Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 22, 2013

Finding peace while grieving

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — My grandmother is buried in a cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. My father at Rose Hills in Whittier, Calif. My daughter is placed in Mimosa Cemetery in Davidson, N.C.

I never thought that is how we’d put Jocelyn to rest. I’ve never visited the other cemeteries since we placed our beloved family members there. I have long planned for myself to be cremated and scattered over the coast of California, near the Pacific Coast Highway outside of San Francisco. But things have changed.

You never know how you might change your perspective about something that you’ve been clear about for decades. You never know how you might change your mind.

I’m claustrophobic. So being in a box six feet underground sounded horrible to me. Even though I knew I wouldn’t be there. Cremation, uncomfortable for some, became the only option I would consider.

Gravestones, headstones, cemeteries ... all of that was unappealing to me. Being placed where I could hear the waves crashing, watch the gorgeous sunsets over the Pacific, and smell the clam chowder and sour dough bread served daily at the Cliff House restaurant nearby — well, that sounded like a pretty good way to spend physical, if not spiritual, eternity.

But, of course, I had no plan for my daughter. We thought maybe we’d scatter her some place special to her and to our family. But we never could quite follow through with that plan. Then my youngest daughter asked what we thought about placing Jocelyn in a nearby cemetery where we could visit her. And suddenly everything changed.

I encourage everyone to think about after care — what you want done after you are gone. Make those decisions yourself and don’t leave them to others to make. Pay the bills up front and manage the details that others will not even be able to think about.

And that is the strange beauty of the way we handled, or mishandled, this. No one expects to have to make these choices for their child. It should be, of course, the other way around.

And it was impossible to make those choices in the midst of the shock and fog that enveloped our lives right after Jocelyn died. We had friends who helped with the immediate details but the final decisions we were able to make once some of that fog cleared. Jocelyn’s friends had asked where we placed her. We hadn’t, I had to explain. Sometimes they’d ask to see her bedroom, instead. Leave something there to honor her. Or just pile on her bed and share stories, laughter, and tears.

As the year anniversary approached, it became clear that we needed to do something. We needed a place for all of us to go. A couple who often likes to break with tradition, my husband and I suddenly had to embrace it.

It was a difficult and emotional process, I won’t lie. Choosing the place, ordering the stone ... it was a very challenging and painful time, making this task part of my daily business for a week or so.  My friend to whom I showed the headstone draft had to say, “Um, don’t you want to include her middle name ... your maiden name?”

“Oh my gosh, I forgot it,” I answered. “This is why I needed you.”

“Maybe you’d like something on it. We used a butterfly for my mom. I don’t think you want that but maybe something...”

“Oh, like a cross?” I answered.

“Yes,” she responded ... and she made me laugh, joking about her being the one to suggest it since she isn’t religious. You have to laugh sometimes through the tears. It really does help, as odd as it may sound.

We were on our way to the final home game for the Davidson College men’s basketball team one afternoon when we discovered that Jocelyn’s final home was ready. My youngest daughter had left before us, riding her bike to the game while we chose to drive, and noticed something along the way.

Jocelyn’s stone is there, she texted me unexpectedly. “What do you think? Are you OK?” I texted back.

“It’s perfect,” she answered.

We went directly to the cemetery which is just down the street from us and looked at it from a little distance. She was right. It was perfect. My husband and I got back into the car, surprisingly dry-eyed.

“It’s strange,” he said, breaking the comfortable silence. “That’s the first thing that has made sense in a long time.” I agreed. It felt “right,” somehow. When we placed her remains there two days later, I found myself gathering peace with each shovel of dirt. My heart felt unexpectedly lighter as we laid her to rest.

You never know how you might change your mind and your heart about things that are deeply personal and uncomfortably real. You never know what may bring you a taste of peace.

Sometimes the only certainty in the grieving process is the uncertainty. But when it feels right, you know it and can cling to it without judgment from you or from others.

Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who lives in North Carolina with her family. Contact her at