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A slim, cream-colored envelope arrived amid the circulars and bills. The upper left hand corner was embossed with black type bearing the address of the Town of Peterborough Cemetery Department. I have paid this bill automatically every year, but not given much thought to the ties that bring it to my mailbox.

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My great-grandfather, Lucius died long before I was born. I know he sailed around the Cape in a whaling ship because he kept a journal. When he returned he settled in the house he built in Peterborough. His first wife died in childbirth and Lucius was left with a baby. He hired a young girl, Charlotte or Lottie as she was known, from a farm in western Massachusetts.  Lottie moved in and cared for the child.  Benjamin died at fourteen years old. Two years later, Lottie gave birth to my grandfather, Herman known as “Brim”. She was thirty years old and Lucius was fifty-eight. I don’t know many other details, Ancestory.com would be a good place to start, I suppose. The point of my story is not just that the history is fading, but that these people live on because I pay for a stone marker. I want the next person who receives this envelope, when I am no longer here, to know who and why.

Hospice taught me to pay attention to the details we all wish to avoid. In planning for the inevitable, we all become a bit more comfortable with the finality. The stone is a record of history and genetics that should be preserved and honored. There will be no more names added. Though I’ve lost all but one from that side of my family, the truth is that neither of my grandparents are really buried there. Brim,  my grandmother, and their only child – my mom, are resting peacefully with my dad and brother in a lovely pond in New Hampshire. The move to cremation and scattering of the ashes in a sacred place occurred entirely in my lifetime so I never thought about burial.

When the invoice arrived for another twelve months of “perpetual care,” I decided to visit the plot. I came away wondering, if I have lost this much of the story of my family in three generations, what of my story? Who will be the person who pays this bill? Will they know I felt so strongly that the story should live on? Will there be a marker somewhere else for me that will at the very least tell the world the dates I was on this earth? That is why I write. Like my great-grandfather before me, and my grandfather who chronicled his drive across the country in the 1920’s and my mother who wrote stories and letters. Beyond the granite, we have the words that will survive into the hereafter.

5 comments on “The Hereafter

  1. Touring NH says:

    I never knew that you had to pay for “perpetual care” of a grave marker. What happens if someone decides they no longer want to pay for it? What does “perpetual care” entail? I plan on skipping the stone marker and joining my mother is the Gulf of Mexico.

    1. I much prefer your final resting place, Laura. I never really questioned what “perpetual care” means. I guess if you no longer pay they stop cutting the grass.

  2. I see many old headstones in my travels and I think the town must take care of the graves whether or not anyone pays. The alternative would be a patchwork quilt of mown and unmown graves and I’ve never seen a cemetery looking like that.

    1. That is a good point, and doesn’t part of our town tax go to cemetery upkeep? Hmm, wondering just what I am paying for every year…

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