Where will your body go?

Some people do extensive planning for what comes after death. Others leave those details to their heirs, if they’re lucky enough to have them. My mother wanted to be buried with my dad at Arlington National Cemetery. At age 95, she got her wish.

Arlington is an awesome place. From the professional, well suited civilian coordinator who made the arrangements and stayed with us until the casket was lowered into the ground, to the eight uniformed soldiers who carried her casket, to the Monseigneur who refused an honorarium for his graveside service, we could not have asked for a more respectful experience.

Every day I pass a cemetery that looks a bit or more neglected. Many cemeteries have difficulties bearing maintenance costs as costs rise and burials slow. As family members age, some find it hard to maintain a loved one’s grave. Visits become less frequent as people move or get busy with their family, career, or the living who need a helping hand. We are lucky. We’ll never need to worry our parents’ grave is being neglected, and they’ll never want for company.

At Arlington they bury the non military spouse at the same site as the spouse who served. There are more than 400,000 graves, some of them famous, most others of people known only to their families and friends.  You can’t help but feel the tremendous losses that the United States and its people have experienced in wars and undeclared conflicts. It’s an honor to bear witness to the many who have served their country with honor. Row upon row, acre upon acre of undulating, white marble stones bear silent witness to those who gave, as Abraham Lincoln once put it,  “the last full measure of devotion,” as well as those who survived their service, such as my dad and thousands of others.

I was told that more than 150 burial services are performed at Arlington every week.  There is some talk of expanding its 600-plus acres in the future. My dad loved the U.S. Army and National Guard. I know he is happy to be buried there. We believe both he and my mom are at peace; we are the ones who now suffer.

The next time I visit my hometown, where my siblings still live, my sister and I agree we will make the rounds of the graves of our grandparents, aunts, and uncles, with spades and flowers and cleaning cloths. It has been too long.

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