I am a taphophile. It’s a recent discovery. Now, if you aren’t quite sure what a taphophile is you can go right ahead and forgive yourself. I didn’t know myself until not so long ago. Not to worry though, it may be grave, but it’s not contagious. You either dig being a taphophile, or you don’t.
I enjoy walking through graveyards, be it day or night. I’ve even walked along their intersecting pathways on Halloween nights, to my wife’s chagrin and utter dismay. Contrary to the impression that many may hold in mind, I do not find them at all to be an unnerving or intimidating place. Instead, they instill in me a certain sense of calm, serenity and peace.
Strolling past finely manicured lawns and gardens in full bloom emboldens my spirit and lightens my mood. The soft hue of gradient greens enveloping row upon row of stone crosses and marble markers. Bending beneath the low hanging willow boughs shading strategically placed benches where loved ones of the deceased reflect in silence and solace.
There’s a place I know where I take you each day
From whence my spirit laughs and my soul does play
Sweet winds blow gently down carpets of green
Soft willows bow gracefully to the Earth, their queen
Throughout it all, a certain timelessness and beauty are conveyed, such that it would have me sit there for hours on end, communing among the living and the dead. The perfect place to get lost in thought, drifting and floating along in surreal worlds between azure blue skies and neatly clipped Kentucky grasses.
Soft undulating breezes orchestrate a symphony of sound as leaves flitter and flutter about. Sun rays cut through the hanging branches of maples and oaks projecting a shadowy silhouetted cosmic dance on the ground below.
Being that I have friends who are also taphophiles, occasionally I am not alone. Such was the case late one evening, several years back when. Only this time, my visit, was not about beauty or serenity but was rather prompted by desperation. The anguish of love lost but not in the traditional sense of the words.
Earlier that day, my dear companion had occasion to go to the hospital. It wasn’t a pleasant visit. After months of confusion and dismay, she was forced to make an unwanted decision that no parent ever wishes to make. She had to bring her son in for specialized care. He had become ill, and though she hoped for the best in her heart of hearts she sincerely doubted that things would end well.
It had been several weeks since her son had begun to act erratically. At first, she thought he was merely teasing her in some strange fashion, making odd with his comments and actions. Being that he had always been somewhat comedic, she initially brushed off his peculiar behavior. Soon enough though, it became more than apparent that something indeed was very wrong. Her son’s demeanor and conduct were becoming increasingly disconcerting.
She hastily arranged an appointment with her family doctor hoping to shed light on the problem. Soon enough, perhaps too soon, she was given her son’s diagnosis, and the news wasn’t good. Her dear beloved child had fallen into a malaise of schizophrenia. She hadn’t seen it coming, and there was no explanation given. It just was what it was. At once, her mind became overrun with fear and anxiety. It’s hard to act rationally when no rationale exists.
This incomprehensible series of tragic events was brought to a head this day. She did her best to remain calm and collected instinctively going into “mother mode” as she packed her son’s belongings. She reassured him that all would be well in the end, though internally she feared such would never be the case.
Arriving at the designated hospital entrance, she resignedly parked the car and walked with her son into the mental health ward. It was a crisscrossing labyrinth of freshly polished hallways leading this way and that. She followed the signs overhead making her way methodically to the drop off point.
There are few things more terrifying in a parent’s life than having to let your child go then turn your back and walk away. She did her best to remain stalwart and brave, her vision blurred by tears. She described to me through those very same tears how she had struggled to find her way out through the maze of connecting hallways and closed doors. No one had taken the time to comfort her or escort her back to the parking lot. It had been altogether so clinical, callous and cold.
Later that evening, while parked toward the rear end of the cemetery, we hugged each other tightly in her car. It had all been so devasting. I tried my best to comfort her. We cried, we talked, we even laughed a bit. Humour can sometimes be an awkward healer at the strangest of times.
She slowly played out the events of her day for me. She needed to release her feelings of guilt and anger. “It’s like your son has died,” she said to me, in an attempt for me to better relate. “Like he has died, but he’s still right there in front of you.” I realized from our previous conversations what it was she was attempting to convey. Her son’s personality had changed so dramatically that he was no longer the same boy she once knew, no more the dear child she had loved and raised. She found herself in the almost surreal circumstance of parenting a complete stranger.
I felt that any response I gave would be superfluous to the point of condescending, so I just sat there and listened. Why? Why him? What was the lesson to be learned? “If only,” she pleaded, her voice shaking through sobs, “If only I could just get a sign, any sign, that my son is going to be ok.”
Those words had no sooner fallen from her lips when my attention was drawn away by something over her left shoulder. “What’s that?” I wondered aloud. My asking caught her off guard. She quickly turned to see what it was that I was enquiring about. It took a moment for us to focus. It took another still to finally realize what it was we were both gazing at.
We stared in silence, looking out in unison through the driver side window. “What is that?” we asked rhetorically. Transfixed, we peered outward with a blended sense of curiosity, astonishment, and fear. For there, just several yards beyond the car hovered a bright neon green ball of energy. Approximately one foot in diameter the object shone brightly enough to light up the surrounding area. Remaining stationary, it floated in mid-air about five or so feet off of the ground. It seemed to be rotating on its own axis. What appeared to be small miniature lightning bolts, several inches in length, shot forth from its main body. Again, we spoke out in unison, “What the hell is that thing?”
Our mouths fell open in dismay as we collectively stared out the car window toward the strange object. It continued to spin in and around itself, spitting and sputtering electric energy here and there. Then suddenly, as fast as it had come, it vanished. All in all, it had remained there for about ten or so seconds. We turned our heads back toward one another and laughed nervously. Once again we asked ourselves, “what the freak was that?”
Feeling as though any immediate threat was now over, I stepped cautiously out of the car and walked over and stood where the ball of green light had once been. Not knowing exactly what it was I was expecting to see or find, I looked around aimlessly for some explanation. “I don’t see anything,” I said, glancing back at her
Then intuitively something within directed my eyes downward. I couldn’t believe it at first. There, implanted in the ground directly between my feet I saw it. The significance of what I was perceiving hit me all at once. I looked back over to my friend, urging her, “Come here, you have to see this,” She opened the car door and stepped across next to where I stood. “Look”, I said with a smile, my finger indicating to the object below.
She reached out and put her arms around my waist realizing, as I did, exactly what it was she was looking at. A sense of calm returned to us both. We knew then, in that very moment, that her prayer had just been answered. The sign she had so desperately sought was now at her very feet. For directly beneath us, standing as we were that somber summer night, lay a small indistinct grave marker embossed with just one single word. SON
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