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STEVE FLORES: Mr. Gray was once me

Steve Flores column mug

Californian community columnist Steve Flores.

“Grief is love that has no place to go,” wrote author Jamie Anderson.

If you have lost a loved one, no matter how recent or long ago, you painfully know the meaning of Jamie’s quote. I am not a clinical psychologist or a cognitive therapist. But losing my wife, Susie, to cancer seven years ago makes me feel as though I am a grief expert. The power of grief over the quality of your life can be devastating.

Yes, I am familiar with the Kubler-Ross grief model, which most experts agree, can be in five stages. Depending on which day it is, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance have all been part of my life and are all too familiar to me. At one time or another, I have found selfish comfort in each of those stages. Thanks to my family and friends, I think I have worked my way through them all. Not knowing you are in one of those stages is usually a sign that you are in one of those stages.

I have also learned that grief is very personal. We all grieve differently. No timetable exists for grief. Grief wants you alone.

Each year before my children and I gather together to pay respects to their Mom at her gravesite on Mother’s Day, I go alone early in the morning when the cemetery first opens.

Solitary time with Susie on this day is important to me. Mother’s Day and our wedding anniversary are usually days apart. May 11 would have been our 47th wedding anniversary. A spouseless wedding anniversary is a difficult place to be once a year … as is a motherless Mother’s Day for my children.

There were only a few parked cars in the cemetery on this recent early Mother’s Day morning. When I slowly drove up to Susie’s gravesite, I noticed an elderly man standing alone in the shade of a tree. He looked to be in his mid-70s. His hair was uncombed, and he was unshaven. With his gray wrinkled pants and matching wrinkled shirt, he blended perfectly with the trunk of the tree. A small white and tan poodle needing grooming lay motionless on the headstone to which he was softly singing. I have respectfully named him Mr. Gray.

As I slowly passed him, he never looked up, left or right. He continued to stare down at the headstone at his feet and sang to whomever lay beneath his feet. I felt listening to him to see which song he was singing would be disrespectful. His slumped shoulders, hanging head and sadness you could almost see through his downcast eyes defined sorrow. A car I believed to be Mr. Gray’s was close by. He wasn’t homeless, except for his bereaved heart.

I sat at my usual bench near Susie’s grave, I said my Rosary and prayers and shared with her how proud I am of our children and grandchildren. Mr. Gray was about 20 yards from me and continued to sing the whole time I was visiting Susie.

When I left the cemetery, Mr. Gray was still standing and singing to the headstone.

I returned several hours later to the cemetery with my family. The cemetery was now filled with balloons, flowers and decorations. Groups of families gathered around headstones on their lawn chairs, some sitting on blankets respectfully honoring and remembering a mother’s life once lived. There was definitely sadness but also laughter and smiles in rejoicing their mom’s memory. I believe in my own heart that is what most mothers would want their children to do. Not to be eternally sad but to honor her life through the joy of family.

There were also those who came in solitude … like Mr. Gray … who was still there.

No longer singing but now sitting in his lawn chair holding and petting his scruffy dog next to the same headstone.

After about 30 minutes when my family and I left the cemetery. I glanced back at Mr. Gray with respect for his sadness. I realized I was once him.

I pray for Mr. Gray and others like him for their season of grief and its cruelty to transition into the light of family, joy and happiness.

Email contributing columnist Steve Flores at floressteve32@yahoo.com. His work appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.

Coronavirus Cases widget

  • Positive Cases Among Kern Residents: 158,270

  • Deaths: 1,828

  • Recovered and Presumed Recovered Residents: 150,950 

  • Percentage of all cases that are unvaccinated: 92.04

  • Percentage of all hospitalizations that are unvaccinated: 92.62 Updated: 12/3/2021.

  • Source: Kern County Public Health Services Department