This week’s project took me and my best friend, Irene, to a graveyard. I don’t really make it a practice to hang out with the deceased, but with today being Memorial Day in the United States, we figured that it would be appropriate to tie the blog in with the holiday.
Irene, whom I’ve known since I lived in Maryland as a teenager, is one of the most selfless, giving people I’ve ever met. So it didn’t surprise me when she came up with a great way we could honor someone in conjunction with Memorial Day.
Following her suggestion, we each bought some bouquets of flowers on Saturday. The next day, we met at her house for a delicious dinner and then headed over to a nearby cemetery. Our goal was to find someone there that we could support who had lost a loved one. To have them share some stories about the person and put the flowers on the grave to honor their life. We said a little prayer that we’d be led to someone who could benefit from the concern and the flowers, and set out… not really sure how things would unfold.
It was already busy, and most of the graves were covered with flowers, flags, and other signs of respect and remembrance. There were a lot of families gathered at grave sites- children running loose and husbands and wives with their arms wrapped around each other. We chatted with a few of the families, but didn’t feel like they were the people we needed to meet.
As I looked across the cemetery, I noticed a solitary man looking at a group of graves that were bare. I was about to suggest we go talk with him, when Irene asked, “What about that man over there?”, pointing to the same man.
As we approached, he started to step away to allow us time at the graves. When we told him we were coming over to see him, he looked confused, trying to place our faces. We assured him that we hadn’t met before, and said we were interested in hearing about the lives of the people he’d come to visit. His face lit up and he went to get his wife, saying that she’d want to be a part of the conversation.
We learned their names were Bryce and Haun Chamberlain, and that they’d spent all weekend traveling around Utah and Idaho visiting around fifty graves of their ancestors. They had a yearly tradition of growing roses and taking them to all of the sites, but because it was so cold this year, the roses hadn’t bloomed and they had nothing to put on the graves. When we told them we’d brought the flowers for that purpose, they were touched and more than happy to talk with us.
They shared stories about the family we were standing over- how the husband had joined the LDS church overseas and had come to America to join the Mormon pioneers. They talked about how he had almost starved, had been extremely persecuted by mobs for his belief, lost all of his possessions, and still maintained his faith. They talked about how his wife had gotten sick and died, arranging before she passed for her husband to marry another woman who would take care of the children. (Both women and the children were also buried there.) So many stories of courage and heroism and faith. I was glad that their descendants continued to honor them by visiting their graves yearly. And I was glad we could share in their memory that evening.
Bryce and Haun were extraordinary people themselves. They had spent much of their lives in service to other people, and were well-versed in history. Bryce, who was a film and stage actor, spent several years teaching at my alma mater and had traveled the world depicting historical figures in dramatic settings. He gave us copies of CDs he’d been featured on, doing voiceover work for the same purpose. We also exchanged contact information, and plan to go see Bryce in a week at one of his performances.
After we left Bryce and Haun, we went over to the house of a widow in Irene’s neighborhood named Carmen. We took her the last remaining bouquet of flowers and asked her to tell us about her late husband.
She surprised us by pulling out a book she had made to honor his life. It contained some of their life history and his own photographic work, which was excellent. She talked about their relationship, and it was beautiful. She said she never had to worry about him being unfaithful to her. Once at a party, she was with a group of ladies that was slightly drunk. One of the ladies asked her if she was happy with her husband. When she said she was, the lady said she was just checking, because there were several of them that wanted to take her place. But he only had eyes for Carmen. It was no wonder… she was an amazing lady.
It was a good night, hearing inspiring stories of courage, faith, determination, and love. Irene said that she wanted to make it a yearly tradition on Memorial Day and I had to agree. Despite our intent, I think we ended up being the beneficiaries that evening.