A few years back, I stopped by the network of forest trails behind Colgate University for a walk with Sasha, my shepherd mix. The parking circle surrounds a cemetery, some of the graves more than a century old. A smaller, new section sits just outside the circle, and when I parked, I noticed a young woman, late 20s or early 30s, standing before one such grave.
I didn’t want to intrude on her reverie, and since I’m a news junkie away, I opened the newspaper—but I couldn’t help watch her over the top edge. A few small stones lay along the top of the tombstone. She carefully touched each one, turning it slowly, arranging them just so. She stood and looked for the longest time, before she finally lifted her hand to her lips, kissed them slowly, and gently pressed the transferred kiss to the face of the stone. She held it there for a moment, then rose, turned, and walked away.
I was intrigued, so when she was safely out of sight, I let my dog out to run, walked over to the stone, and read the centered lettering on the polished face of the black granite marker:
IAN PORTER HALE
JUNE 7, 1998
FEBRUARY 4, 2000
A HUG THAT WON’T QUIT
Tears filled my eyes. Twenty months. Twenty months! To lose a child after just twenty months! What a horrible fate for any mother (as I assumed the woman to be). In the years that followed, whenever I passed that grave site, I always checked to be sure the stones on top were in their proper place (they always were). I didn’t know why, but I knew that somehow, they were very important.
I haven’t been by in quite some time (my current dog is much more feisty, and I didn’t want her to disturb the stones—although I could see from a distance a few additions), but I stopped to take a look today. Now nine stones line the top of the marker—one for each year of Ian’s age had he lived, his latest birthday just a week and a half ago. A small sculpture, roughly the size of a hand, depicts a moose in a boat fishing with his younger moose—something Ian would have done with his dad, presumably. To the right of the marker stands a log sculpture about two feet high of an animal—a boy’s dog, judging from the one cocked ear. To the left of the marker, a wreath of thin twigs is tied with a light blue ribbon. And in front of the stone—nine plants featuring small, red flowers.
A bit of research quickly turned up Colgate’s alumni newsletter, a wealth of information. Ian’s grandfather wrote a grateful letter thanking the community for their support through such a difficult time, noting that Ian’s death was sudden and unexpected. I learned that Mom graduated in ’89 (confirming my guess about her age), that both parents worked in Colgate’s administration, and that they met at the wedding of another alum. A community development non-profit organization newsletter reports about improvements to the town’s Village Green, noting, “A new pavilion, in memory of Ian Porter Hale, has provided a focus for events and a performance venue for visiting artists.”
Rest well, Ian Porter Hale. You are deeply loved and dearly missed.