Soon it will be Memorial Day and I will once again be marching in the Waynedale Memorial Day Parade. As much as I love marching the route in my son’s USMC shirt and waving to the friendly people who take the time to watch the parade, it is the service at Prairie Grove Cemetery that is the highlight of the experience. As the bell tolls in memory of each of the local veterans who died over the year who gave up a part of their lifespan to serve their country, along with the small American flags marking the graves of the men and women who died at war whether decades ago or during more recent conflicts, the enormity of death hangs in the air like a stifling cloud ready to burst at any moment and rain down on the participants. Taps are played, remarks commemorating the day are made and slowly the people disperse back to their cars and the cemetery is silent once again.
On Memorial Day many people not only honor our country’s war dead, but they often make cemetery visits to pay their respects as they remember friends and family placing cut flowers on their graves as a reminder that their lives have not been forgotten by those who love them. The flowers are a symbol of the fragility of life for in their short lifespan they give joy to the individual who views them, breathes in their sweet scents and cares for them, but alas, no matter how much care they are given, they will eventually wither and die.
As I write this, death has struck very close to me. This past Monday I received a call from one of our tenants in the Macedonian Tribune Building informing me that our foremost artist tenant Allen Etter had died earlier that day. NO! It couldn’t be! Not 51 year-old Allen who I just informed on Friday that his favorite restaurant would soon have their delectable frog legs back on the menu, not Allen who last week showed me another creepy hand he had created with his makeup wizardry, not Allen who mentored students and co-workers to bring out their best and most of all not Allen who would do almost anything for anybody who needed a helping hand from the near seven-foot giant who could reach almost anything. Most of all not Allen who made me and so many others laugh.
Death sooner or later comes to everyone whether expected at the end of a terminal illness, the result of a fatal accident or as in Allen’s case somewhere in between. People through the ages and across cultures have memorialized their deceased loved ones in various ways: a lock of their hair and hair wreathes, photos of the deceased, inscriptions on grave makers, memorials to their favorite charities to name a few.
I get calls from time-to-time asking whether I can take a loved one’s T-shirts and sweatshirts and create a memorial quilt from them. When I get the call or email I first offer my condolences on the loss of their loved one, then explain that I don’t have the skill set to assist them and then offer names of other quilters who may be able to assist them or refer them on. I do encourage them if possible to take part in the making of the quilt because as their hands are busy creating it, their minds will be thinking of their dearly departed and the place they now dwell in their heart.
It is much too soon for me to process Allen’s sudden death and how all of the building’s tenants whose lives he touched will collectively memorialize him, but I can assure you it will be creative, it will be huge, it will be funny as Allen’s spirit inspires and infuses us to celebrate his joie de vivre as we are reminded of our own yet-to-be-determined expiration date.