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Honoring Memorial Day at a Beloved Cemetery

Celebrating both family and military veterans in a cemetery outside Pasadena, California.

Memorial Day flags
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There’s an old cemetery at the base of the mountains in Pasadena, California, that pops up in the movies or a TV show every once in a while. I remember seeing it on “Six Feet Under” several years back. There might be a celeb or two buried there, but I think of it as home.

My grandparents used to take me to it when I was a kid. We’d run around the gravestones and they’d tell me who was who and who was buried where and how that relative was related to me. It was a way of getting a bit of family history.

My great-grandfather was there—someone I never knew. He’d been a drummer boy back in the Civil War and came out to Pasadena in the 1880s, eventually becoming mayor. My grandmother told me about her older brothers and older sisters, one who was named Cal for this new state they called home.

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My grandfather himself was a veteran of World War I and as a member of the American Legion, he made sure that every vet buried in that cemetery had an American flag over their grave on Memorial Day. Flags that we were allowed to gather at the end of the day.

He affectionately called us “you old stick-in-the-muds” and somehow, of course, pulling the flags out of the damp earth and that phrase went hand-in-hand.

Cemeteries might seem like morbid places but I never thought that. They seemed to be full of life, full of flowers, full of lichen-encrusted angels looking out over the living and the dead. Jesus said “I have come that you might have life and might have it more abundantly.” Life—and death—in all its abundance was here.

It was on a day in May almost two years after my grandfather died that my grandmother went to the old cemetery to put flowers on his grave. At the end of the day she was still there, lying with her eyes closed on the grass. The caretaker thought she was perhaps taking a little nap. As it turned out, she had died right there, on May Day, at the place where her loved ones took their eternal rest.

Happy Memorial Day. Prayers for all those loved ones who died serving our country. Prayers of eternal rest.

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