Grace had walked home from school whenever the weather permitted and even, on occasion, when it really didn’t. After mornings of hurrying to get dressed and out the door….days of scurrying between classes and absorbing all kinds of information that adults had decided she needed to know, Grace always looked forward to a quiet walk home past the Riverside Cemetery. It was never scary. After all, it was daylight and there were houses all along the other side of the street. Grace wasn’t looking to program or burden her mind with new thoughts; she was looking to deprogram it. This quiet length of her walk acted as a release for all her emotions and all the stress she had accumulated during the day.
This particular day was like any other. If you needed to, you could set your watch by the time Grace passed by. As she walked along the last half of the cemetery, she saw a woman on the sidewalk leaning against the cemetery wall. The woman didn’t move but smiled at Grace as she approached. Grace smiled back as the woman stated and then asked, “You walk by here often. Do you have any family inside this wall?” Grace had always used her walk home to work its wonder and was feeling relaxed and unthreatened. Grace said, “My dad is buried down there. Why do you ask?” The woman turned to face the gallery of stones on the other side of the wall and said, “I have spent an eternity looking for the family that I lost. I know we will meet one day. I believe I will connect with them soon.” Grace looked a little puzzled. “What makes you think they are here?” she asked. The woman hesitated, as if trying to give the correct answer. “It is a feeling,” she said, “A knowing feeling.” Grace just gave a sympathetic nod and wished her luck. She moved on without really compromising the intentions of her walk home, still feeling relaxed.
As the days went by and Grace walked her usual route on her way home, the woman would always wave to Grace from amongst the stones. The mutual waves soon came to give Grace a sense of friendship with the woman. Grace had learned what the woman’s purpose was at that first meeting. Since then they had simply acknowledged each other’s presence with a wave. It was harmless. It was touching. It was surreal.
The days ran into weeks. Not that time is of any real concern in a cemetery. The woman always seemed to be absorbing more from the stones than just a name and the dates reflecting the span of that person’s life. She seemed to be on a mission that would finally bring her to a special reckoning of where she belonged and who belonged to her. It was as if through some innate knowledge and a long-suffering patience she would find what she sought in the Riverside Cemetery.
One October afternoon, Grace found herself eager to get to that portion of her walk where the acknowledging wave between her and the woman had molded itself into her routine. As Grace walked along beside the wall, she began to pick up her pace. She felt an anxiety that contradicted the purpose of her walk home each day. She got to the end of the wall near the gates and stopped. The woman was nowhere to be seen. Grace thought how odd to feel anxious about a woman she didn’t even really know by all conventional standards. Grace’s eyes combed the area as she walked along the wall. She could not see the woman anywhere. Perhaps this strange woman had found what she was looking for and gone on her way. Grace felt incomplete with a need to wish her God’s speed and share one last wave. Over the years, Grace had made many friends that she didn’t see any more for a multitude of reasons. Why was this a big deal? It was a good question, but Grace didn’t have the answer. Although Grace could not see her, the woman was there just outside of Grace’s vision. She watched Grace’s interest, confusion and sadness and knew the time had come.
That Friday just happened to be Halloween. Grace smiled to herself as she saw the woman in the distance in the section across from where her father was buried in the Veteran’s Section. Grace was so confused by her feelings. This lonely woman had penetrated Grace’s being in a way that Grace couldn’t define. It didn’t matter. She knew the ties that bind are often not definable. Yet, there was something that made Grace want to know and understand more about this woman.
The woman waved for Grace to come towards her as she stood just across the path from the grave of Grace’s father. She was dressed as she had always been in a navy blue dress with one strand of pearls around her neck. Grace was not one to make a fashion statement anyway, so the fact that this woman had always worn the same clothes had never made Grace curious. Today though was a very brisk fall day and Grace did wonder why she had no sweater or jacket on. Grace felt like an actor in a play that hadn’t revealed its ending and the script was compelling her to hurry towards the woman.
Grace told the woman that she was happy to see her again. She shared how sad she felt in the past few days that they had left their strange relationship so unfinished and somehow incomplete. Grace asked the woman if she intended to move on and was not prepared for what followed.
As if merely to confirm what she already knew, the woman asked Grace if she was aware that her father had been adopted. Grace knew he had. It had come up in many conversations over her childhood years as reminders of how fortunate she was to have an identity with roots that gave her a solid place in this world. Grace hadn’t always understood what her father meant because she was so young at the time, but had come to feel the pleasure and the pain of knowing exactly who she was and where she came from. Grace asked the woman why she wanted to know.
The woman said that while one’s body can be put to rest, their soul must find its own time and place to move on. She pointed to the words on the stone beneath where she stood. It said,
Here lies the body of Elizabeth Cote
1941 to 1972
She lived her life in the sad abyss of never being able to
nurture the life that she brought forth.
Her soul will not rest,
her spirit will not find peace until she is reconnected.
In a spontaneous gesture, not understanding why, Grace hugged the woman. Before Grace could reckon what all this meant she heard the screeching of wheels in back of her. Her attention was immediately diverted to the cemetery gate where she saw a car hit the wall. It was at the end of the cemetery where she had walked moments before the woman had beckoned her. She ran to see if the person in the car needed help. The old gentleman in the car seemed okay but dazed. Someone had called 911 and she could hear the sirens in the distance.
As Grace came back to the unique reality that only a chilly fall Halloween day can bring, she returned to the place where the woman had once stood. She was nowhere in sight. There seemed to be a warmth in the place where an October chill had just been. Grace’s eyes caught the inscription on the stone that the woman had read to her not minutes before. This time the stone read…
Here lies the body and soul of Elizabeth Cote
1941 to 2017
I lived and died having finally found my peace
through the Grace that God has allowed me to find.
The soul of Grace’s grandmother had finally found peace.