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My View: Couples should select gravestone together

By Irving Atlas

“I know what we should buy each other for an anniversary present,” my wife said at the kitchen table. It was a lovely Thursday morning in May 2014, and I was making blueberry pancakes prior to our leaving to deliver Meals on Wheels in Buffalo. Knowing how difficult it was to buy gifts for her, I eagerly waited for her to continue.

“The headstone for our graves.”

I noticed that she was reading the obituary section of The Buffalo News, as she always did the first thing in the morning.

I turned over the pancakes on the griddle. “Why should we do that now? Do you know something that I don’t know?”

The thought of what she was suggesting seemed like an end-of-life task, something you do after someone dies.

My subconscious raced back in time to choosing monuments for my parents, my in-laws, my Aunt Sarah and my Uncle Max. But they had already died. It was appropriate to mark their graves. The smell of overcooked pancakes brought my mind back to the kitchen.

“I would like us to think about doing this for each other,” Gloria said. “It’s something our boys won’t have to worry about.”

Over 20 years ago, she had suggested we “gift” each other cemetery plots. I resisted, but eventually I agreed. We purchased two graves in Elmlawn Cemetery, not far from our home in the Town of Tonawanda. It would be close for the surviving spouse to visit. She was using a similar approach now – plant the idea and it will eventually become a reality.

“I think we both should have input in choosing the stone,” she continued. She wanted to be able to help choose the marker for our final resting place. “We will be celebrating our 62nd wedding anniversary on Aug. 24, so let me know when you are ready to go shopping.”

I didn’t enjoy my breakfast that morning. As we delivered our route for Meals on Wheels, my thoughts were on the grave marker request.

In the ensuing months, I discussed my feelings with Gloria about not being comfortable with her request. It saddened me to think about the finality of what she wanted. We decided to focus on happy events that were in the near future: her 82nd birthday on Aug. 23, our anniversary and the wedding of our step-granddaughter in early September in Saratoga Springs.

Unexpectedly, on Sept. 27, 2014, Gloria died in her sleep. My high school sweetheart was gone, and I had not given her the final gift that she had asked of me that May morning. Not only was I dealing with the grief of her death, I was feeling guilty about not going with her to select our monument. If only I had a second chance to say yes.

I began having dreams like the plot of the movie, “Groundhog Day,” where Bill Murray keeps repeating the same day, only I couldn’t locate Gloria to go shopping, or like Michael J. Fox in “Back to the Future,” I was trying to change the course of events and we couldn’t find the monument company.

In April 2015 I met with the owner of a monument company and, with the aid of computer graphics, we planned the memorial. I wanted it to be somewhat biographical, so present and future generations could get a sense of our history together. Current etching technology has helped achieve that goal. Included are the dates of our births and marriage, and some of our accomplishments in life. Gloria’s maiden name honors her birth name. My name is there already. My family will fill in the date when I am gone.

A line from our favorite song is at the top: “All the things you are, are mine.”

My advice to others: Shop together while you are still able.

Irving Atlas, a retired Ken-Ton educator of 39 years, lives in the Town of Tonawanda.
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