She Did Her Best

I like old cemeteries.  I like to stroll through and read the headstones.  Old headstones tell us something about the person resting below.  At the very least, we get a full name and dates of birth and death. We know if the person was married and if they had children. I found one very old headstone that said the deceased had been murdered and even named his murderer.

Today’s headstones are not as generous.  Too often, they’re just big granite slabs with a last name carved onto them.  They tell us nothing about the life of the person.  All we know about them is that they died.  In that sense, modern cemeteries are peopled by corpses, while old cemeteries are peopled by people.

Infant mortality rates were high a hundred and more years ago, so an old cemetery will have an unsettling number of tiny headstones marking the graves of little ones who never made it past the age of two.  I wonder at the small size of the headstones, as if they feared that a standard headstone would overwhelm the tiny grave.  These small headstones are usually the first to disappear, taken over by sod and weeds.

One of the saddest headstones I’ve found marked the grave of a woman who was married and had many children.  Beneath the basic information were the words, “She did her best.”

I’ve often wondered about that woman. With her husband and so many children to raise, what happened in her life that made her family put those words on her headstone?  To say that someone did their best implies that, despite their best efforts, they failed.  This grave was more than 100 years old, so it isn’t likely she failed at business, or law, or at being a doctor.  She was likely a housewife in that age when women didn’t have career options.  She did her best, they said.

I wish I could speak to her.  I wish I knew what the words on the headstone meant.

As I get older, I’m more conscious of the fact that I probably have more years behind me than I do ahead of me.  I wonder if my struggle to write and sell my stories will ever bear fruit.  I wonder how much the selling part matters.  I don’t want the words, “She did her best,” written on my headstone.

I want it to say, “She wrote.”

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