The Hyphen

black and white cemetery cross grass
Photo by James Robert on

Joshua 4:5-7 NASBand Joshua said to them, “Cross again to the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel. Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.  So, these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever.”



Ever drive through a cemetery and notice the tombstones?  Some are small plaques, but some are massive.  I tease that I want a monument which will require a flashing light on top to warn airplanes.  I suspect my family will provide something much shorter.  The only flashing light I’ll get is the occasional firefly resting on top.  Honestly, I don’t care about my gravestone.  If I have a marker, I suppose someone will engrave a date of birth and of death with a hyphen between.


The hyphen is more important than the dates.  The hyphen is what happened between my birth and my death.  Sometime between the doctor smacking my bottom and the potato salad served after my funeral some important things will have occurred.  Marriage, birth of children and grandchildren, careers, salvation, and more will happen in my life.


We want to live a vibrant, meaningful life.  But if we live long enough, we will slow down.  Our bodies will start to fail, a little at a time, until we’ll no longer be able to do the things we once did.  I’ve begun to understand why my parents lost interest in many of their favorite things as they aged.  They once liked camping, golfing, and ballroom dancing.  They ceased those activities years before my father died.  It was too physically challenging for them to continue.  Yet, my father of ninety did have other interests like woodworking, the lodge meetings, and attending Sunday School.


One thing he did in his later years was work on his genealogy.  He traveled to take pictures of gravestones to document his family history.  I figured he wanted to leave a record of our family history to his sons.  It was to say, “I was here”.    He left a well-prepared book on the lineage of his family as well as my mother’s.


My son recently had his DNA tested, so he is receiving information requests from people around the country claiming they are related.  He has asked me about some distant relatives who I don’t know.  I wish I could ask my father or mother about them.  But my father died, and my mother who has dementia sometimes doesn’t even know her children’s names.


The last few times I was with my father, I asked him many questions about his childhood.  For instance, I asked, “Did you have an icebox or refrigerator when you were young?’


He responded, “Neither, we were too poor.  We normally bought our food daily at the corner store or kept things cool in the well.”


My father’s father died during the depression when my father was eight years old.  “What do you remember about your father,” I asked.  “He was a good man who was kind.  I remember riding a trolley with him,” my father responded and that was all he could recall.


He had fond, but few memories of his father.  I, too, have loving memories of my father.  I also have cherished reflections of my mother before her dementia.  You have lovely memories of your family, too.  I suggest documenting as much as possible while there is time.  Maybe your loved-one still has some cognizance that can be tapped.  Joshua wished to retain history for the families crossing the Jordan.  In the same way we should preserve our family heritage, if possible.  Our children will appreciate it.


© 2018 Ronald Milburn