Thursday, 2 June 2016

Tranquility in Tending our Cemetery

If you've read Hutterite Diaries, you know I enjoy working in our cemetery. Here's an excerpt from the book:
On a Hutterite colony it’s very common for members to volunteer at different tasks in addition to their daily duties. I’ve been tending the flowers at the community cemetery. I love the tranquility there, especially in the evening when the sun sinks low in the western sky. It creates lace-like shadows on the soft, cool grass.
From time to time, children come to help with mowing the lawn or weeding. One day two schoolboys worked with me. One of them proved to be a good little worker. But despite all my reprimands, the other one was clearly not in a working mood. The ripe raspberries that kept calling him from across the road didn’t help either.
As we worked, the boys asked many questions about the people resting in the cemetery. Children always enjoy listening to these stories, especially if the person is a relative. “These markers are stones with stories,” I told them. “This stone says Edward and Marvin Maendel. They’re my little brothers who died in a house fire many years ago.” The boys were silent. The past touched the present for a moment.
One year, my mom, Aunt Margaret, and I were planting flowers on the graves when the German teacher stopped by. “I think you could use some help here. I’ll go round up some boys for you,” he offered.
“That should go well,” I chuckled as I watched him leave. “I wonder if he knows what he’s up against. He’ll have to break up the Hutterite Grey Cup Game of summer.” Watching them, you’d think there’s almost as much at stake as in the Canadian Football League’s Grey Cup game.
Nevertheless, in a few minutes, I was pleasantly surprised when a parade of bikes headed our way. “How did you pull this off?” I asked.
“Wasn’t too difficult,” their teacher said. “I just told them you needed help and that with so many working together, not much precious game time would be lost.” Soon the place was bustling like a beehive. Some were planting and watering, while others were digging around the trees and adding rich soil from the cow pasture. Before long, the boys could return to the battle for bragging rights, with their impromptu, longer-than-usual half-time intermission behind them.
“Community action,” I mused when we were all done. It’s another reminder of how invaluable multi-generations working together is to our communal life. In this way, tenets of our faith, values, work ethic, culture, and heritage are passed on to our children. Bridging past with present, gravestones evoke memories of those who walked before us and who call us to continue their legacy; “impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:7). 
Dad, who lived by the maxim “Arbeit macht das Leben süβ” (Work makes life sweet), must have been smiling. Working together, three generations had transformed our cemetery, adding lovely splashes of color to the neatly trimmed carpet of grass. 

We've known for some years that our cemetery needs some major landscaping, and this is the year we tackled the task. Each plot has a concrete frame which has a spot for the headstone and room for plants. Thus, each grave has its own little flower bed. For many years these flower beds had little shrubs, to which I added petunias every spring. Part of the changes meant the removal of the shrubs, as they were getting too big, and stole space and seemingly nutrients from the petunias. There were also some low spots, that over the years have caused the frames to sink and become uneven. 
Our colony is 81 years old and our cemetery has 22 graves, a fact which people always find interesting. So there were not too many plots to mark, since the frames and headstones had to be removed for landscaping. It was a wonderful feeling to get this done and to have so many willing workers to help with this huge undertaking - community action again! Watching all this activity in the cemetery evoked mixed feelings. On the one hand I knew the work needed to be done, on the other it seemed we're disturbing the final resting place of the people buried there. But I decided the disturbance is for a good cause and is being done in honour of our loved ones who've passed on. And when all will be done, the place will look so much nicer than it did before.

After adding new soil, leveling it out, and putting the frames and headstones back in place, it's beginning to look a lot better. Now all that's left to do is plant grass, flowers and a nice fireball maple tree.It's a gorgeous sunny day, after a few days of rain. And I'm looking forward to completing the task soon.

In books, movies and in real life as well, when someone visits the grave of a loved one, it always paints a poignant scene for me. Last year while I was watering the flowers in our cemetery one evening, a visitor from another colony stopped by. After greeting me, he slowly made his way to his grandparents graves. He removed his hat and stood there silently for a few minutes. His grandparents have been gone for many, many years. Knowing this man's approximate age, and looking on the dates on the graves, he most likely hardly knew his grandparents, yet he couldn't go past this place without stopping to visit their graves. It's poignant moments such as this one that add to the tranquility of this memory-garden which always 'whispers sweet peace to my soul'.

I hope your own memory-garden does the same for you.



  1. What a lovely cemetery. I find great comfort in going to the cemetery where much of my family is buried. It is in the country up on a hill. A wonderful place to reflect and refresh.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, Michelle! I agree, cemeteries are great place to reflect, especially on how the people resting there have impacted your life.

  3. Beautiful post Linda. Well written and inspiring as usual. For those of us with loved ones buried far away it offers a little insight into what those moments might feel or look like. Lots of love!

  4. Thanks, Dora! Good to hear from you! I never even thought about the feelings you describe...cemeteries really can evoke a variety of emotions, which can also vary from person-to-person.


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