The exit for Winnie, Texas is hard to miss while driving on IH-10 toward Beaumont. For five and a half months I didn't even want to consider taking that exit as I drove back and forth from Victoria to Vidor to visit my Dad. Then one day, in the middle of August, I thought about it. The exit was coming up fast and I had to make a decision. Just then, on the radio, "Lay Down Sally", by Eric Clapton started playing; one of Mama's favorite songs. I took it as a 'sign' and headed for Winnie.
My Mom is buried in Fairview cemetery in Winnie, Texas. For months I hadn't been able to bear to visit her there, but on this day something pulled me in that direction. Although the Mama I knew and loved was gone, her body was there. I had avoided going to the cemetery because the pain of losing her was still so new. This time I felt like I might be able to handle it.
I found the cemetery and drove around slowly. I couldn't remember exactly where she had been buried. After circling around a couple of times, I found my Grandmother and Grandfather Guidry's graves. I knew she was buried near them. I stopped the car and got out. There was no one else there besides me. Everything was still and quiet.
I walked over to the gravestones. My Mom's family, the Guidry's, were buried here; Aunt Marie, Uncle Marvin, Aunt Jean, Mamaw Guidry and my Papaw Guidry. All of them,except for my Grandfather, had died of cancer. Cancer had taken Mom's life in March. I looked for her grave. I didn't see her headstone. I searched more carefully. She had to be buried here. I remembered her saying that she and Dad had plots near my Grandparents graves. Then I saw an area of ground between the other graves where no grass was growing. I sat down beside this grave; her grave. It had to be hers. I was shocked. I couldn't believe that all this time my Mom had been lying in an unmarked grave. My Mom had always said she wanted a "proper burial."
Seeing her grave with no headstone was so awful. I felt like we had all let her down. I cried as I sat there and I promised her I would take care of this just as quickly as I could arrange it. The thought occurred to me then that maybe this was why I had felt the need to visit the cemetery on this day. I was finally starting to deal with the fact that she was gone. And, too, maybe maybe she had 'guided' me here to take care of this unfinished business for her.
I left the cemetery after a while and headed for Vidor. Jody, my older brother, is Executor of Mom's estate so he's the one who would be able to pay for the headstone. After I talked to him about it, he told me to make the arrangements and he'd write a check to pay for it. In my brother's defense, he was thrown into caring for Dad immediately after Mom's death. He was so stressed and I don't think he even had time to grieve for her fully. He had just overlooked or avoided getting the headstone. Maybe it had been too much for him. I told him I'd take care of it.
On my way home from Vidor I drove through Winnie again and stopped at the Dollar General store. All I could think of was that I had to find something to mark Mama's grave; to let other's know there was someone special buried there and that she was loved. When she was alive, before she got really sick, we'd walk through the garden center at Wal-Mart and look at all the plants. Then we'd wander through the store just looking at stuff. We called this browsing, "lolly-gagging". I think we had heard that word in some old western (if it really is a word) and we decided it was just funny and stupid enough to adopt. This day, as I walked alone down the aisles searching for a statue or something-anything-to put on her grave, I felt so lost and I missed Mom so much.
I bought a metal sunflower with two small birds at its base. She loved flowers and birds. It would have to do. I drove to the cemetery and placed the sunflower sculpture at the head of her grave. I put chunks of earth around it to anchor it and then I sat down on the grass. I played George Harrison's song, "My Sweet Lord" on my iPhone. She had chosen to have that song played at her funeral. I played it again for her now. I didn't cry at her funeral back in March. I think I was too numb with grief. Now, sitting here beside her grave, I couldn't stop crying.
Pretty soon I heard thunder in the distance and saw dark clouds over the trees across from me; a storm was coming. Time to get a grip on my emotions and get back on the road. I said my good-byes to Mom and by the time I got in my car to leave it was starting to rain. Pretty soon it was coming down hard. It finally slacked off after I got on the highway and headed for home.
When I was back in Victoria I called Broussard's Mortuary in Winnie. After talking with the funeral director, I realized I'd have to figure out what to have written on her headstone. What in the world could be written in such a small space that would honor this wonderful woman? I looked online at some funeral home web sites for quotes. One in particular jumped out at me. It said, "Sadness is only temporary. This too shall pass." She had been fond of saying, "This too shall pass." Although I liked this quote, the words didn't seem to carry enough feeling. The phrase sounded too matter-of-fact, to me. I'd keep looking.
As I was washing my face that night, I looked up at her photo sitting on a shelf to the left of me. Beside her photo there was an old birthday card Mama had given to me. And there, beside the birthday card, was a sympathy card. I had found both cards, one on top of the other, as I was sorting through a box of old papers and photos about a month before my birthday. Inside the birthday card she had underlined some of the words and signed it, "Love and Prayers, Daddy and Mama." The sympathy card had never been signed or used. I didn't remember ever seeing it or buying it, but I must have done so in the past. Or could it be another message from Mom? It would be so like her to try and comfort me that way.
I read the words on the card; "Love is never lost. Love never ends." Perfect. I called the Funeral Director the next day and told him what to have engraved on the stone. It will take at least another month for the headstone to be completed and installed. Mama is gone but she will always have my love and I know I will always have hers; and it will never end.
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