Clink. Thud. Clink. Thud. The rhythmic sound of my trowel impacting earth littered with pebbles and weeds. I discarded the debris into a bucket at my feet.
The sounds seemed to echo, momentarily filling the eerie silence of the cemetery. That kind of silence I hadn’t heard in years.
Once, it had been my constant companion in a sea of sleepless nights. Only edged by the slow ticking of the mantel clock, the fluttered heartbeat in my chest, the creak of the rocking chair as my gaze fixed unseeingly into the dark, joints straining under a death grip of the chair’s arms, holding myself together by a thread.
I paused from my labor, wiping sweat from my forehead, and gazed down at the gray slab before me and met the eyes of my daughter.
Violet eyes, like mine and my mother’s, stared back from the oval portrait encapsulated in stone, forever beholding my daughter’s youthful beauty at 17. Her senior portrait.
The wide smile I knew so well with the dimple in her left cheek that I’d kissed so many times when she was a baby my husband said it might fall off. I reach out and touch it now, warm glass from the sun filtering its rays overhead. My darling Natalie.
Ever after five years, I could close my eyes and hear her voice, feel her beside me, but then I’d open my eyes, and she was gone.
Everyone has a story. And my daughter’s ended too soon.
I dusted dirt from the base of the stone, glanced at her photo once more before kissing my fingertips to press against it. Rising, my knees popped and creaked like an old house settling into its latter years. These past years have aged me more than I’d like to admit. I hadn’t given birth to Natalie until I was nearly 45. She was our miracle baby after 20 years of marriage and countless doctor visits of disappointing news.
In my story, I must remind myself to be thankful for those 17 years—no matter how hard it hits me that she has no more years left, for some miracles are not meant to last forever.
Glancing around, I am still on my own, only endless trees lining the cemetery’s four corners. It’s not a large cemetery, but where my parents are buried as well. I tended their graves before ending at Natalie’s. I live away now, not able to come back here often.
A far corner of the cemetery yielded a cluster of trees close to the fence. I shuffled over there, weaving between tombstones of all sizes, names clearly distinguishable. I recognized many of them. I reached the fence and dumped the contents of my bucket at the base of the trees.
Then, I turned, bucket in hand, ready to leave this place, when I froze, my eyes transfixed near the fence line. Barely visible was a small stone grave marker, not much larger than a loaf of bread, no markings on it. And that’s all there was. The grave was choked with weeds, a vine snaking along one side of it. My feet moved forward as if by their own accord until I towered above it.
No one had cared for this grave, and not a single bit of evidence of who lay underneath could be found, yet I was held fast by it as if a magnet drew me.
I dropped to my knees and began tearing at the vine and tall weeds, tossing it all aside as my hands quickened in their fury of activity. I was a woman possessed, ripping and purging, as I cleaned the grave, removed its blemishes, until it could breathe. I inhaled deeply and released it slowly, measured, more controlled than I felt.
Everyone has a story—no matter how short or long, what choices we made or wish we could change. The past surrounds us. But I have learned even more so over in past years that no matter what our story holds there is grace and forgiveness and not of our own doing, but it is God’s to give, though no one deserves it. He still offers it freely to us.
For in those sleepless nights when I sat and rocked, heart numb, wishing I’d be swallowed up by the darkness, hatred choking me like the vines and weeds around the grave, that God broke through in that still small voice and said He had not forsaken me, He was there, He would take my pain, my hurt, my sorrow. He would carry it for me.
And I gave it, weight slowly lifting from my shoulders, my heart, my soul as I cried into that silent night when my burden was lifted. Forgiveness could find its way into my life, changing how I saw everything.
I rose from the grave and dusted dirt off my jeans, gathering my tools and bucket. I stared down at the grave, still carrying scars of the past, but not the burden of them. God helped me forgive, helped me let go of the deep anger and hatred that poisoned my life over bitterness for the man lying eight feet underneath my feet. The man who had murdered my daughter.