I struggled with how to start this post, or if I would even write it at all because it’s hard to know how to “announce” that your husband’s headstone has finally arrived to mark his grave. It’s hard to know if it’s something that should be shared with the world, or kept as a silent occasion. I struggled to decide if sharing something so personal would offend readers of Just Frances or if sharing this part of my life would be well-received.
In the end, I decided that I needed to share with the world because I find comfort in writing and I’ve had several people contact me saying that they, in turn, find comfort in reading what I’ve written.
So, the big announcement is that after 15 months, there is finally a permanent marker at Paul’s grave in America*. Whilst some may say that the delay was a sign of disrespect (in fact, one did!) it took as long as it did because I wanted to be certain that I was choosing something that would be a fitting tribute to Paul. And if I know Paul, he would be surprised that I didn’t take even more time to decide!
I was fortunate that no one pushed me to order a headstone when I was making funeral arrangements. I’ve read so many accounts from young widow(er)s who regret the decisions that were urged upon them in those frightening and confusing hours and days after their spouse passed away. Instead, no one asked me about a headstone at all. Certainly, I made dozens and dozens of other decisions in those early hours, and I don’t regret any of them, but I don’t know that I would have been able to make decisions on a headstone without later regret.
I think I knew what I wanted for Paul’s headstone early on, but it wasn’t until December – more than eight months after he died – that I was finally ready to meet with the monument company to make arrangements for its design. Of course, in true Frances style, what I wanted was not commonly available so had to be custom-designed. And my OCD-tendencies meant several back-and-forth sketches before I was happy with it; which meant that from my initial meeting with the monument company until its placement at the cemetery, it took about seven months to complete – partially because it required a lot of custom hand carving and partially because I didn’t want to rush myself.
I wanted something simple and traditional, but something that was fitting for both of our likes. Knowing that it would need to include a cross, I decided the main design would be Paul’s favourite cross: the St. Martin’s Cross from the Iona Abbey in Scotland. Paul always enjoyed talking about the island’s role in bringing Christianity to Britain, and we had been looking for a nice replica of the cross to hang in our living room before he died.
For several weeks, I’d been anxious and excited for the headstone’s delivery, but when I learned the date of the installation, it made me sad. Paul’s headstone was no longer a theoretical object sometime in the future, but a real, tangible symbol of my husband’s death. It was difficult to see our names** etched in stone; it was painful to see the stone standing there. But strangely, I found comfort in it, too. As I stood there looking at the stone and feeling the coolness of the granite with my hands, I felt good knowing that for generations to come there will be evidence of my amazing husband’s (short) life on this Earth.
Paul and I had always talked about making a trip to the Isle of Iona one day, and I now feel more compelled than ever to travel to the island and see the original cross standing where it’s stood for more than 1,200 years. I know it will be hard to do alone, knowing that it was something we’d planned to do together, but I’m certain that I’ll find a bit of peace standing there on my own knowing that Paul is in my heart.
I thank my God for every remembrance of you.
~ Philippians 1:3
* There is a marker at his parents’ grave in England, too, as I had his ashes split between the two locations.
** For my UK readers, I realise that it may seem strange to have my name included on the stone at this point. Whilst not necessarily the “standard” in America, it is a very common format and one that I chose to use because it brought me a certain amount of comfort. Which is weird. But so am I.