The first few months after her death, I had an easy excuse. We couldn't put one up until the ground settled and that could take up to six months.
After my six month reprieve, the questions started, "Have you chosen a headstone?" "Do you know when you are going to get it?" Blah, Blah, Blah....I finally got to the point where I would tell people, "Look, I can't do this right now. I will when I am ready."
In all reality, I will never be ready. Acceptance is the one stage of grief that I have not been able to conquer. That final, most important step, continues to elude me. Choosing a headstone is way too close to acceptance.
I can't do that with Noelle. I never want to run my fingers across her name and especially not the short dates that spanned her life.
I started doing research into traditional burial methods of Native Americans. In my search, I came across two methods that intrigued me. One was a grave house, the other method was simply rocks piled on top of the grave.
Noelle was by far an unique person and I knew she would have loved the idea of a "different" kind of headstone. I discarded the rocks, because while she loved to collect rocks as a child, it wasn't a very pretty way to mark a grave, and people already think I'm weird enough as it is; don't need to add fuel to the fire.
I couldn't find a lot of good information about grave houses, but what I did find, I loved. Grave houses are a Southern tradition as well as Native American. They are mostly used when a child dies young or tragically. The houses sometimes contained weapons for warriors or sewing and cooking utensils for women. A child's grave house might contain her favorite toy.
I decided the best way to honor Noelle was to build her a grave house. I could have commissioned this to be built, but I wanted to do it myself. My final gift to her.
The wood would come from my brother's land. That would be important to her. The only part of her house that wasn't made by a family member would be the "door mat" (not headstone) placed in the ground in front of the house. I chose the Bible verse John 14:2, "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.", because those words spoke to me and seemed to sum up our situation. She just got there a little earlier than planned to get our houses ready for us.
The day I went to my brother's to cut down the tree to be used for her house, I cried. I cried for a good six hours that day. Only wiping my tears away long enough to operate the chain saw. I thought the day I buried her was hard; this day was by far harder.
As my brother and nephew laid out the logs so we could get the dimensions right, my mind took me back to building her crib. I saw her as a baby sleeping peacefully in the crib, as a toddler jumping up and down in the crib, and then I saw her in the coffin...her final crib.
I cried at the injustice of her death. I cried for my own selfishness in wanting her back on this earth. I cried because I felt a loneliness deep in my soul. I cried because I miss her.
As her house took shape, I wanted to crawl into that wooden box and die. I couldn't hold my emotions together. Not for my kids, my mom, my brother, or my nephews. All I could do was fall apart. And I did. I fell apart that day. I couldn't stop the tears, I couldn't rationalize my thoughts. All I could do was grieve.
My brother, God love him, didn't acknowledge my tears. When I fell to the ground sobbing, he would say, "OK, let's get up now and make sure we have this right. Come over here and cut this piece right here." He knew I didn't need comfort. He let me openly grieve, he tried to refocus my efforts and in not comforting me gave me what I needed. My brother is a man of few words, but he is very wise.
After the logs were cut, he took me for a drive. He took me deep into the woods and let me talk and cry for two hours. He showed me the spot that he had planned to take Noelle hunting. We sat under a tree looking down into a ravine and were rewarded with two deer who came by to cautiously say hello. It was beautiful there.
If I would have been in a better state of mind, I think I could have found peace there. Considering the circumstances, I got as close as I possibly could.
Alas, we did not finish the construction of Noelle's grave house that day so this story is....TO BE CONTINUED...