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Charles Crocker tomb

The Charles Crocker tomb

One weekend I visited a friend who’d lost her husband years before. I was widowed by then, also. My grief over losing my husband awakened other griefs and losses, especially the loss of my mother who died before I was born, and later the loss of my step mom.

I looked forward to talking about the changes we’d faced and how we were adjusting to life without a partner. Nancy is a skilled communicator and leads a grief support group at her church. Our friendship dated back to newlywed days when four of us couples would gather for monthly potlucks. All, except my husband, were new believers. We discussed everything, including how to work Christianity into our lives and marriages. Our friendships have survived all these years, and we still get together


Nancy and I discussed how we might spend the day that Saturday. I suggested we have lunch at a Mexican restaurant where our children had taken us. The food was delicious and memorable. I was delighted at the prospect of introducing my friend to a new restaurant.

While we were eating lunch and talking, Nancy said she’d finally found a place where

she wanted to inter the ashes of her husband, Al. She and her three girls used the burial as an occasion to celebrate all that Al meant to them and what he’d contributed to their lives. It was a meaningful experience for them. I was moved, just listening to the details. Nancy wanted to show me the place.

After lunch, as we drove toward Al’s grave, she pointed out monuments of notable people, names I recognized from the past. She  talked about the historical significance of the cemetery, where many of the town’s founders and political figures were buried.

Ghirardelli tomb/statue

The Ghirardelli tomb statue

The road led to the top of a hill overlooking a spectacular view of Oakland. I could picture the interment ceremony: Nancy and the girls, sitting on the grass, reading their thoughts to each other. There on the quiet plateau Al had been honored and loved once again. It was the right place for him to rest!

Panoramic view of Oakland/ cemetery

Panoramic view of cemetery where Al was buried

Something about Nancy’s words—and this place—triggered a memory of a conversation with my sister years ago. She had discovered my birth mom’s burial place in a run-down cemetery somewhere near where Mom and Dad had once lived, which was very near where my friend and I now stood! Could this be the place where my real mother was buried? But this wasn’t a run-down cemetery without a name!

As I told Nancy what I was thinking, we both had an adrenaline rush. We could inquire at the office, but it would be closing soon. We hurried back to the car and down the hill.

The attendant was glad to help. She asked what year Mom (Ellen) had died, then pulled a large, gray journal from its place on the shelf. Next she asked the exact date, found the page, and looked through names written in beautiful script. Under the name, “Lewis,” several people were listed, and then her finger pointed to “Ellen.” There it was! I was stunned. How could I not have known it all these years?

Hardly able to take it all in, yet aware of the lateness of the hour, and the need to locate my mother’s grave quickly, we went in search of the location the woman gave us. It was harder to find than we expected. Some of the numbers weren’t in sequence and some of the names were overgrown with grass and ground cover. Nancy was ready to call it quits, but I had an idea.

At last I found it! Inscribed below her name was something written in Norwegian. I would later find out it meant “dearest”—the way Dad started his letters to us. Deep inside,  feelings of recognition and truth settled down. He had loved her, and he had lost her, and now I knew how it felt. I love you, Daddy. I’m sorry you had to live with that pain for so many years.

Dad later married Mary, a neighbor and good friend of my real mom. Mary was the only mother I knew, and I’m sure I didn’t appreciate her as much as she deserved. Yet for many years I gave back as best I could until she died shortly after her 100th birthday.

Mary made arrangements years before her death to be cremated and her ashes interred beside her son, Billy, at Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland. I was responsible for the final details, and would occasionally stop by to visit and think back on what a blessing she’d been to our family.

Columbarium, similar to where my stepmom’s and her son Billy’s ashes were placed

Nancy and I were silent as we walked back to her car. Lost in our separate thoughts, we drove past the tall, ivied walls and through the cemetery gates. Out the corner of my eye, something caught my attention. I turned and saw a building of unusual architecture. It looked like a Julia Morgan. It was. The Chapel of the Chimes!

The Chapel of the Chimes

The Chapel of the Chimes

Again, I was deeply stirred. Only this time with joy! Both my moms were friends and neighbors in life, and now these friends were neighbors in death—side by side, waiting for the Lord’s return. One day in heaven I will greet them both with a hug, and we shall walk arm in arm and side by side for eternity.

~ Ellen Cardwell