Never thought I'd see my name on a tombstone

This is my husband's grandmother's tombstone. She passed away 12 years ago and every time we visit her, her children and grandchildren cry as if she had passed away that morning. Sometimes her great-grandchildren even cry and given they never met her, that's a powerful testament to the love and the joy that she left in the hearts of her family. It is spilling over into future generations.


Just after her death in 1996 my then-fiance took me to visit her gravesite, which rests high atop a mountain and under the shade of a pine tree. Buddy taught me about the Chinese tradition of carving into the tombstone the names of the person's relatives, honoring the traces they left behind on the sands of life. I ran my finger over the cold indententations of the stone, recognizing the names of Buddy, his mom, his dad. I came to a name I didn't recognize and I asked Buddy "Who is that?"

grave closeup

"That's your name," he said.

I nearly passed out, which looking back, would have been an ironic thing to do on a grave bearing my name.

I was surprised because for one, I never expected to see my own name on a gravestone. Shouldn't that be a sight reserved for your adoring children and grandchildren?

I do remember seeing graves in Alabama where for example a husband had died and was buried in a "twin lot" so his wife's name was carved into the tombstone, along with her birthdate and a dash. At the time I thought it must be eerie to be the wife and wondering every day if today might be the other side of your dash but now that I'm married I know that once your partner goes you probably want every day to be your last so you're okay with the grave template.

On a sidenote, I once met a woman who worked in the office of a cemetery and her husband was a mortician. I asked her if their occupations gave them any special insights into death and life and you know what she said?

"Not really, no."

How can that be?

Back to the cemetery, seeing my name on my husband's grandmother's tombstone also surprised me because, hey, we weren't even married yet. The wedding was still two weeks away and yet here were our names literally carved together in stone. Not that I was getting cold feet or anything but is it not customary to inform the carved before commissioning the family tombstone? I took it as a good sign that his family had faith in our promise to each other - then and now they've never expected anything other than complete mutual support and devotion from us. I find this especially difficult when I do occasionally want to thump him on the head and they're around. (On another side note, Buddy and I discovered on our last trip to the cemetery and after an unfortunate family divorce that it is possible to have a name erased from a stone. I'm pretty sure the un-carved didn't get notified in this case.)

All this talk of death and marriage reminds me of one day when I went to the cemetery at Sulphur Springs Baptist Church in Mud Creek, Alabama where my dad's people are buried. I was walking around the cemetery with my Uncle John and we came across a twin lot with a husband and wife who had died on the same day, same year.

"Oh, I wonder if maybe they died together in an accident? Maybe a tornado hit their house? Or wait, maybe they were both sick and in separate rooms of a hospital and she passed away and then he, sensing that she was gone, let go too?"

Uncle John knows everybody in Mud Creek, dead or alive, so of course he had the answer.

"Naw, Melney, he shot her and then he killed himself."

And only in Mud Creek, Alabama would they be buried together in a twin lot.


touching and funny at the same time. what a wonderful set of stories.

Posted by Robs on September 17, 2008 at 12:55 PM CST #

Mel, What a touching post! I loved it....and was preparing to cry at the end of the funny....and sad.... Barb

Posted by Barb Kish on September 17, 2008 at 06:30 PM CST #

You realized the name they carved is not your "official" Chinese name, but a phonetic translation of "Melanie." Right?

I went back to my "home town" in FuJian and saw my name carved on many tombstones too. Clearly when my father visited them years ago, he instructed and funded the carving of additional names. It is a heavenly bragging right to show many offspring still mourning you long after your death. Hench the "required" crying.

Posted by Sin-Yaw Wang on September 17, 2008 at 10:36 PM CST #

Sin-Yaw yeah, this was before I came up with my real Chinese name 美齡.

Posted by Melanie Gao on September 18, 2008 at 01:31 AM CST #

A post that talks about one of the biggest fascinations I have. Since what I wanted to say is quite big, I have a follow up post! :-)

Posted by Madhan Kumar on September 18, 2008 at 05:05 PM CST #

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