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Letter to a stranger in a cemetery
Shenandoah Memorial Park, Winchester, Virginia. - photo by Jason Wright
Dear sir in the cemetery,

I saw you last Sunday.

I was driving home from a church in the northern part of Virginias Shenandoah Valley.

You were visiting a different kind of church. Wearing a dark suit, you stood at the foot of what appeared to be a fresh grave in a quiet, sunny cemetery. You looked younger than me, but your face and posture breathed experience.

You were alone.

I admit that my heart suggested I slam on the brakes and approach you. But my mind argued otherwise. Yes, I did pull into the cemeterys side entrance, but I observed from a safe distance and did not leave my car.

As I sat, I reminisced about my own graveside visits to those Ive loved and lost. And I lingered on three words heaven has whispered to me over and over again.

Things get better.

Obviously, I do not know the circumstances of your loss, your relationship or your grief. You might have been there to mourn a mother who lived to 82, a brother who perished at 52 or a wife who passed at 32.

Or, perhaps most tragically, a toddler taken at just 2.

As an adult, you probably already know that the grief for every kind of death is distinct, like crayons in a box that are all the same size and shape but, when streaked across paper, are unique.

But perhaps in the postscript of a funeral, you don't yet know that those three words are as real as the pain you feel.

Things get better.

Im almost certain people whove been there surround you. Maybe not living the exact same shades of grief, but they've likely lost someone they loved more than anyone or anything. When you wonder about tomorrow, you wonder if they believe in those three words, too.

If my assumptions are correct and your own loss is recent, the grief might feel like a bright billboard that, no matter where you turn or how fast you drive, is always right in front of you. It seems inescapable. Even when you close your eyes, even when you dream, your personalized shade of sadness finds you.

Thats part of the plan. Though today it may sound out of tune, grief is good. It means they lived. It means you loved. It means they left behind a piece of their soul inside yours.

Many years ago, I invited one of my brothers to visit my fathers grave with me. Unlike the grave you watered with tears last week, our dads has seen only rain and sprinklers for a long time. My brother smiled and reminded me what I already knew. Hes not there.

I realized that day that for my brother, things got better. And, eventually, things got better for me, too. We miss him, of course, but our grief has turned into brighter shades of memories: the cheesy T-shirts, the bad jokes and a thousand lessons learned.

During this Holy Week, the days that lead to the victory of Easter morning, Im reminded of the many visits to gravesites that tugged at my heartstrings. I remember how cemeteries can be peaceful, healing settings, and I dont regret a single second spent there.

I also remember the billboard I couldnt escape. I recall the pain that waited for me each morning like uncomfortable shoes at the side of my bed. Perhaps like you, I wondered if the sun would ever rise again.

In time, I learned the most foundational and fundamental truth of eternal life.

The sun will rise again, because the Son rose.

Friends come and go, families grow, relationships end and 101 hearts are broken and healed every second of every day. But this Easter truth is constant.

He is risen.

Just like the empty tomb that Mary sat outside, the graves we visit are simply symbols. The only life there is our own. The ones we mourn, the one you miss, is not there.

No, theyre not yet risen. But they will be.

Because he was.

And even though I dont know you, because he is risen, I know these other three words are also true.

Things get better.
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