I felt my heart shift from the iron weightiness of grief to a lighter feeling of gratitude, like the flash of scarlet on red wing blackbirds in the sky.

graveyard crocuses

It has never been my habit to visit graveyards. We never did it when I was young. However, after my dad took his final feather of a breath last February, he was buried, as he had pre-arranged, at a local cemetery. I went with my family to his gravesite on his birthday at the end of March. It was a miserable day so we didn’t linger. On Father’s Day, we went again and spent more time. My brother found our grandparent’s plot in the next row and our great aunt’s a few spaces away.

I felt compelled to go the cemetery alone on my birthday, July 15th. I sat down on the grass beside my dad’s horizontal marker and touched the bronze letters with the same tenderness that I used to touch his face. I played some Buddhist chants on my iPad while saying a few rounds of mantra with my mala beads. Tears spilled down my face. I could hardly speak. The sense of loss was so deep it would continue to disorient me for more than a year following his death.

This year, I went out again on my birthday, not sure what to expect, not wanting to tap into my grief again but also needing to honour my dad’s memory.

I thought about these four ancestors, who knew me as a child, who loved me like no one else.

I knelt down to brush some grass off the marker. I held my hand over his name, warmed by the summer sun.

“Hi Dad,” I said, “I miss you. We all miss you every day. Mom is doing okay. It’s my birthday and I want to thank you for the gift of my life. I love you.”

I touched my finger tips to my dear mom’s name beside his, her birthdate inscribed with a dash after it, waiting for her death to be recorded and the urn holding her ashes to be placed with him.

red winged blackbird

I walked over to the next row to my beloved Nana and Papa. Then, a few sites over to my Great Aunt Glenda, someone I cherished and who was like a grandmother to me. All of them, long gone. I knelt down at each site to say hello and thank you.

It was a blistering hot day. I sat down on a cool granite bench under a small tree. I gazed across the graveyard. A few floral decorations dotted the expanse of lawn. I thought about these four ancestors, who knew me as a child, who loved me like no one else. And especially my dad who passed on to me the love he had received from them all those years ago.

The breeze picked up, rustling the leaves overhead. I felt my heart shift from the iron weightiness of grief to a lighter feeling of gratitude, like the flash of scarlet on red wing blackbirds in the sky.


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Catherine Heighway

Catherine Heighway

About the author

Catherine Heighway is a yoga teacher and writer living in London, Ontario, Canada. Currently she is co-authoring a book on yoga practice through the seasons. She strives to make gratefulness a daily practice.