In Memory

When my 30-year-old daughter died in a car accident in April of 2017, after her memorial service we were all somewhat at a loss as to what to do with her ashes. The church she and her husband (of just two months) attended had no cemetery. Her dad’s family is buried in Kentucky. Her husband’s family is in South Africa. And my family is buried in Tennessee.

We decided that the place we all love to gather is at our home on a river in rural north Florida. Rachel found solace and comfort here. She and her husband-to-be came here to ask our blessing on their engagement and for me to give them my mother’s wedding set to put on her left hand.

Her husband picked out a red oak sapling to stand over her ashes because it would eventually grow full and strong and live for decades. Although for now it is tall and willowy and delicate like she was.

We gathered as a family to bury her urn and plant the tree.

I love that I can watch the little tree grow. And that her remains are resting In peace in this place that brings peace to my soul. But, for several years now something in me still has wanted a traditional stone to memorialize her name and her brief existence on this earth in a place where distant generations might go to seek information about their family.

From the time they were toddlers, both my girls spent at least a month every summer with my parents in west Tennessee. They got to know the families I grew up around. They had the privilege of spending time with their great-grandmother who lived to be 95. They met distant cousins. They learned old gospel songs and corny jokes from their granddaddy and were taught to swim by their grandmama. 

So, when my husband asked me this past November what I wanted for my birthday, I said I wanted a memorial stone for Rachel in the Stanton, Tennessee cemetery.

My husband is the girls’ stepfather. He has been in their lives since they were 9 and 4. He has always respected their dad’s role, and has always loved the girls as his own. He was devastated when Rachel died, and he doesn’t like to talk about her death. Still, he listens to me talk about her, and he supported my wish for a memorial.

Today I got a call from the funeral home that the stone was being placed at the foot of my parents’ graves. It’s a simple stone, as are all my family members’ stones. They are Presbyterians and Methodists – practical small-town people who know bodies decay and monuments can be destroyed by tornados. Their home and their glory is in Heaven. Rachel is there with them, worshipping at the feet of Jesus. Singing “I’ll Fly Away” while her granddaddy plays guitar. Slipping into that Tennessee accent even though she never actually lived in the Deep South. Gathering with saints at a river that in my imagination looks a bit like our little river that runs by our yard where her little tree stands. Well . . .

Whatever Heaven is like, she and they are there. But her name is here, engraved on a stone in a small-town cemetery along with their stones and names. And I can go see them and weep for them and know that some sweet day I will join them.

Rest in Peace Rachel Elizabeth Slone Claasen 10/31/1986 – 4/11/2017


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