Many years ago, I was part of the horticulture crew at a beautiful old cemetery. Our small team was responsible for the planting and care of acres of ornamental flower beds. We worked from April until the ground froze or the budget ran out. I loved the work.
At the peak of summer, my job was to plant and tend the “customer beds” – grave side flower beds that families hired the cemetery to plant and care for each year. After a few weeks I knew my route by heart, often by the family names etched into the stones. I often wondered about the people laid to rest there. What was their story? Did family still come by to pay their respects? Did anyone alive now know these people personally, or were they simply a name in the family’s history?
After my weekly rounds, I would join my friend in the front section of the cemetery across from the main office. Anchored by a pergola and waterfall, the area was high profile and therefore high priority. Lovingly weeding and edging the flower beds, we took our jobs seriously. Sweeping walkways and brushing off memorial plaques, we almost grew accustomed to the smoke of the crematorium.
So many visitors had the same initial impression. “Someone’s having a barbecue!” they would exclaim. We would smile knowingly and say nothing. We always knew when the pieces clicked. “That’s not a barbeque… is it?” Another kind smile.
We began to recognize our regular visitors and to know parts of their stories. The elderly lady with grey hair and sad eyes who visited her husband’s grave every day, heart broken. The younger man who paid respects to his late wife on Friday mornings, searching for company. We worried about them if they didn’t come at their regular times. Slowly, the frequency of their visits would taper off and we knew their healing had begun.
We were able to watch ducks nest in a graveside planter; a mamma squirrel moving her babies one at a time, wrapped around her neck like a scarf; the fox loping between the gravestones.
The work we did there filled me up like no other job I have had. My friend and I would joke that we typically did one of two things – made the green spaces brown by weeding the flower beds or made the brown spaces green by planting. I enjoyed being surrounded by old trees, open space and fresh air.
It was satisfying work. We could see the difference we had made at the end of the day. And I knew we were helping people by giving them a beautiful space in which to grieve.