My late wife, Jan, had two favorite places on earth. At the top of that list was Christ Church, the Oxford University college where she studied for her Ph.D. in theology. Second on that list was the Church of St. Michael and St. George in suburban St. Louis, where we first entered the Episcopal Church. We had left that parish for several years, and after surviving a horrendous car crash in 2018, she informed me that when she healed (a year away), she was “…only going to do those things that bring me joy. And I was the most joyful when we were members of the Church of St. Michael and St. George.” We returned to that parish when she was well enough to get around. She was elated to be back. Tragically, her time in attendance again there was short-lived. Five months after returning, she suffered the first of her four strokes. After the second stroke, she was never able to attend services there or anywhere again. Neither was I.
Before all of our tragedies occurred, we had briefly discussed where we would want to be buried when we died. We left Nashville, Tennessee, in 1972, leaving behind two cemetery plots in the same cemetery where most of my relatives are buried. While it appeared we would eventually end up there, neither of us was particularly interested in being buried in Nashville after spending the past 50+ years of our lives living in diverse places—38 of which were in St. Louis.
We never got very far into that discussion when she suffered the first of four strokes, and it was apparent she would pass away in St Louis. We had raised our sons there, and it was home to us all.
While she was still an invalid, it fell upon me to seriously consider where we would eventually be buried. After giving this much thought and prayer, I concluded that no local cemetery would do. I then had an epiphany.
Our Church is a stately, magnificent structure — with an “Old English” gothic design. Adjacent to the main entrance is a garden—Page Garden. It is a beautiful brick and red granite columbarium for the inurnment of cremated remains. My sons and I decided it would be the perfect place for her and, eventually, me. Up to then, I had never considered cremation.
Her funeral was at the Church, and we processed out of the main entrance, through the Garden gate 25 feet away, and placed her urn in the niche I had purchased. It is indescribably beautiful there, and I am confident she rests peacefully in this lovely spot. What makes it especially pleasant for me is that every time I enter or leave the Church, I take a short detour through the garden gate and visit her niche. That is a benefit I had never really considered.
I had not attended Church there for two years before her death and for several months after her funeral. As I began to deal adequately with my grief, I decided it was time to resume attendance there. I didn’t know many people besides the priests, so I joined a men’s Bible study group that met there early every Friday morning. I feel my wife’s spirit was behind that decision.
My first meeting, at 7:00 AM, as the sun was rising on a lovely autumn morning, I was entering the gate to the Page Garden first to visit her niche when I saw a ring of folding chairs within the Garden on its brick paving stones. That was the location for my first meeting with these great guys. I introduced myself to each of them (nine were in attendance) and pointed out how happy I was that my first meeting with them was 15 feet from my wife’s niche. They were very moved by that. I could hardly contain my laughter as I envisioned her beautiful, mischievous smile, as I was convinced that this first meeting had her spiritual hand in it. We had two other meetings there before moving indoors due to the weather.
Shortly after my first meeting there, our Church celebrated the Feast of St. Michael, which included a group of men playing the bagpipes during the service, after which was a picnic lunch on the lawn. The pipers played throughout lunch. Several people took their lunch into the Page Garden to eat there. So did I. I was right next to her niche while I had my fried chicken. She would have loved it!
We believe very strongly in the concept of the “Communion of the Saints.” Every soul, living and deceased, in that parish, is a saint. I draw great pleasure in knowing that our parishioners pass close by her resting place every week, communing with each other as they enter and leave the Church. Her spirit, and the spirits of other deceased parishioners, is among them. I’m so happy I decided to make our Church her resting place, and I look forward to seeing her niche now multiple times each week. She is right at home.
Michael Burroughs is the author of Moving Mountains: Facing Strokes with Faith and Hope. He lives in suburban St. Louis, Missouri.