Jackie Kossoff graduated from the University of Evansville in 2015 with a B.S. in Communication, and a B.F.A. in Creative Writing, which she put to use in writing this blog post.
Walking through Hillside Memorial Park park has become a weekly regimen of mine. My usual route takes me past the lush, green hillside with the Jolson Memorial perched on top, where I watch the cars pass on the 405, wondering if they can see me or whether that would even be a good thing since the drivers’ focus should be on the road. I am constantly fascinated by the effect of the mausoleum’s stained glass windows from the outside, as they were meant to be viewed from the inside.
No matter where I go in the park, I am bound to run into visitors standing or sitting by their loved one’s resting place. The stories that are told just by the items left behind, whether a stone engraved with “Mom & Dad” or a teddy bear for one taken too soon, are powerful in their simplicity. I can sometimes imagine that I know a person’s whole life story.
Just over a month ago, I was walking through the park the week before Memorial Day. I was admiring the flags waving in the wind. A woman at the bottom of the hill approached me to ask for a flag for her husband, a Vietnam veteran. As flags had not yet been placed this far down the hill, I went to the Administration Building and brought one back to her. When I placed the flag at her husband’s grave, I noticed that he had passed away in 1978.
“Yes, it was a long time ago. He was only 30,” the woman said politely, no doubt recognizing the shock on my face.
I relayed my condolences to her with as much feeling as I deemed appropriate to a widow from a stranger. She thanked me and began to tell a little of her husband’s story.
They were married young and he had been drafted into the Army shortly after their wedding. He wasn’t gone long, but he had been exposed to high amounts of Agent Orange. Soon after returning to their newly purchased home, he was diagnosed with cancer. He died a few years later.
I’m just a few years younger than this woman was when she lost her husband, and I cannot even imagine the amount of grief she went through, losing the one with whom she had planned her entire future. I was extremely moved by her continued visits, despite the nearly four decades that have passed. I did not ask if she had ever remarried, started a family, or if she had already had children when her first husband died. All I know is that a wife who loves her husband still comes to visit him 40 years after his passing and wishes his memory to be distinguished with a flag for his service to his country, which cost him his life.
With Memorial Day and Hillside’s Father’s Day Remembrance Service just past, I have been thinking a lot about the notion that those who are gone only exist in memory. And I have to disagree. Those who are no longer with us in a physical sense will always be a part of our lives. Whether they live on through memory alone or through actions and deeds, such as placing a flag or treasured memento upon their grave, is up to those of us left behind.