‘Twas the Week Before Halloween
‘Twas the week before Halloween, and all over the world, people are gearing up for celebrations and spooky plans galore! Halloween is one of our favorite times of year, because there’s so much to do! Haunted houses, costume parties, fall festivals, trick-or-treating, various spiritual gatherings… there are enough Halloween activities to make the holiday a month-long event (as we love to do)!
However, we won’t be discussing any of those activities in this piece. Instead, we’d like to tell you a tale… based on a VERY true story from one of our very own staff members. So, grab a snack and a warm blanket, and settle in!
The Cemetery Angel
(told from the P.O.V. of the staff member to whom it happened)
My two-year-old son died several years ago, and it’s always been exceptionally difficult to visit his grave. As his mother, that has always made me feel terrible, especially when I go months (or, most recently, over a year) without making the trip. When I do go, I prefer to go alone, and usually at night, or at lease close to sunset. The cemetery is located in a very small southern town, and the locals are quite superstitious, which means that the nearby cemeteries are always deserted long before sunset. This particular evening was no exception. It was also raining, which added an extra layer of insurance that the place would be void of (living) people.
The location of my son’s grave in proximity to the circular driveway that winds through the cemetery allows me to pull up right in front of his headstone, without impeding traffic. That evening, I did just that, and took out two little toy cars and a piece of his favorite candy that I had brought to leave on his stone. I had also written an apology letter to him for not visiting more often and took my laptop with a short play list of music to (try to) sing to him while I was there. I took one final glance around the small cemetery (ensuring that I was completely alone), then spread out a thick towel on his grave and commenced my gift placing and letter reading.
I got through the letter (relatively) tearlessly and went to my car to turn on the play list. Since it was raining, I left my laptop in the driver’s seat and rolled down the passenger side window. The music wafted through the open window, and I resumed my seat on the dampening towel. I took a couple of deep breaths and began singing along with the list. My hoodie was, of course, getting soaked, but I barely noticed.
About halfway through the second song, I began to cry… not a few streaks of tears, but hysterical sobs (as is often the case, and the reason I only visit the cemetery alone, rather than subjecting other people to such a scene). I miss him every single day, but all of a sudden, I felt like I couldn’t live one more day in a world without him. Moreover, I didn’t WANT to. Between sobs, I began to beg (I don’t know exactly who I was begging) to let me die. I know that, at the time, I truly meant it… and I (now) believe my son did, too…
The next thing I knew, the rain seemed to have stopped, and there was a cool arm wrapping itself around my shoulders. I looked up to see a woman leaning over me, in her early 40’s or so, holding a black umbrella so that it covered us both, her face as streaked with tears and snot and mascara as mine. I never heard her vehicle pull up, and I had no idea who she was… but the kindness of her action and the shared pain made me jump up and throw my own arms around her neck. We embraced and sobbed for 10 minutes, and she kept rubbing my back and telling me everything was ok.
Finally, when she and I could breathe without crying, we exchanged names (for the sake of privacy, I will not mention hers) and our stories of tragic loss. She pointed out the grave she had come to visit, which was just a few feet from my son’s headstone. Turns out, her son had died in a terrible accident in his early 20’s. She told me that she knew the sound of a grieving mother’s tears, and that was what prompted her to approach me. I thanked her profusely. Then, even though I had not said a word about how I had wanted so desperately to join my son just before she walked up, she put one hand on my face and met my eyes with a fixed, firm gaze.
“Your boy isn’t ready for you to join him just yet, sweetheart,” she said. “You have too much left to do here to make him proud. Remember that.”
Stunned, I just stared at her and nodded. Shortly afterward, she bid me a tearful goodbye and told me that if I ever needed her, to find her there and let her know. I watched her walk away, thinking about how odd what she had said was. Only then did I notice that I still could not see any other vehicles in the cemetery… but I wasn’t terribly surprised. The cemetery is, admittedly, located within walking distance of a few small houses. I quickly forgot the strangeness of the woman’s words and, a little while later, I left the cemetery, too.
The next day, I felt that I should do something to express my gratitude for the comfort, and (I still believe) for saving my life. I stopped and bought a couple of roses; one for her son’s grave, and one for her. I had also written a brief note for her and sealed it in a Ziplock bag to protect it from the weather (I had no idea when she might come back, and I wanted to ensure that she got the note).
I pulled up in front of my son’s grave again, and noticed something that hadn’t been there the day before: a custom-made teddy bear, with a baseball sewn to one paw, a bat to the other, and an oversized blue crocheted baseball uniform shirt with the letter “H” embroidered on it, . (My son’s first name starts with “H”). I was quite surprised, and very puzzled, but I decided to try to solve that mystery once I left the cemetery. I picked up the bear and took it with me to the gravestone the woman had identified as her son’s.
I knelt in front of the headstone and read it. There, in chiseled letters, was the woman’s son’s name, just as she’d said. However, I noticed that there were two columns on the stone, and another name. I was confused; the woman had only mentioned her son.
I was in the middle of assuming that the other name belonged to a spouse or parent… and froze solid, suddenly freezing-to-the-bone cold, despite the bright sunshine that had replaced the gray drizzle from the evening before. The second name on the stone, dated just a couple of years after the young man’s death, was the woman’s… and in the tall vase crafted into the large headstone, there were no flowers. Instead, there was a black umbrella, with water droplets still drying…
Later, I learned that the teddy bear was NOT placed at my son’s grave by ANYONE I know. To this day, none of my friends, family, co-workers or acquaintances know anything about the bear, or how it got there…
Awwww, that’s such a sweet and sad tale.