Day 24: Perpetual Care

How long do you have to wait before you can delete your dead mother-in-law’s contact info from your phone?

I’m asking for a friend.

It’s a tricky question: There she is, popping up under Recent Contacts when she should be staying six feet under. Wiping her from the database is putting a stake through her heart.

I wondered again as I updated calendars for the new year (yes, quaint paper models). Going through birthdays and anniversaries, I felt last year’s losses all over again. Do I cross names out, leaving black holes? Do I erase them, leaving memorial smudges?

Tending the dead is easier in person.

As a kid, that cemetery scared me. The forest grew over people planted around the edges – venture into the surrounding woods and you’d trip over toppled gravestones. It was creepy even in the middle of the day, while my dad was off mowing all the relatives.

Mowing the relatives was a big bone of contention.

Perpetual Care sounds like a grim Puritan woman, a sister to Temperance or Prudence or Drudgery. Carved on gravestones, it meant that a deal had been cut with the diocese to cut the grass in perpetuity. The dead paid dearly for the privilege, so as not to burden later generations.

Yet there is my father, loading his heavy gas mower into the old pickup every damned weekend and rounding up any available kids to help with all the trimming. Who knew a deal with the diocese was a deal with the devil?

I crawled around that old cemetery with grass clippers, learning family history and finding a peace of sorts: the past is as important as the present.

So I’ll keep my mother-in-law on the contact list, where she’ll make me smile and curse just as she used to do.

3 thoughts on “Day 24: Perpetual Care

  1. Mary Merewether

    “Perpetual” sounds too Latin for those grim Puritans. Perpetua is definitely a name that Elizabeth Mary might choose when she joins the convent. I was at a funeral yesterday, and kept translating phrases (in my mind, no lip movement) into lovely Latin: Lux eterna, Benedictus, pace, …. and I’m not even Catholic. But I digress.

    • And I bet glorious classical music interpretations came to mind, too. “Nearer My God To Thee” just don’t do it.

  2. Wendy Heath

    I had some of those same twinges writing Christmas cards this last season. Had to ask the mother in law if I missed any of the dead folk… deleted from the Excel spreadsheet felt sad, and weird.

    I guess I’m a true nurse- I can tend the dying and their families, but once they’re gone? My business is with the living, not the dead. I hate doing post-mortem care. I refused to look in the open coffin when my husband’s grandmother passed.

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