The warmth of the beer in my hand let me know it was time to step into the graveyard. The punishingly-cold April morning resulted in me conducting my new morning ritual of downing a Budweiser can at the San Juan County Cemetery District #3 inside the cab of my 1993 Ford Ranger as opposed to the foot of my father’s still-fresh grave.
Drinking a few of Budweiser cans each night in his easy chair was my father’s favorite past time. Just before he passed on, I promised him I would come to his grave each day that I could and drink a beer with him. The first three days since his burial, I made good on my word.
It was the third-straight day I laid my eyes upon it, but the sight of my father’s fresh grave still felt like a needle sliding slowly underneath my skin. If you have never seen a fresh grave, it looks more ghoulish than you might imagine. A patch of dirt juts out from the front of the grave until the grass the cemetery plants on the dirt grows. At least that is how they still do it in super-rural graveyards on islands in the Puget Sound.
It would not be the muddy ground of my father’s grave which raised the hairs on the back of my neck that day though – it was the fresh bouquet of flowers which rested upon the base of his headstone. This was the third-straight day there were a new bunch of flowers sitting there. This might not have been so mysterious had my father not been a borderline hermit all his life. He really only talked to two people – me and my mother- throughout his adult years. But my mother had been permanently stricken to a hospital bed for the past couple of weeks, ready to join my father in passing any day now.
My entire body a coil of frozen nerves, I followed through with my usual ritual of cracking open a Budweiser and putting it on the base of my father’s headstone, right next to the flowers. I washed back the last little sip of warm domestic and placed my empty can next to my father’s full one.
The herculean task of completely renovating my parent’s rustic cabin home gave me plenty of time to contemplate the mystery of the constant flowers on my father’s grave. A gawky kid mowing the cemetery grass the day before had confirmed to me they didn’t have some operation where they put flowers on a grave daily. Whoever was putting flowers on my father’s grave was driving there every morning before I showed up around 9 AM, putting new flowers down and taking the ones from the day before away with them.
My daily schedule went as follows:
9 AM: Drink beer in cemetery parking lot and place beer on dad’s grave.
10 AM: Visit my mom in the hospital.
12 PM: Eat lunch.
1 PM – 5 PM: sift through the rat’s nest of clutter of my parents’ belongings, throwing away the stuff I didn’t need to keep.
5 PM – Get drunk.
Visiting my mom for those two hours was always the hardest part of the day. Stricken with Alzheimer’s, my mother was extremely hard to follow or communicate with. In the two hours I spent each day by her side, I usually only got about one or two minutes where the demented clouds in her brain parted and a true conversation slipped through. When this happened, we would almost always talk about one of our childhoods while I fought against tears in a battle I almost never won.
The only thing that was making the visits a little easier was the presence of a new nurse. My mom’s previous nurse had been an unnecessarily hostile hag with glasses and Vaseline underneath her eyes who once kicked me out of the room for having my cell phone vibrate. Thankfully, she was recently replaced by a gray-haired ex-hippy named Debra who you would hear coming from miles away because of the amount of beads and bracelets she wore. Debra always took the time to ask me if there was anything she could do to make my mom feel better and regularly stole desserts from the dining hall for me. She had also followed me to the dining hall to get coffee and console me a couple times when the energy in the room got too heavy for a man who was not yet 40, but was saying goodbye to both of his parents in a calendar year.