It has been said that if you think you have troubles, look around and you will see someone that is worse off than you. I’ve always found this to be true, but no one has impressed this truth upon my mind more profoundly than Mrs. Marden.
It was my twenty-seventh anniversary, my husband’s work had taken us two thousand miles from home, and I was having a party—a full-blown, down in the dumps pity party complete with tears, bad attitudes, and deep sighs. Rick, momentarily forgetting our special date, made arrangements to have dinner with a business colleague to discuss a problematic issue. When my beloved realized his blunder, naturally I was invited to go along because it was, after all, our anniversary. I was not impressed.
I’m too old to act like a child. At least I try to avoid being seen acting childishly, so rather than pitch a fit, I decided to take a walk. With no path to follow, no destination in mind, I pounded my feet against the ground until I found myself standing at the gate of an old family graveyard. That’s where I met Ann Marden.
This final resting place was like many I had seen dotting the hillsides in New England. Twenty or so old granite markers, some crumbled to a mound of coarse gravel, some leaning, others fallen, most so weathered they were no longer legible, and all were partially hidden by tall grass and weeds. A knee-high fence created a boundary, as if the souls of those buried there could be confined by posts and a single wire.
Curiosity pulled me through the gate, and somehow reverence and my imagination held me there. I strained to read the names and dates on each headstone. So many I could not make out, but closing my eyes I read one with my fingertips—1817. There were some stones obviously older. I wondered if these people were immigrants. Were they farmers, teachers, or merchants? And where are they now? Did they choose to accept God’s gift of eternal life while they had the chance? The pitiful little party I had been having for myself was beginning to wane.
As I walked down the center of the cemetery reading the markers, I mentally pieced together a family tree. On the last row I found the most recent grave. Ann Marden wife of David Marden died Feb. 1, 1892, 71 years and 4 months. Born in 1820, I wondered, what was she like? Was her face porcelain pale and her hands soft and delicate? Or was her skin tanned and made leathery by years of hard work in the sun? In doing her part to shape a new nation, did she get to celebrate her wedding anniversaries in high fashion?
My mind wandered and my eyes drifted to the grave marker to the right of Ann’s. Engraved in the stone: Julaet…daughter…1861…4 years, 9 month, 24 days. I felt a lump coming up in my throat. Images of my own children at that tender age flashed in my mind. How this mother’s heart must have broken as she remembered and numbered every day of her child’s short life.
The row of granite slabs continued. Almost fifteen years after the death of Julaet, Ann Marden again suffered the pain no mother can bear alone. Levina…daughter…1876…23 years 6 months. And again almost exactly one year later: Walter…son…1877…22 years 6 months. And again after only sixth months: Susie P….daughter…1878…20 years 7days.
Empathy squeezed the lump in my throat until tears poured from my eyes. I silently thanked God for my three healthy children, all in their early twenties.
Finally, the headstone placed on the left side of Ann’s marked the grave of her husband, David. I imagined his death in 1883 must have created a hole in Mrs. Marden’s heart that could not be filled during her final nine years on this earth.
My pity party was over. I had a new appreciation of what my anniversary represented. I knew I was blessed to have lived twenty-seven years with a man who loved me through good and bad times, in spite of my childish tendencies. For me, the last quarter of a century has been filled with so much joy and so little heartache.
I walked back down the center of the little cemetery, wiping tears from my eyes and taking one last imaginative glance up and down each row of markers, seeing each family member as they might have been more than one hundred years ago. Slowly closing the gate behind me I thought, surely Ann Marden must have known the all sufficient God, for how else could she find the strength through her pain, and from beyond the grave, to wish me a happy anniversary?
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