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Finish what you started. It was one of those maxims I picked up in my formative years. Do you suffer when you cannot complete something? I do. It is a big old joy-kill. So, the following tale is a personal plug for the immense joy that can be derived from completing something that is unfinished.
A year ago, my second cousins Dee and Chris showed me the Clark gravesite at Mt. Hope Cemetery in North Attleboro, MA. I had already seen a picture of it but to be there in person, something got stirred up.
Each name on the gravestone was familiar: paternal grandparents, my uncle and his wife, another brother of my Dadís who died the same year he was born, and my Dad, Geoffrey Clark. Each name also had both the year of birth and death, except my Dadís, which only had his birth year of 1919. This troubled me. After all, Dad died in 2005 but someone viewing the gravestone would think he was still alive, in his late 90ís! To me, this was a serious incompletion.
It seemed like my grandfather Homer wanted his family to be buried with him at this stunningly beautiful cemetery. In the case of my father, that did not happen. Instead, my Dadís ashes were scattered in the sea and that was as close to any kind of ritual that took place to commemorate my fatherís death. As one who firmly believed in the importance of ritual to help the bereaved process their loss, I disagreed with my parentsí adamant request for no memorial services. Nonetheless, I felt it was important to honor their wishes.
In the aftermath of that visit to Mt. Hope Cemetery in the Fall of 2015, I kept thinking about Homerís wishes. Shouldnít his wishes be honored, too? I decided to have the year of my fatherís death etched into the gravestone.
The company that performed this task for me sent me a picture of their work, and I felt an inordinate sense of accomplishment. In September of this year, I returned to the cemetery to see the completed gravestone in person, and felt so darn satisfied to see this:
Soon after my decision to add the year of Dadís death to the Clark gravestone, I got to thinking about my Momís side of the equation. I considered adding her to the Clark memorial but recalled that my maternal grandparents had a gravesite elsewhere. It took a yearís worth of emails, phone calls, and research but eventually, the Shurtleff site was found.
Like Homer, my maternal grandparents had paid for plots that could include their three children. Was there a marker for Mom? Nope. Another troubling incompletion. I arranged for a marker to be placed to commemorate her life. On the same trip back East in September, I visited the Shurtleff gravesite.
I placed a stone and a piece of beach glass I found on ďMomís beachĒ a few days prior. Once again, such a sense of all-is-right-in-my-world came over me. I may have looked subdued because I was in a cemetery but my inner landscape was bright: I beamed with pure joy.
We may have tons of incompletions surrounding us, and we may not always have the means or wherewithal to seek completion but where possible, I cannot recommend it enough. Also, your wishes matter. Make them as explicit as possible so those who you leave behind do not have to do too much guessing.
I did not learn until I was an adult that grilled meat, fish or veggies often taste better if they have been marinated. As with food, sometimes progress towards completion of a project or goal requires marination. What are we told to do if we are trying to make a difficult decision? Sleep on it. What happens while we sleep on it? Marination. We do not have to rush to the finish at all times. While completions might bring more joyful feelings, sometimes we have to tolerate a fair amount of frustration or discomfort, and stick with the process (which may be prolonged in some cases) before we can relish the satisfaction of achievement or resolution. Itís all worth it.
Prompts for Joy:
Click here to see some special lunchtime entertainment for a bunch of school kids.
By no means
do I have joy “figured out.” Please do not assume
that I do! I write Out On a Limb as much as a meditation for
myself in the ongoing pursuit of joy, as for you. I think this
pursuit is a lifelong journey and that the full experience
of joy is, at best, episodic. May we all have more episodes!
Martha Clark Scala, MFT · 721 Colorado Ave., Suite 201, Palo Alto, CA 94303 ·