I’m not exactly sure what piece of the grieving process some people resolve by sitting at a grave site or leaving a single rose at a makeshift roadside shrine.
But clearly either works for some.
It is why on any given day in the spring you may find a gray-haired woman kneeling by a headstone, swatting mosquitoes and planting geraniums. She probably finds some comfort in that act — perhaps a sense of purpose or responsibility. I’m not one of those.
For the past 38 years my father has been buried at a cemetery in Etna that I visited when his mother and father died and joined him in that plot. I was 8 years old when he died and I have never found a great sense of peace or connection by visiting there.
Most of my family members are buried in a plot in Newport. For the most part they were relatively older people. Their loss was still significant, of course, the headstones and footstones marking generations and memories that are important to recall.
Among those, however, is the stone that marks the grave of my niece, who was 20 when she died in a car accident. Her stone sticks out among the other, more traditional ones. Hers has a pig engraved on it. Pigs were her favorite animal. “The Wizard of Oz” was her favorite movie. On her stone there is a pig with its nose in the air and the words “We’re off to see the wizard.”
She died in 2000 on Route 100 between Newport and Pittsfield. Until this past summer a cross bearing her name stood at the site where she died. Her mother never stopped at that site. Nor did I. But her friends would go there and leave flowers or coins or whatever they felt appropriate.
For many of those years my mother drove by that site on her way to work and said a little something to her first grandchild as she passed. I think that probably gave her some comfort.
Last month someone went to Joyce McLain’s grave site in Medway and drew a smiley face on the place where her picture used to be. Joyce was slain in 1980. She was 16. The picture that had once been there had long faded. The same person most likely smashed a ceramic angel that sat on top of her tombstone and also probably destroyed a makeshift cross that was nailed to a utility pole along the path where her body was found.
The death of Joyce McLain has probably received more attention as a “cold case” than any other in recent Maine history. This I can tell you. The best detectives in the state of Maine have been putting countless hours into this case, which is decades old.
On Friday, Maine State Police Sgt. Troy Gardner addressed the media. He has been working this case for quite some time, but has not always been willing to talk about it publicly. For reporters, that can be very frustrating.
We, as well as the people of the East Millinocket community, can debate whether Gardner’s decision to come forward now to discuss the recent vandalism is an attempt to put more pressure on the person or persons who may have killed Joyce McLain.
Were the person or persons responsible or someone related to them feeling some pressure? Could it have been a silly group of adolescents? Yup!
Here’s my thought. I think that better-trained, more disciplined detectives are overcoming decades of lost information to make some headway into Joyce McLain’s slaying. It is very possible that those responsible or those connected to those responsible could be getting nervous and careless and angry.
Right now those in the East Millinocket community who may have some idea as to whether the vandalism was simply a stunt by idiots or something more significant need to step up.
With all of the effort and emotion that has been put into this case, the detectives and Joyce’s mom deserve to know just how much importance to apply to this latest incident.
Joyce’s mom can put up a new cross and place a new angel atop her daughter’s gravestone. How important that symbolism is is a matter for her.
There is a team of detectives out there with only one thing in mind and that is finding those responsible for Joyce McLain’s death.
It has nothing to do with sitting by her grave site or honoring a makeshift shrine. That is not where their peace lies.