My hobby is tombstone cleaning … something I started out of a sense of duty, only to discover how rewarding it could be.
I remember how it started. One day, I went in search of a loved one’s grave. I found it caked with dirt and barely readable. I shook my head and knelt down. Wiping away the grime along with the tears I made out the name “Eugene Dodge.” My grandfather. Someone I loved and deeply respected.
I couldn’t understand why I would find his grave marker in such a state of disrepair. He was an Army veteran, a survivor of D-Day and a hero of World War II, but his final resting place was anything but honorable.
I cleaned it. I polished it. I made it shine and sing. I left it looking like a well-loved shrine. Then I decided to move on to the next one, and I continued on from there. No soldier is left alone on the battlefield, and I made sure no soldier was forgotten at this final place of muster.
I decided I wanted to come back for more. After a while, people asked what I was doing and why. I said we had made a promise to these soldiers, and that I was here to fulfill it; that they had placed their lives in harm’s way to protect me and my family, and I was going to ensure they were honored and remembered long after their tour was over. It feels rewarding to know that loved ones who come to pay their respects will see that others who never knew their friend or family member care for their memory, too.
Over the years, I’ve held tombstone outings, inviting others in my circle to join me: businessmen, teachers, coaches and fellow parents. Together, we’ve talked, remembered, prayed and sometimes laughed and cried as we envisioned the lives of these heroes. The names are no longer just names, but friends — an aunt, a grandfather, a deeply respected and never forgotten loved one. I’ve felt that our humanity has connected with theirs.
I remember one specific time, just before Memorial Day, I was alone cleaning some headstones and an elderly woman approached me wanting to know what I was doing to her husband’s grave. I said, “Ma’am, I am polishing his marker so that when you or any other person comes to visit him, you will find it well cared for. You will see that he, and you, are remembered, and the sacrifices you both made for this country are honored. Thank you for your sacrifice, the both of you.” She wept, and I wept with her. And she now knows we kept our promise to “never forget.”
What hobby helps you unwind from stress on the job? Send a photo and short description to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.