When I was in college, a high school friend of mine was killed in a military training exercise. The news of his death stung. A few years later, when my dad was visiting me in DC, I suggested we go to Arlington Cemetery where Tom was buried. My dad was a high school teacher, and he had known Tom as a student. It seemed the right thing to do. To pay our respects.
As we navigated our way through the paths of Arlington, I started to feel short of breath. I couldn’t blame the hot July sun. The light-hearted conversation that had peppered our walk was silenced. I knew that if I tried to talk, my voice would catch in my throat betraying my emotions. I wanted to turn back. As we approached the grave, my anxiety was relieved by a sound. It was my dad. I could hear him crying. I realized at that moment that there was nothing “right” about what we were doing.
We should have been visiting Tom at his house. Maybe stationed in DC, newly married, a family on the way. Instead, we were standing at his grave in Arlington.
When I visit my grandparents’ graves in Michigan, I have visions of our summers at Fife Lake. I can hear their voices in my head. Tom’s grave brought thoughts of what was denied. Marriage, children, all the things that could have been. All the things that should have been.
When we view gravestones for those who died at an old age, they are markers that the person lived. For the young, a gravestone is a reminder that they died. We’ve all done it. Walked through a cemetery, scanned the dates. Clucked our tongues, shaken our heads. “Too young. “
Back in the Spring, my mom called to gently ask me if I was avoiding going back to Savannah. “Are you avoiding going to Savannah??” The girls were headed down for spring break, but work kept me in DC. Was it really work? Or was it my way of slow-walking that path in Arlington? Perhaps a combination of both. Regardless, when I finally made plans to return to Savannah for the first time since Chris died, I knew that I would need reinforcement.
Frank Logue is one of those people that God dropped into our life like a relief package behind enemy lines. The first time we met, he was standing at the door to our rented beach house on Tybee Island, outside Savannah. Frank wore Birkenstocks and shorts, perhaps hadn’t shaved in a few days. I eyed him suspiciously.
One of my biggest concerns when Chris and I first decided to go to Savannah for hospice was that we would be far away from Grace Church and our priest, Father Bob Malm, who had become a very close friend and advisor to Chris. Chris’s journey in faith was a rocky path, and I was doubtful that he’d easily connect with someone new. It certainly couldn’t mirror the friendship he’d developed with Father Malm.
Father Malm suggested I reach out to Father Frank Logue, who is the Canon to the Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia. It’s a pretty important job. Which is why I eyed him suspiciously when he showed up at our door. He didn’t really look like a priest, much less a Canon to the Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia.
I was wrong though. In addition to being a priest, Frank is a writer and a photographer. He had read Chris’s essay on Bonaventure and immediately struck up a conversation about the story of Corrine Lawton – one of the statues that’s highlighted in Chris’s essay. Like Frank, the conversation was casual, easy, and I was grateful.
Over the next few weeks, Frank would drop by to visit Chris. He was there with us the day that Chris died, and he conducted the graveside service at Bonaventure Cemetery where Chris’ ashes are buried. He seemed like the perfect person to return with me to Bonaventure. He was my reinforcement.
It was a beautiful morning, and we decided to meet early before the sun got too hot. I cried as we walked down the road toward the grave. This time, I didn’t try to hide my tears or stifle my sobs. I just let them flow.
The stone is a tall Celtic cross that Chris spent months designing. In the middle of the cross are the initials “IHS.” In His Service. The same initials that mark the baptismal font at Grace Church. I still remember Chris explaining that to me. On the ledger beneath his name, it says, “Beloved husband to Dena, loving father to Kate and Josie.” It is what he wanted. This spot, with a view of the Wilmington River, shaded by the live oaks that he loved. We chose it together. I still struggle with this place though. This great stone, this marker. I cannot help it. It’s a reminder to me that we did not find a cure, a reminder that he died.
Frank and I sat and chatted for a bit, enjoyed the view. We laughed more than we cried. Then I headed back to Chris’ parent’s house. To see the two greatest markers of Chris. One had cheerios in her hair and the other was still in bed. They are daily reminders to me that he lived.
That he still does.