Friday, June 20, 2008
I Wish I Didn't Feel Scared
Today I went to the cemetery to water the flowers that bloom in honor of my babies. As the boys and I neared the heavy wrought-iron gates, I drove on the left side of the street to make room for an older gentleman on his bicycle who was also headed toward the cemetery. The boys waited in the air-conditioned comfort of the minivan during my quick stop, allowing themselves more time to play at nearby Mayo Park when I was done watering the flowers.
I filled the watering can with cold water from the spout that looks just like the one at the cemetery in New Ulm that I remember from times I went with my mom and my Nana to water the flowers they had planted at Grandpa Burdorf's and Uncle Dale's graves. Now so many of my cherished friends are buried nearby my grandather and my uncle: my cousin Nicole Rae Burdorf, born still years ago that seem like yesterday; my friend Chet Petersen, who died of a heart attack, when he was 31 -- my age now; my friend Jeremy Booth who died in a motorcycle accident like my uncle; my childhood idol Laura Kastmann, a beautiful cheerleader and gifted writer; Melissa Larsen's dad, an amazing pastor who died during our senior year; Ted and Jim's mom, Bettianne Wirtz, who wanted her funeral to be a celebration of life; Molly Mammen's dad, Harlan, who raised one of my best friends from high school; Erica Reiger, my classmate; Missy Linbo's parents. I bring all of them flowers in the summer. Thank goodness for the promise of Heaven.
After I finished watering my flowers, I used the leftover water to fill the pots of nearby plants. Parents or grandparents had brought geraniums, petunias, daises, pansies, and even a potted rose bush to honor the babies they missed so much. Three families I know well also have babies in this part of the cemetery. As I returned to the water spout for to fill the watering can again, I was startled to see a man wearing a bike helmet waiting there. I had not even noticed him watching me. Lost deep in thought, and concerned about my boys in the car, I didn't realize he was the same man on the bike we had passed a few minutes ago, and I didn't realize he was waiting for the watering can.
"I'm waiting to use that," he said. "Do you water all the flowers here?"
I wasn't sure if he was asking out of curiosity or impatience. "Sometimes," I told him. I felt ill-at-ease for the sake of my boys in the car. I was glad my body was in between this stranger and my vehicle. I thought I would be faster than he would.
"Are all these babies?" he asked increduously. This time, the curiosity was evident in his voice.
"Most of them," I answered. "Some of them are older."
"Are there any five year-olds?" He wondered aloud.
I could tell something was different about him, from his questions and his body language. "I don't think so," I said. "Some of the children buried here are two or three years old." I spoke those words like an old pro, not letting the pain of my answer reach my heart today. Babies. Two year-olds. Buried here. Most of the time, it's easier to think about watering flowers than to think about why.
"There is another baby section at the cemetery," I told him. "Up that way," I said, pointing to the center of the cemetery.
"More babies," he said as a statement, rather than a question.
"I'm going to water my relatives' flowers," he said. "Some of the flowers died, so my relatives planted artificial flowers instead."
"I bet they look pretty," I answered.
"Do you mind if I fill this once more?" I asked, gesturing to the watering can. "Then you can use it." There were a few more pots with drooping, thirsty flowers, and it would only take a minute to give them a drink. I was hoping some parents would be surprised and gladdened when they came to water their plants, realizing that someone had already remembered their flowers and their baby.
"I can water some of the flowers, too," he offered sincerely. He continued, "Do you have a baby here?"
"I have three babies here," I answered, my voice mixed with pride and sadness.
"What happened?" He asked me with genuine interest. His voice stumbled over the words, yet he lacked the discomfort that many adults show when they talk with parents whose children have died out of turn.
"One of them didn't have any kidneys," I explained. That's hard for anyone to understand, yet he seemed to grasp it without question.
"Oh," he said.
"The other two babies were miscarriages," I continued.
I passed him the watering can.
"There's still some water left," he noted.
I wanted to ask him about his relatives.
He tried to find the right words to ask me one more question. "Did you get any kids out of it?"
"I have two sweet, healthy boys in the car," I answered with a smile.
"How old are they?" he asked.
"Eight and four. I am so blessed to have them."
I watched him walk to one grave, then another, slowly pouring water onto the blossoming flowers. I knew I would come back next time and find out who he missed. I would walk to those graves and read the names. I would pray for that man. I wished that I didn't have to feel scared when I met a kind soul at the cemetery. I coveted his peaceful manner. I wanted to ask him to tell me a story of the person he was remembering today. I wondered if he was missing his mom or his dad or someone else who was very, very dear to him. I wondered if I would ever feel safe talking to a stranger in a cemetery. I wished society hadn't forced me to worry about personal safety and self-defense. I wanted to thank him for asking about my babies.
I am so blessed. Blessed because God has given me three angel babies in Heaven who are waiting to meet me someday; blessed because God has answered my prayers, sending me his two sweetest angels to care for on this Earth; and blessed because God sends me other angels, unexpectedly, when I need them to teach me about this amazing world.