November 6th, 2020
Shawn and I went to Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery while I was in Texas a couple weeks ago. Shawn’s husbands are buried there, both of them.
Shawn is my sister-in-law, and she is twice a widow. That would seem to be an uncommon situation, and an unpleasant one. It is hard enough for a person to lose one spouse to death, but to lose two?
Mount Calvary is hidden away in a low income area of Bryan, Texas. It is a bit hard to find, at least it is for a Yankee like me. Shawn had to give me directions to the graveyard, because I couldn’t remember where it was. We arrived there in my old Ford Focus on a sunny Wednesday morning. The grounds were well kept, and there were a few trees to provide shade. It was quiet there.
I am not a big fan of cemeteries. However, my brother, Marc, was. Marc was Shawn’s first husband. Marc was also an amateur photographer. He loved to take pictures in cemeteries. He had a strange connection with these places, especially with Mount Calvary. I have a black and white picture of Marc, sitting in this cemetery, apparently pondering his mortality.
Marc died in February of 1998. He blew his mind out in a car. Marc was going to a park to play frisbee golf with a close friend. Marc’s Mazda spun out on some gravel and he hit a bridge abutment. Marc was killed instantly. His passenger survived with just a few scratches.
That was my first real encounter with death. Up until that time, I was only vaguely familiar with the end game. I had had grandparents die, but they were old, and it only seemed natural that they should move on. When Marc died, eleven years younger than myself, death became very, very real. I wasn’t afraid to die, but I was suddenly aware that I was in the batting order.
Shawn and I stood next to Marc’s headstone. It’s a black rock, deeply carved with his essential information, and also etched with an insipid phrase that is intended to inspire (or at least not piss off) anybody who bothers to visit the grave. It says something maudlin like “always in our hearts” or words like that. I forget exactly what.
Shawn remembered how brutally competitive Marc was about nearly everything, especially video games. I remembered that too. Back in the early 1980’s, I played “Missile Command” with Marc. He beat me by about 10,000 points. I finally threw down my controller and walked away. Marc yelled after me, “Can’t take it? Too much for you?” Fuck you, Marc.
Shawn and I thought that perhaps we should change the writing on his gravestone. We could erase the Hallmark phrase and write down, “I win!” or “I am superior!”. These are all things that Marc actually said during his life. Why not?
I don’t want to be derogatory toward Marc. Of all my brothers, I was closest to Marc. I’m not sure why that was. We had similar life paths, and we thoroughly understood each other. It truly hurt me when he died. Something inside me died along with him. Marc was an intensely spiritual man, and he was a devoted husband and father. In the short time given to him, Marc did things right.
Shawn’s second husband, Bob, is buried next to Marc. I did not know Bob well. He was a rough and tumble kind of guy. He had a gift for music and art. He and Shawn came to love each other, and I liked the man. I wrote to him once that there were no hard feelings between my family and him. I wanted Bob to know that my family, i.e. Marc’s family, was okay with his marriage to Shawn.
Bob died of brain cancer. He and Shawn knew that he had the cancer when they married. Bob died in Shawn’s arms. Shawn begged God to be merciful. She didn’t want to lose two men that she loved dearly. God said “no”. Shawn still believes in God.
As I stood in front of the two tombstones, of Marc and Bob, I felt uneasy. There was too much suffering. There were too many things left unspoken. There was too much left unresolved.
Shawn wanted to say the “Hail Mary” while we were there. We did. I think we did the Buddhist prayer too: “Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo”. Maybe we didn’t do that together. Maybe I only did.
There are no answers. There are only questions.