Stones On A Grave – one moment of light in a place of darkness

Stones On A Grave – one moment of light in a place of darkness

This post actually started in September last year. The reason I am re-posting it because on Friday morning, my brother and I completed our visits for this year. We visited just under 50 graves for people around the world who were unable to.

img_0411It all started one Wednesday morning in September. I attended the unveiling of a man I had only met a handful of times but for whom I had developed a great respect. A man of humble means who was able to give and to share so much with the world. While standing next to his grave the Rabbi began to tell us a little about him and the kindness he shared. When someone was unable to say Kadish for a deceased relative for whatever reason, he would ensure that Kadish was recited and the memory preserved. Such a simple yet powerful and important gesture. From there I made my way down to visit the grave of my late mother Sadie and to spend a few moments of reflection and introspection as we all do when visiting the cemetery.

A few days later I found myself back at West Park for the unveiling of an old friend who died way too soon. Once again I made my way down to my late mother’s grave. On the way, as I always do, I found a nice stone and set out to place it there. It was my second visit in only a few days and I was emotionally overwhelmed. The feeling of loss and longing was stronger than I had ever experienced it before. As the tears filled my eyes and emotions flowed through me, I was struck with a thought that there must be hundreds if not thousands of people around the world who shared my emotions but because of time, distance or simply the means were unable to visit the graves of their loved ones.

As I stood there, I began to type a post on Facebook…

Visiting the graves of relatives before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. As fate would have it, I have been at West Park Cemetery twice in the last few days for unveilings and this has given me a chance to visit the grave of my late mom Sadie. Standing here today I realise there must be so many people unable to visit because of time or distance. It would be my privilege to do this on your behalf. I will return to West Park on Tuesday and if you would like a grave visited, a stone placed, a message or prayer said, please send me a message with as much detail as possible. I do this is memory and honour of my late mother Sheina Chaia. (Please feel free to pass this message on to any who may benefit from it.)

Good Yom Tov all.

Within a few seconds and for days after that the responses poured in. Heartfelt requests for assistance, notes and messages of gratitude, offer of assistance and encouragement. Some written in disbelief, some with offers of payment, special requests and some of the most touching stories I have ever read.

img_0402By Monday lunch time there were over forty requests for over seventy different visits and “with a little help from my friends” I began to compile the list. Next was a call to the Chev to try and find the grave numbers. As I began to explain why I was looking for so many, the lady said “Are you Michael? I have been following this on Facebook”. So a big thank you to Charmaine R who did the research for me.

And so this little mitzvah took on a life of its own. The requests kept coming, volunteers were offering their assistance and I knew for sure this was going to be an annual event. Next year I will start a little earlier and be a little more prepared. Website for requests, time to locate all the graves and just a little better planning all round.

By Monday evening all was in place, we were to meet at West Park at 9:30 and get this done. My alarm went off at 5 as I was planning to make gym that morning before the mitzvah. Then I suddenly realised that I had not seen a sunrise with my mom in over 30 years. I packed my camera, a hat, some sunscreen and my list and headed off to West Park. I was relieved to find some very helpful guards on duty who allowed me in. This gave me a chance to take some beautiful images and start the day off as I was planning to finish it, at my mom’s grave.

By seven am the admin staff were beginning to arrive and I was delighted to find the list waiting for me. I started off by visiting my own family members who I had added to the list. My late Bobbe and Zeida and my cousin Michael who was so tragically taken from us. My next call was to the children’s section of the cemetery to visit four graves. I knew this would be the hardest for me and it was something I wanted to do personally and not ask anyone else to do. I spent the next hour there, wandering around, reading inscriptions and stopping at almost every grave. It was a very emotional and moving experience and by the time I left, there were simply no more tears to shed.

IMG_0409Back to the office to double check the list, Karen, Belinda and Julian all arrived as promised and an unexpected addition was Terry who decided to join the team. We split the cemetery into sections and armed with phone cameras, stones that Karen had kindly collected that morning, our lists, our prayers and special requests we headed out.

I have no idea what I expected before the day began but it was just remarkable. It was spiritually uplifting, deeply meaningful and personally fulfilling. We would stop at each grave, place a stone, read a prayer and check to see if there were any special requests. By 1 pm we had visited over a 100 graves and the list was complete. Just before leaving, a few more requests came in and I said goodbye to the others (to whom I am immensely grateful) and headed off to find the last few.

Once they were located I then went back to my mom for a final visit before Yom Tov. As I got into my car, I received a message from Julian asking me if I could do one more as an email had just come in from Australia. Of course I would and waited for the name. To my amazement it was from one of my best friends in high school to visit the grave of his late father, a funeral I had attended a few years back.

On the way to the final grave I passed the grave of the father of one of my best friends in primary school, stopped at both, took some pics, laid some stones, said the prayers and headed home… smiling inside and out.

IMG_0406Will I do it again you may ask… as long as I am able! And one day when I am not, I can only hope that Sasha and whole new team of volunteers will carry on this mitzvah. And not for themselves and not for me, but for hundreds of strangers they have never met and may never meet to whom this means so much.

When I started this project I promised myself I would ask for nothing but I have changed my mind. If you have been touched by this I am going to ask you to do two things. The first is to please give some charity, any amount to any charity and no I do not want it done in my name nor do I want to even know about it. The second is not quite as easy; please do something for a stranger with no condition or expectation. You will be amazed at the impact just the tiniest act of kindness has on people and the world around you, not to mention on yourself.

Thank you for reading this, thank you for sharing this mitzvah with me, thank you for the support and encouragement, thank you for trusting me to see this through on your behalf.

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  1. Mike, is it too late for this year? I missed putting in my request.

  2. Wow Mike – wonderful work. Total admiration

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