This year, we spent part of Mother’s Day at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, NY. That’s where my brother-in-law, Gordon Kurtti is at rest with his grandparents, Lucille and John Kurtti.
It was our daughters, 7 and 10 who made the request to visit. They never met their uncle Gordon. They thought since it was his birthday on May 4th and Mother’s Day on the 9th, we ought to spend some time with both their Uncle and grandma Claire. That meant our double party would have to take place at the cemetery.
Gordon died in 1987, years before I met and married his brother, but I’ve always felt as if I knew him. 25 years after his death, he remains a large presence in the Kurtti family. There is always a place for him at every family celebration whether it’s through some physical symbol (like the plaque below bought for his birthday as a child) or stories at family gatherings, like the time he was honored at his high school graduation for a mural he painted and showed up wearing overalls and a Panama hat, quintessential Gordon style. In our home, one of his sketches is a focal point in our living room hanging on the wall. Upstairs, one of his fashion paintings now resides in our youngest daughter’s bedroom. Every year on Christmas, we hang ornaments that belonged to him. A gifted artist, his creations are still sprinkling beauty in our lives.
At the cemetery, my husband let our daughters pick out something to bring to their uncle’s grave and instead of the more traditional flowers, they choose balloons and a happy birthday marker. They ran with excitement through the rows of tombstones looking for the Kurtti grave. I was nervous that the girls were having a little bit too much fun at the cemetery, but my mother-in-law was delighted at their excitement.
“I’m so happy they brought balloons,” Claire said just as I was worrying over this choice of remembrance for her deceased son, the fifth of her seven children. “They’re good for a young person. Flowers can seem so somber.”
But there was nothing somber about that visit to the cemetery. The girls found rocks for all of us to leave on the grave. Grandma Claire shared a few stories about fun times with Gordon and explained how everyone had wrongly believed that his birthday was on the 5th like it says on his tombstone, but it was really the 4th. Before we left, we sent Gordon prayers and our daughters led us in a little happy birthday conga line around my brother-in-law’s grave. The cemetery police never showed up to bust us for having too good a time. Both his mom and brother agreed, Gordon would have liked their dance. I’m only sorry neither my daughters nor I got to dance with him in person.
I hope you all enjoyed Mother’s Day as much as we did.
Do you have any special traditions for keeping the memory of your deceased ancestors alive in family celebrations?