Even before the pandemic, we may not have been what you call a traditional family. We're a bit spur-of-the-moment, especially with our parenting. A long while back, after a late lunch outing during which we scouted random local places for tacos, our family drove through town trying to find things to do on a lazy weekend afternoon. As we passed the cemetery next to our city's oldest church, I called out, "Who wants to go see a cemetery?"
"Sure," said the kids. "Sure," said the husband.
My kids hadn't been in a cemetery before. They are lucky. Death is abstract for them still. My daughter would even see my father's photo on the wall — looking into the distance in front of a waterfall — and only know that he existed and he's not here now. My son would run by unaware, the top of his head not even reaching the bottom of the picture frame yet.
When the car stopped, I turned around to the back seat to explain that we were going to walk around a place where you have to be quiet. They nodded, already in stealth mode.
Cemeteries generally feel peaceful to me, land imbued with the energy of emotion when sons and daughters return to the soil. As we walked up, I asked my then-6-year-old daughter if she knew what a cemetery was, while my husband and 3-year-old son were already at the gate. She shook her head.
I explained that when we die — "Like your dad," she interjected, my heart slightly deflating as she referred to him unfamiliarly.
"Yes," I continued. "Some people choose to have their bodies put in the ground." We came up to the first row of headstones, the only uniformity in spacing, the decorations and markers for each grave varying wildly.
"They are in there?" she asked incredulously as we paused in front of the row. "Their bodies are," said my husband dryly. I quickly followed up, saying, "This is a place for the living to remember people they loved. It's a place to be respectful for the sadness of others and the lives that have been lived."
We continued our small tour, and I pointed out the stuffed bears and tiara on one grave, even though it wasn't quite in tone with the age on the headstone.
"Someone may have left these to share some of the best memories," I said to my daughter. "Maybe she loved stuffies ... like me," replied my daughter. I wondered in that moment what would be on my grave.
Ever since I've had kids, I've stewed on my existence on the longer ancestral timeline. I was no longer a speculative endpoint to my nameless-to-me ancestors. I became a card-carrying member of humanity that had checked off "Actively Contributed to Species Continuation," at least by stumbling through basic procreation.
But what else could I check off on that card? Bought a house? A car? Ran a business?
Or did I fill my life with intangible markers? Did I comfort a crying toddler in the night? Did I listen to my dying father tell his stories? Did I fight to amplify and brighten the lives around me who needed it?
There may not need to be more etched on my grave than the blip of time I was here and a note that I loved and was loved. It could be a simple place to have my body settle, a place where my daughter and son could come to revive their memories of me. Because the enduring strain of how we made people feel, and how we created a future for those we will not know, may be our only true legacy. We may not etch our existences into this world physically, as we may long to. But those we loved may allow our good to seep through to the long line of humanity stretching before us, even if those people won't know our names and we won't know theirs.
Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma (sorry, Cassie) and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She can be contacted at