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Even with the Earth.?

The fact that somebody can maliciously destroy a resting home for the dead leaves one wondering, ?What has gone wrong with our generation?? A Few months ago, the local news reported, at two different times, that headstones had been knocked down at a cemetery.

As I try to imagine the pain of families whose deceased member?s headstones were destroyed, I am reminded of traditional cultural practices. In some cultures, the graveyard is a revered spot in the community. Death is not considered the end of one?s relevancy. The burial site is just a different address where loved ones can be visited. At difficult times the living visits the graveside of a loved one for solace and rekindling of hope. In the Kamba culture, Kenya, people don?t even walk or sit on a grave, unless it?s a grandparent?s one. Walking on a grave requires an immediate cleansing ritual.

The disturbing question of how someone can plan and carry out an unimaginable headstone demolishing project reminds me of a humbling experience I had. A close family friend lost his three-month-old grandson and I began helping make funeral preparations. The four day experience, from the moment we learned the baby didn?t survive heart surgery to the time he was buried remains my most difficult eye opening experience to cultural differences at hard times.

First, I have to say that the doctors, social workers and staff at St. Luke?s Hospital were the most understanding people I have ever seen, even though they couldn?t understand the mourners? culture. Their patience, kindness and silence spoke volumes about their caring spirit. The Cloverdale Funeral Home directors, and Troy in particular, were so comforting I could tell that their helping to ease grief is a calling. And I will never forget Pastor Gordon Slyter. He met me and my grieving friend at a restaurant, learned about our loss and offered his services and church facilities to strangers.

When it was time to pick a plot at the cemetery, the baby?s father, grandfather and I followed the funeral director who was few steps ahead of us. As we stepped in the lot with graves, I noticed my friends were hesitant, but I courageously maneuvered my way amid the graves. This was their first experience of walking on graves, so I motioned them to follow. We selected the plot and left the funeral home people to start the digging process.

A collision of cultures occurred after the burial site service. When the pastor said the final Amen, the funeral director said, ?Now folks, you can proceed to go home?we will take care of everything.? NO one moved. He repeated his plea again for people to leave and again there was no response. This was when I recalled that in some African communities, people don?t leave until the grave is covered with soil - even with the earth. I whispered to the director that we were waiting for the grave to be covered.

He beckoned two men who were standing next to a tractor. This was a sight never to be forgotten ? a tractor on graves. People sobbed as the tractor approached the grave site. The two brought their tractor to a standstill next to the pit, lifted the coffin and lowered it down. As one of the men picked up a shovel, one of the African mourners held the shovel and handed it to the deceased baby?s father ? the culturally right person to build the new home for his child. After pouring several shovels full of soil, he then handed the shovel to the baby?s grandfather. Relatives and friends covered the pit with soil before anyone could leave the graveside.

The value of a headstone or grave is known by those who have lain they loved one to rest. The headstone has a DASH connecting birth and death dates of the deceased. That DASH - a symbol of the joys the deceased brought into the lives of those who knew him or her - when maliciously destroyed, hurts.

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