Groomin The Dead

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story examining lost traditions.

Submitted: April 03, 2011

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Submitted: April 03, 2011




The culture in which I grew has many strange customs, but one I didn’t come to understand until recently, was grooming the dead. The art (I do mean art) of tending to loved ones who have passed away. First we ritualize their death by gathering, crying and remembering days gone by and most important EATING. People from all around the town will bring home made treats. As if this will alleviate any grief, but none the less it does serve its purpose when stuffing your face with delectable goodies you have little time to dwell on your loss. This catharsis is then followed by placing your loved one in a body size box that will last until the second coming then placing that box inside a large concrete vault, which I am sure will baffle even the most knowledgeable archeologist in the distant future. But here (grooming the dead) is where the art plays its part in this ritual. The perpetual care of the small space assigned to your loved one. Everything is planned from type of grass to bushes that will accent the tombstone.

In August my brother died he was thirty-nine years old. Only thirty-two myself I really had never lost anyone this close to me before. I’ve pictured my life without my parents but not Ray. I planned to retire near him and enjoy our grandchildren together. At times I still can’t imagine my future without him. But there are no guarantees for any human, to paraphrase the great Shakespeare the moment we take our first breath we begin that long or sometimes short journey to death. This experience has opened my eyes to the importance of keeping those who have passed, near and dear to your heart. Now I understand why family members meticulously keep the dead. It’s a way of remembering. But as my Grandma taught me each grave deserves the same attention as the next. For example my grandma’s sister Edna whom a lot of the family did not want her buried in the cutright cemetery. The family wished to ban her due to the fact each of her children where born out of wedlock and by a different man. Grandma wouldn’t hear of it. Against the wish of the family Edna was laid to rest in the cutright cemetery just as her two brothers and youngest sister.

I remember going with my Grandma to take care for those graves of my relatives who had passed on. And as she tended to each stone and grave Grandma had interesting stories of each person who lay beneath. The care Grandma took with each grave was truly a labor of love, each space with a distinct personality. I never understood why tending to these graves is so important to her but through my own grief would find the meaning. Why she felt it necessary to drag me along every third Sunday that meaning would find its way to my heart later in life. The first time Grandma and I tended to my own brothers grave suddenly I realized why this was more than a ritual. It was a way to keep them alive. As you groom the grave you’re tending to their memory. Preserving the graves and their inhabitants for generations to come.

I was nearly eight the first time Grandma walked me down the winding dirt road to the cemetery to begin training, it was a muggy July morning. Starting just after dawn broke and not finishing until just after lunch we ate a sack lunch there among all the family. Still not knowing the importance began to feel bored and Grandma, being as wise as she was old, began telling me stories. She sat next to me pushing my sweat matter hair to the side and lovingly tucked it behind my left ear. She began telling me the story of who would be my great uncle Joe and why he was laying in the graveyard. I did not know uncle Joe was in WW II but he was and that is where he died hence the patriotic theme with a hint of young adult with a what seemed perpetually trapped at the tender age of nineteen. For uncle Joe was just nineteen when his body was shipped home from the Great War he was my Grandma’s big brother. Grandma took the most care with her own Mother and Father, two people I never knew but through Grandma’s gift of story telling and decoration I felt I had an insight that most people didn’t. I could see grandma got her tenderness from her mother and tenaciousness from her father. As Grandma spun her stories I actually began to feel I knew the people to whom I tended to. As the years past Grandma and I roles changed, I used to do a lot of sitting under a great oak, later it was Grandma spending time under the tree.

Prior to my brother’s death taking care of loved ones gone was a chore and something that I never looked forward to. Little did I know what Grandma was teaching me is the art of grooming the dead. Each stones its own identity and personality. Some of the stones innately decorated while others seem plain. By the time my brother died Grandma had left this chore at my feet, by the time Ray had passed she had become too old to tend to the graves herself. The other stones I followed Grandma’s suit and kept them the same just as she had started them. But when my brother died and it was time to groom his grave the importance of keeping his memory falls on the shoulders of the groomer. Even though I miss my brother terribly I feel a sense of connection when tending to his grave. At times I even talk to Ray and remind him he is missed in land of the living. You know some of our best conversations have taken place at his grave site; maybe this is because Ray has no ability to talk back for in life he had a nasty habit of interrupting me, being his little sister.

I’ve often wondered why Grandma chose me for such an important legacy. Quite truthfully I still don’t know I just try to keep the family cemetery as I think she would want it. But Ray’s grave site is completely different I have made it a montage of all his favorite things. Having a genuine kinship with Ray I feel I know what he would like. And when I go to his grave I find myself remembering more of the special times we shared. One thing that must be said of my relationship with my brother is he always protected me. He protected me from drugs, bad boys and poor choices. Because even though Mom and Dad were telling me the same thing Ray’s advice seemed less like a dictatorship and more like friendly advise. So Ray’s plot was covered in Kentucky blue grass and Rose bushes one red and one white less I forget the small American flags. A proud Navy man this theme seemed to fit.

Now that I am older and a little wiser I not only look forward to groomin the dead but look at it as an honor. And what would make my Grandmother proud is the fact the art is being handed down to my two children. Much like me at their age does not see the privilege in this task but see it as a burden but out of respect tag along and do as I ask. Hopefully one day they too will see the honor in tending to the generations already passed. Much like my Grandmother I share the same stories, experiences and what is being missed here on earth by these family members no longer physically at our side.

These days I’m grooming a new grave a very special grave, my Grandma’s. In my Grandma’s will she left me her tools she used only for the cemetery? I remember holding them as if they were made of gold. The first time I handled the tools as the owner I noticed the care these tools have had over the many years. Grandma’s grave was no different than any other, first thing I laid grass seed and began to plan the areas look. As I worked I saw Grandma’s personality come to life. As I grew into my role as the groomer the importance of groomin the dead became clearer each time I tended to the graves. One day I hope to pass on everything I’ve learned I’ve given to my own boys and hope they too will appreciate the importance of this task. Until then I will continue to groom the dead and share their life, memories and death.


© Copyright 2017 N Daugherty. All rights reserved.

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