An Excerpt from Escape from St. David’s
The sound of the new arrival was louder than Wylder expected. The tractor vibrated and pierced the earth. The screeching was almost painful. Wylder had gotten used to the quiet. The residents began to gather at the stone benches, and she went over to join them.
“Do we know who it is yet?” Tom asked. Having spent so many years with these people, Wylder knew exactly what Tom was thinking. His wife had not been by to visit since he had arrived. Each time the tractor pierced the earth and broke the veil between life and death, Tom thought maybe she was coming to join him. He had told Wylder that he felt guilty each time he wished the new arrival was her, but still, he could not help himself. He missed her so badly. He knew if she did not have a spot soon, he would never see her again, but he wanted to be with her for eternity and talk about all the things that had never been said between them, both important and unimportant, like Patty and Guy got to do.
“Not yet,” replied Wylder, “but it is in the Jewish section of St. David’s.” Tom’s natural smile faded, and he sat down next to the others.
The men moved the earth to make room for the new gravesite. With indifference, the workers did their job and left St. David’s.
Later that day, the black hearse moved intentionally toward the reserved space for the newcomer. Soon after, the paths filled with cars filled with people who were filled with sadness. As the people left their warm cars for the chill of St. David’s, they huddled together in small circles under large black umbrellas. Six men went to the back of the hearse and the casket emerged. Gently and with great respect, they took hold of it and began the long walk. They accompanied their friend on this journey to his or her final resting place, pausing seven times, which seemed to symbolize that this was a journey they did not wish to take, and there was no rush to complete it. During their journey, Psalm 91 was being read aloud to the mourners.
One by one the people honored the dead, starting with the deceased’s wife. She picked up a shovel, filled it with earth, and threw it on the casket. No one should have to be buried by strangers. Jeanette had later explained to Wylder that this was a Jewish funeral. The tradition was called a ‘chesed,’ because it was the ultimate kindness that could never be repaid. Wylder watched as the wife collapsed in tears and her two children, in their late twenties, rushed to her side. They helped her with two more shovels full of earth. Later, Wylder would learn that the new arrival was Greg, a family man. He, his wife, and children had planned to take a vacation the next year to celebrate Greg’s retirement, but his cancer had returned, swift and aggressive. His death had taken them all by surprise.
Each person, shovel in hand, heaviness in heart, did their last kindness for Greg. As the sun was setting, and the burial was complete, the mourners lined up in two rows. They waited until Greg’s wife was ready. She and her two children walked between the lines of mourners as they said, “may God comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem”.
After the family had left and the sun had set, Wylder saw Patty still standing at the new gravesite. Wylder stood next to Patty. “How long does it take for the new arrival to get here?”
“It depends; it’s different for everyone,” Patty said.
They did not have to wait long to meet Greg. Within a few days he showed up. He was a friendly and curious man who wanted to get to know everyone. He shared stories about his family, work, and hobbies. He quickly adapted to the community and found ways to participate and be helpful.
It turns out that Greg and his wife had bought spots in the Jewish section of St. David’s years ago to avoid leaving that painful task to their children. Greg was in no hurry to have Jan, his wife, join him but looked forward to her visits. She was a beautiful woman with a warm and welcoming smile. She would visit about once a week and sit for an hour, sharing what had happened since her last visit. She seemed to have accepted Greg’s death as a temporary separation. She talked to him like he was on the phone. Greg explained that this was likely because they had spent time on the phone each night when he traveled for business. For three decades, no matter where he was in the world, Tokyo, London, or Washington DC, he always called her to discuss the day and wish her goodnight.
Greg asked questions about the community and the rules of the afterlife. No one knew them, of course, but they all enjoyed telling him their guesses. The one theory he was most curious about was that St. David’s would be locked one day when all the spots were full. Rumor had it that they would spend eternity together with only those buried in St. David’s at the time the last person with a reservation joined them in the cemetery. After that, no other souls would be allowed in. Greg, in his thoughtful and logical way, had asked the group how they knew this and what facts had confirmed this. All the residents had exchanged glances, a little embarrassed that they had not asked themselves these same questions. No one could trace the story back to a source, not even Jeanette who had been here the longest. Greg pointed out that they would all know soon. There were only two spots left, one for Greg’s wife and one for Steve’s partner.
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Book two is finished and in editing, due out this fall…. If there is a “Heaven”, then there must be a “Hell”, right?