which I could rest. My father’s grave is no longer a place where he has simply disappeared from this earth but instead a place of acknowledgment. And that marker on the ground? It is simply an extension of the permanent mark he left on my own heart and in those who he loved, and I can finally be at peace with that.


Saying Goodbye One Day at a Time

It’s an odd, thing, this process of grief. I was prepared to miss my father – and I have. Sometimes it’s a painful hole; others, it’s the quiet understanding that I am a little more alone in the world than I was when he was was here. But there are these odd moments when it still hits completely out of the blue, and the grief hits like a sledgehammer. The tears come without notice – and without the ability to stop them. I wasn’t really prepared for that.

I was recently on a crowded flight watching what is a light-hearted, fun story of a family in the eighties. It’s more about the laughs – and the bad fashion and hairstyles – than about anything of real depth. So it took me quite by surprise when a scene at the end of a recent episode caused me to burst into tears – while passengers nearby looked at me with a mixture of discomfort, annoyance and pity.

Maybe it was knowing that there isn’t a father there anymore to come rescue me. I don’t really know. There are days that the ache for what will never be again is a constant companion, and then there are times that I do ok – only to be surprised by how close to the surface the sorrow still is. All I know is that through it all, I am so grateful to have had a father worth grieving over his loss. That is the real gift in all of this – the understanding that his was a precious presence in my life, and his influence will carry on with me long after my last goodbye.

Not Quite Ready to Finish the Long Goodbye

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I have a stack of unopened sympathy cards sitting on my kitchen counter. They’ve been there for almost a month now. Some have arrived in my mailbox and found their way onto the pile, and my mother has delivered a few more.

I can’t bring myself to open a single one of them.

Grieving isn’t new for me, and it’s been a long, long road – this journey of saying goodbye to my father. Ronald Reagan called his Alzheimers the “long goodbye”, and he was right. Since the day my mom called to tell me the news six years ago, it’s been an incredibly difficult, painful but often beautiful experience.

20130517-192504.jpgI remember the first time I met my parents for breakfast – something that had become a weekly tradition – and my dad couldn’t say my name. He knew me and enjoyed our conversation, but he just couldn’t form words the way he used to. He was restless, so we left the table and found a seat on the bench in the front of the restaurant while waiting for my mom to finish up. We sat there holding hands, much like we had when I was a little girl. No words needed, just love flowing between us. It was a sad but lovely day, because I understood that even if my father couldn’t say my name, he could still love me.

I recall the family dinner where the noise and chaos got the best of my father. He sat on the couch, rocking back and forth, a few stray tears wending their way down his cheeks. My mom squatted in front of him, put her forehead against him, and spoke softly while she stroked his head until his distress was gone. It made me cry, but it was also the manifestation of true love. I gained a deep respect for my mother that day, because I witnessed her vows of “for better or worse” lived out with tenderness and kindness. I understood that while Alzheimers might changed the dynamics of relationships, it couldn’t change the foundation of relationships.

IMG_3479And then there were the field trips that Dad and I took while my mom ran errands or went to appointments. When something we did sparked a memory, he got excited and – using sweeping gestures, pointing, and single telegraphed words – struggled to share that memory with me. I loved those times together, because they gave me back a tiny piece of my father who was leaving just a little bit more every day.

And I remember my last real visit with my dad. I’d flown in late the night before from a business trip to New York City, and I hurried to my parents’ home before a busy day of meetings began. I sat and just held his hand as he lay in the hospital bed that had been moved into the guest room. I told him how much I loved having him as a father, and that as a child I completely took him for granted. I told him that I thought it was the best compliment anyone could pay their father, because it meant that he was my rock, that I never worried if he’d come home. It never occurred to me that it was possible for fathers not to be consistent and reliable. I never doubted that there would be food on the table or clothes or vacations. And when I messed up, he forgave me and helped me solve my problems. Tears flowed freely for both of us as I talked, and he mouthed a simple thank you to me. It broke my heart that I was losing my father, but I felt so very blessed to have the privilege of telling him what he meant to me.

And so a month after his funeral, the sympathy cards sit unopened. Maybe some day I’ll have the fortitude to read them, but not today.

Today I’m just not quite ready for the long goodbye to be completely over.

You can find this essay on Huffington Post, where Lisa blogs about life, being a mother, wife, friend and woman in tech, and the world of open data and civic tech.