A 'Grave' Situation

This photo taken on March 26, 2011 shows a Chinese woman placing flowers at the grave of a loved one at the Babaoshan cemeter
This photo taken on March 26, 2011 shows a Chinese woman placing flowers at the grave of a loved one at the Babaoshan cemetery in Beijing to mark the annual Qing Ming (Ching Ming) Festival, or grave-sweeping day. Visiting the graves of ancestors during Qing Ming, this year marked on April 5, is an age-old Chinese tradition dating back 2000 years to the Han dynasty. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

"Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep..."

Thus begins a famous and beautiful poem written in 1932 by Mary Elizabeth Frye; a verse that my late husband Mike shared with me while battling ALS. He believed in the message and philosophies of that poem with all of his heart... as do I.

There are those who find a great deal of comfort in visiting the gravesites or memorial sites of their loved ones, which is a wonderful thing. Many religions (mine among them) consider the visitation of graves an extremely important ritual. Some visit to experience quiet reflection and to feel connected to their beloved, while others invite friends for picnics or "mini-parties." There is no doubt that visiting the gravesite of a loved one brings a large measure of peace and consolation to those coping with the pain of loss.

I am not among those people.

I realize that this particular confession may elicit raised eyebrows; particularly among those who regularly visit the graves of their loved ones. However, as I always encourage anyone experiencing bereavement of any kind to seek comfort in their own way, any raised eyebrows as to my particular pursuit of comfort simply don't bother me.

What is disturbing are people who feel either need or entitlement to dictate exactly how others should be expressing their grief and seeking comfort... and if those expressions of grief do not fall in line with these generally-unsolicited opinions, it is somehow indicative of the love (or alleged lack thereof) that a survivor feels for their beloved. For example, can you imagine the pain and the guilt that one widow felt when she was asked, "Why don't you ever visit his grave? Didn't you love him?" Or the utter confusion of a widower who visits his late wife's grave once a week and was confronted with, "Why are you spending all of your time at the cemetery?"

These questions (and others like them) are code for, "You are not grieving in the exact manner as I am (or would); therefore, you are grieving 'incorrectly'". In other words, because your grief perspective is unique to you, the actions that you are taking -- whatever they may be -- are perceived as "wrong." Once questioned (or accused) as to the "grave" commitment, too many once again find themselves in places of pain, doubt and/or writing letters that begin with, "Is it OK if I do/don't visit my loved one's grave?"

You know, every year for the holidays, I make a special cinnamon bread (because apparently, if I don't make the bread, my family will stage an ugly protest). I have been making this bread for over twenty years; however, when it comes time to make the bread, I have to get out the well-worn cookbook to review the recipe, even though the recipe should have been committed to memory long ago.

Similarly, and although I have repeated the same words over and over to what are now many thousands of people... I again gently remind that:


As long as you are not coping with your grief in a destructive manner, however you choose to grieve, seek support, find solace and ultimately heal... is your choice. No other person on this planet can tell you how to feel, how to grieve and most importantly, how you should or should not be pursuing whatever it is that brings comfort to you. This most definitely includes visiting the gravesite(s) of your loved ones... or making the choice not to visit.

When it comes to my own healing journey, my comfort comes in the happy memories of Mike when he was healthy and vital. I picture him completely free of the illness that ravaged his body and stole him from this life. I see him on the back of a horse sitting tall in the saddle, wearing a crisply triple-starched Western shirt, perfectly creased jeans, a Stetson hat and chasing his beloved dogs that preceded him in death. I envision Mike and my daddy (who died within four months of one another) regaling each other with boring stories over cold beers and barbeque, as they so often loved to do. My comfort comes from the glimmers of Mike that I see in our daughter; an adolescent when her daddy passed away and now a young adult, whose language and expressions are ever-so-slightly tinged with his inflections (especially when she's angry, which is actually pretty funny). In my heart, in my mind and in my "peaceful place", Mike does not lie in a grave and it is for that reason that I do not visit. His gravesite is simply not a place of peace for me.

All of that said, would I ever deign to influence another person to find their comfort in the exact same way as I do -- or worse, criticize another for the frequency of gravesite visits?


Like the holiday bread recipe, this is where you must take out your own healing journey "recipe" and review it carefully. You must seek your comfort in your way and in your time; regardless of the opinions of anyone around you, who I will again remind you ...are not you. Find your peace wherever and however you can and revel in the warmth of your treasured memories... not with those who choose to be anything less than supportive of you and your ultimate healing.

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

And in my heart... there is peace.

For more information about Carole Brody Fleet and Widows Wear Stilettos, please visit www.widowswearstilettos.com

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