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Friendship and Fidelity

My father chose to be cremated, as his religious tradition allows. A neighbor who is also a woodworker built the box in which Daddy will be buried, out of a stash of sinker cypress that had been excavated out of the Fancy Point swamp, where Daddy used to hunt. Because he will be interred on Friday in a small box, it was possible for us to dig his grave ourselves. This we did early this morning.

Above, an image of my two sons digging their Pawpaw’s grave, which is next to his father Murphy Sr. and mother Lorena. But they weren’t the only ones there. Old family friends from Starhill came and took their turn with the shovel and a posthole digger. With a hole as narrow as this one had to be, it wasn’t long before the posthole digger was the only useful tool left. Ever tried digging a three-foot deep hole with a posthole digger? It’s like plucking peas out of an iced tea glass with chopsticks.

Here are my boys and Steve “Big Show” Shelton, whom many of you will remember from Little Way. Oh, and there is Brutus, Ronnie Morgan’s little dog, who spent many a morning on the front porch with Daddy:

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Mike Leming fashioned a metal cross yesterday to stand on Daddy’s grave, at least until we place a headstone. After we finished digging the hole, Mike placed the cross at its head:

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This is a rich life we have here. All these men who loved my father, there preparing his place of final rest. Who gets to do that anymore? It’s like we live in a Wendell Berry story. We were all so tired, and the hole was just under three feet. It was suggested that this was good enough.

“Now, you know what Ray Dreher would say if he was here,” said John Bickham. “He would tell us to keep at it, because it has to be exactly three feet.”

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Everybody laughed, and kept at it till we got the job just right.

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24 Comments To "Friendship and Fidelity"

#1 Comment By Phil On August 27, 2015 @ 10:42 am

My condolences Rod. Sounds like your father knew how much his family loved him and you all knew how much he loved you and I can’t think of a better state in which to say goodbye.

#2 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 27, 2015 @ 11:34 am

That’s a beautiful cross Mike made. I bet the Dreher’s German antecedents don’t even mind the Fleur dy Lys pattern. After all, this is Louisiana.

[NFR: Down here, the fleur de lys is taken as a symbol for Louisiana, especially south Louisiana, especially after Katrina. I don’t know how many folks really grasp its meaning. In any case, Daddy would certainly have approved, as he surely regarded the symbol not as pointing to the Virgin or to the Bourbons, but to the state he loved so dearly. — RD]

#3 Comment By Sibby88 On August 27, 2015 @ 11:40 am

When my father was a teenager, in the mid 1940s, a friend of his died, and the young men of the church dug the grave for him. It made a deep impact upon him, bringing home the reality of physical death, and the meaning of a real service given to the lost one and his family. He remembered the silent sorrow of the boys as they did the hard work.
When my father was dying in 1997, he requested that our family dig the grave. It gave him comfort that we would do that for him. Of course, he died in February, when the ground was still quite frozen in Kansas. We bundled up and went to the cemetery, and in the blustery prairie wind we all took turns (even the little ones)digging what we could chip up out of frozen clay soil. We left the majority of the work for the funeral home’s backhoe, but we could say that, ceremoniously at least, we had done what Dad had asked.
I have so appreciated these essays regarding your Father, as they have brought up many feeling surrounding both my parents’ deaths. I remember these moments as holy and wondrous, as well as excrutiatingly sad. May God grant you hope and peace.

#4 Comment By Liam On August 27, 2015 @ 12:14 pm

Speaking of fleur de lys, Rod, do you realize your father died on the feast day of the patron of Louisiana: St Louis of France?

[NFR: I did not. Vive la France! On the other hand, my niece Hannah, who is now working at Francis Ford Coppola’s winery in Napa, brought home an expensive bottle of Cabernet for us to taste. It was an unusually good wine, but upon sipping it, my Uncle Bully, who is by no means a wine drinker, pointed to Rebekah’s beagle and remarked, “Somebody bring me that dog over here so I can lick it’s ass to get the taste of this crap out of my mouth.” — RD]

#5 Comment By Camus On August 27, 2015 @ 12:43 pm

These have been beautiful, hopeful and sad posts all mixed together. They reminded me of the death of all of my grandparents which was sad but nice in the same way. I will continue to keep you and your family in my prayers.

#6 Comment By JonF On August 27, 2015 @ 1:30 pm

This is the first I’ve heard that digging a grave oneself was possible or allowed. My step-mother was cremated and her ashes buried (three months later, in the spring) at her parents’ grave in Charlevoix MI. Her youngest brother runs a small contracting company and actually has done grave work– but in the city cemetery and this was in a township cemetery that insisted on their own grave diggers doing the work. Oh well, maybe that’s a Michigan Yankee thing.

Sounds like your family hasn’t gotten over its distrust of high-fallutin’ tastes. I hope Hannah wasn’t offended.

[NFR: No, she wasn’t. I warned her ahead of time: “Just be aware that you’re about to have a bouillabaisse moment.” Bully was funny about it. Everybody else liked the wine. — RD]

#7 Comment By Mitch Majeski On August 27, 2015 @ 1:39 pm

Beautiful, tender images. Thanks for sharing them. Grieving with you, Rod. Praying for sweet to flow out of the bitter.

#8 Comment By Philly guy On August 27, 2015 @ 1:59 pm

my brother and I filled the hole after the casket went into the ground when our grandfather died.

#9 Comment By Tim G On August 27, 2015 @ 2:26 pm

Blessing to you, Rod, and my prayers.

On a recent long drive I took my kids to see my grandparents’ graves in Denver and central Texas. It was good to ground them in who their great-grandparents were and what they owe them. At the same time it was a reminder of how far-flung my family is, so I see with interest the other Dreher gravestones in your photos. The blessings (and challenges) of that closeness are what gives life to your writing here.

#10 Comment By Camus On August 27, 2015 @ 2:26 pm

It was an unusually good wine, but upon sipping it, my Uncle Bully, who is by no means a wine drinker, pointed to Rebekah’s beagle and remarked, “Somebody bring me that dog over here so I can lick it’s ass to get the taste of this crap out of my mouth.” — RD]………………..

On a lighter note at my wife’s latest baby shower, which was yesterday, I actually got a gift. It was a Premier Cru Burgundy. Not sure how much money they spent on it, hope it was not a lot, but I am looking forward to drinking it with my wife when she is able to.

[NFR: Dang! I’m going to drop by on that night. 😉 — RD]

#11 Comment By Dommerdog On August 27, 2015 @ 2:46 pm

That is a beautiful cross! I hope that it will find its way onto the permanent headstone.

I love how you and yours have made the preparation of your dad’s final resting place a ceremony in its own right. Something tells me that this is something Ray would have done (and probably did) for someone during his lifetime.

#12 Comment By Sam M On August 27, 2015 @ 3:30 pm

The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to have something to DO. The women in my family are better about this. They find out someone died and they go on auto-pilot. Rosaries and baked goods. Rosaries and baked goods. Covered dish. Covered dish. Rosary.

Repeat.

The men… Depending on the situation there is sometimes a house to clean out or other stuff to truck around.

But this digging a grave thing… therapy. A way to get involved. To help. To do something with the grief.

Excellent.

#13 Comment By Liam On August 27, 2015 @ 3:43 pm

Rod

That Uncle Bully story’s for the books.

Btw, St Louis might have felt the same. The wine standards of today are not those of the 13th century, even for the king of France…

[NFR: We must never let Uncle Bully (whose nickname has nothing to do with his disposition) meet Uncle Chuckie. The fate of humankind may well rest on this not happening. 😉 — RD]

#14 Comment By Michelle On August 27, 2015 @ 4:10 pm

Who gets to do that anymore?

I’d wager that the answer is “not all that many,” which is a shame. Modern culture may gained in liberty and convenience, but we’ve lost a lot of richness along the way. While there is sadness is your father’s death, there’s also much beauty in the way people joined to celebrate his life and say good-bye. In a culture where so much has been turned into a commodity, you cannot put a price on this kind of love and fidelity.

May G-d’s love be with you and yours as you lay your father to rest tomorrow.

Oh G-d, full of compassion, Who dwells on high, grant true rest upon the wings of the Divine Presence, in the exalted spheres of the holy and pure, who shine as the resplendence of the firmament, to the soul of Ray Dreher. May the All-Merciful One shelter him with the cover of His wings forever, and bind his soul in the bond of life. The Lord is his heritage; may he rest in his resting-place in peace; and let us say: Amen.

#15 Comment By Michelle On August 27, 2015 @ 4:12 pm

On a totally unrelated note–how cool that Hannah got a job at the Coppola vineyard. I guess a bit of you rubbed off on her.

#16 Comment By EJ On August 27, 2015 @ 4:20 pm

After a Jewish acquaintance died, I read about their funeral customs in order to prepare for the ceremony. I read that at the end, the mourners each put a shovelful onto the lowered casket because it’s considered an ultimate act of love and kindness, which the deceased cannot repay.

#17 Comment By Hope On August 27, 2015 @ 5:37 pm

My brothers dug my father’s grave in the small cemetery in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He was cremated as well, and no one asked if it was legal. They did do it after dark, so I suspect asking for approval might have gotten them a no. One brother remarked that Dad would be proud they saved the grave digger’s fee. Dad was known for his frugal nature and we all still laugh about it.

May our parents rest in peace.

#18 Comment By Sue On August 27, 2015 @ 6:56 pm

Oh, Rod! This is SO beautiful! Who does this anymore???
I almost expect Burley Coulter to show up… But he’s dead, if you’ve read Fidelity!
I cannot tell you the impact these posts are having upon such a wide and diverse audience!
And… As Providence would have it… A group of Providence faculty started reading “How Dante…” aloud together in our “Inklings” group this past Wednesday; the morning after your Paw left us. Left US! You’ve woven your life into ours and we are all the better for it!

#19 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 27, 2015 @ 7:35 pm

I can’t help thinking that Hannah’s mother might have had a response similar to Uncle Bully… but JonF already said something like that, and Rod confirmed it had crossed his mind also. I think Ray would be glad to know that after the initial shock and loss, he’s giving his family a few things to laugh about too.

#20 Comment By Fr. Frank On August 27, 2015 @ 8:24 pm

I think this is a really profound reflection on helping loved ones die. Notice what he says about casket handles, and our “duty to carry one another.” I hope many of you will watch it. It’s short. It’s called “The Coffinmaker.”

#21 Comment By Pilgrim On August 28, 2015 @ 8:19 am

I’m glad to see Mr. Lemming. I wondered how he was doing, in all this.
Rural churches with cemeteries have family and church people help with the grave, around here. Watching children and in-laws fill a grave, as mourners sing the old hymns, is an experience of that raw, intertwined pain and beauty your posts about your father’s passing have had. Opening that pain up, to faith.

#22 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On August 28, 2015 @ 11:03 am

That’s a nice soliloquy Father Frank, thank you. In recent memory my family hasn’t buried any metal in the ground, and actually, no wood either. My brother and both my parents have ashes in plain wooden urns, still above ground. For myself, I hope my ashes will someday be scattered around my rose garden… after I have many years to plant, tend, and cultivate it.

#23 Comment By Traveler On August 29, 2015 @ 1:59 pm

Participating in your loved one’s interment is always cathartic. When it was time for ma’s cremated remains to finally be interred (she was given to UPenn for research), we all filled the hole by hand, taking turns. One of us brought a whole bunch of tulip bulbs which we each buried at the very top. Hopefully the sheep that are used for mowing will let them be.

#24 Comment By Glaivester On August 29, 2015 @ 7:45 pm

Rod:

You’ve done “View from your table.”

Any interest in doing “View from the cemetery” of different family burial plots?