Today I had another class to retain my license. It is the annual medication recertification class. They are fussy about time — if you are 15 minutes late, they will not let you in. The instructor that we had today, we’ve had before, and she isn’t often one to let us out early. The schedule was for 9:30-3:30, and the class was at Stockley Center. I looked at the schedule and wondered if we would have a break, and if I could go to the graveyard. I try to get to Gertrude’s grave at least once or twice a year.
This class got over in record time. It was done by 1:00 with hardly any breaks, and no lunch breaks. We Shared Living Providers are a hearty bunch. We like to get DONE, and since most of us are there, year after year, and they haven’t even changed the test from last year, it was pretty simple.
So it was bright and sunny, a perfect January afternoon as I drove back the long dirt lane to the graveyard at Stockley Center.
There is an arch, and the saying on the arch (in case you can’t read it) says, “OF ALL GOD’S CHILDREN, THESE ARE THE MOST INNOCENT”. I always get a strange feeling as I pull up and park. A deep sadness, a kind of quietness, and a longing for something that I can’t quite identify.
Looking out across the cemetery, there is little there that is noteworthy. There are lots of small, low to the ground stones in the middle part.
This area was opened in the 1980’s and this is where (until the present and ongoing) they have buried the indigent disabled people who were wards of the state that resided in lower Delaware.
There is an area off to the side that has this monument:
This represents the names of people who have been buried here — probably in the years after Stockley came into existence (in the early 1930’s if my research is correct) before they deemed it necessary to have a separate marker for each person. This was not a “mass grave” but rather this one monument names the people who were buried in this area of the graveyard.
Even further away, in the right hand corner, is a very old graveyard. There are so many stones there that give me cause for wonderment. This part of the cemetery is not identified in any way, but it almost appears to be a place for people who may have died at the “poor house” or some similar place. There does seem to be some family connections in some of the graves, but this one really stood out to me. (There were no other graves like it, and I couldn’t find any names that corresponded to it either, although this name did appear on the larger marker.)
MARCH 19, 1889
JUNE 28, 1938
Also, in this section is a totally blank stone. Sitting there in the middle of all the others with neither name or anything to identify it. It is weathered somewhat, so it has been there a while. What stories would it tell?
But I am really here to see one particular gravestone. I stand by the plain marker, and sing a song for Gertrude and for me and think about Heaven and what it is like there for her.
I have such mixed feelings everytime I see this marker.
One thing that bothers me so much is that they don’t have her last name spelled right and they don’t have the right date of her death. I have asked if it could be changed, and I guess it would cost too much money. But her name was spelled FINNEGAN and she didn’t die on October 7th. She died on October 22nd. (If you go back on my Xanga posts to the dates from about October 1st to November 4, 2005, the whole story is there.) And I know it doesn’t matter a fiddle to her now, but it matters to me that a person like Gertrude could be buried in an indigent grave and the one thing that is granted her isn’t even correct in the information. I know that God knows her name and He knows when she was carried home. And I know. But it seems somehow like an injustice or another symbol of how often people with disabilities are treated as unimportant
Another thing that I dislike is that Gertrude hated Stockley Center with a fierce and unrelenting passion. In the early years of her placement with us, she would have to go there for dentist appointments, and she would get agitated everytime we got on the road towards the establishment. It almost seemed like she would see the distinctive water tower while still on the main road, and it caused anxiety to rise in her heart. She would be restless on the seat, and I would wonder what she was thinking. Sometimes she would say, “I’m not gonna’ go there.” and if someone brought up “the colony” (which is what she knew it as) she would shush them in her determined way, and refuse to discuss anything of it.
I didn’t want her to be buried there. We had put money into an account at one point from her savings so that she could have a chance at a better burial, but it was minimal, and in the true fashion of bureaucracy, it seemed to get lost somewhere. So when the time came, her family was in no position to help, and she was buried here, on the grounds of the place that she disliked so much. Her funeral was a precious gathering of friends and family, and the undertaker for these sorts of burials all over Delaware, was surprised and pleased. “You can’t imagine,” he said to Certain Man, “how often it is me, and a parson at these graves.” My Daddy was there that day. I remember him standing at the grave, doing the graveside service. I thought he looked so good , but he was much more ill than we realized, and in less than two months, my Uncle Jesse would do for Daddy what Daddy did for Gertrude that day . . .
I walk around among the graves there in the same section with Gertrude, look at the ones who belong to people I knew. Some of them would be known by some of you, and so I am putting a few of those stones here at the end of this post to remind us — These people lived. They touched our lives. They are remembered.
May they rest in peace