by Peggi Tustan

Before my mother died, she assumed my father and I would visit her grave often. “It’s near the shopping center,” she used to say. “You can stop by and see me on your way to buying groceries.” As if we’d sit down for coffee and donuts with her at the cemetery. But after she died, the thought of visiting her grave made my heart hurt. So, I didn’t go.

 As summer waned, I felt guilty. I knew if dementia had not clouded his mind, my father would have asked me to take him to the cemetery. Therefore, before winter’s harsh winds would prevent it, I asked him, “Do you want to visit Mom’s grave?”

“Momma zomrela (died)?” my father asked in Slovak.

“Yes,” I answered.

“How long?”

“Nine months.”

It was difficult to gauge much he remembered. He knew Momma was gone. She no longer shared his room at the nursing home. I taped her obituary near his bed to help him remember. Framed photographs of my mother crowded his nightstand. The glass over her face was continually smudged from his kisses. He seemed adjusted to her absence. He began enjoying social activities at the care center. I assumed he knew his wife had passed away. His question, “Momma zomrela?” caught me off guard.

“Yes, we should go to the cemetery,” he finally replied. Once I knew we were going, I began worrying over how he’d react to seeing her grave. The image of my father sobbing and hugging my mother’s lifeless body in the casket is burned in my memory.

My son accompanied us to the cemetery to help maneuver Dad’s wheelchair over the uneven ground. At the gravesite, my father read the tombstone aloud. He watched me arrange cut flowers in the built-in vase and smiled, “Mom would like them.” Then, he bowed his head, closed his eyes, and clasped his hands in prayer. A gentle drizzle fell. The tiny droplets mingled with my tears.

After a while, I pointed out the statue of Jesus with arms outstretched standing nearby. I reminded him of the day we picked out the cemetery plots together. Mom adored the statue. She wanted to rest under Jesus’s loving arms.

“Mom’s not here, you know. It’s only her body. She’s with Jesus,” I reminded my father.

“I know. She’s in heaven,” he replied. 

He took another look at the headstone. Suddenly, his countenance lightened. Feigning offense, he said, “Hey, they misspelled our name. It should be Sláva, not Salva.” Slava means glory in Slovak. His comment inferred the Salva family is great, glorious, amazing!

As my son helped him into the car, my father was still grinning over his clever play on words. I could almost see my mother peering down from heaven, rolling her eyes, and sighing, “Oh, Cyril.”

I smiled. My father would be just fine. 

When one parent dies, we often worry how it will affect the surviving spouse. Emotionally fragile with grief myself, I didn’t feel strong enough to help bear my father’s grief. We’re not meant to. Our God is the burden bearer. When we fall apart, he holds us. Some of the sweetest moments with my father were shared in tears over missing Momma. 

The eternal God is your refuge,
and underneath are the everlasting arms.

Deuteronomy 33:27, NIV

Peggi Tustan sees herself as an ordinary woman living an extraordinary Real Life in Christ. “They Misspelled Our Name” is a selection from Gold in Gray, a caregiver devotional she’s writing. In addition to writing, Peggi teaches, speaks, and mentors women in Northeast Ohio. Stop by and visit her website

Cover photo by Mayron Oliveira on Unsplash