PHOTO BY SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

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Widower finds peace, purpose through prayer at cemetery

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Remembering and praying for loved ones isn’t reserved just for Memorial Day or other special occasions.

One man, who asked that his identity not be revealed, visits the graves of his wife and her parents, at Calvary Cemetery in Omaha, nearly every day. He prays for them, other deceased loved ones and all souls in purgatory.

For the following story, he wished to be called  “John” and his wife “Anne” to help preserve their family’s anonymity.

 

Anne cared for people.

She was a nurse who loved children, especially babies.

She was strong, intelligent and a great cook, according to her husband, John. “She was always cooking something for someone,” he said.

John relied on her – for her strength, for the way she remembered the smallest details about people. “She was amazing,” he said.

Though Anne died in 2015, John tries to remain close to her by visiting her gravesite to pray every day that he can.

At Calvary Cemetery in Omaha, John not only prays for his wife, but for her parents, whose bodies are buried nearby, and for her brother, who died at a young age and has a memorial tree also nearby at Calvary.

John prays for his parents, too, who are buried in Iowa, as well as for other deceased loved ones and for all the souls in purgatory.

For him, praying for the dead and visiting the cemetery isn’t reserved for special days like Memorial Day. It’s an everyday part of his life.

IN ALMOST ANY WEATHER

When John misses a day at the cemetery, it means that he’s sick or out of town, or a blizzard keeps him from getting there. On days of harsh weather – like when the temperature dips to 20 below – he’ll stay in the car and pray. The cemetery parking lot is near his relatives’ graves in the southwest corner of the cemetery.

“John” prays for his wife, “Anne,” and her parents at Calvary Cemetery in Omaha for years, in all seasons. He is pictured on a wintry day in November 2019 and on a warmer day in May 2022. SUSAN SZALEWSKI/STAFF

He said that during most years, he is able to go to Calvary on all but 20-some of the 365 days in a year. During 2020, with fewer activities because of COVID-19, he missed just nine days.

Before the 75-year-old retired earlier this month, he often would head to the cemetery on his lunch break from work, about 10 minutes away. Now his time is more flexible, he said.

At Calvary, he can see an image of he and Anne on the tombstone that he’ll eventually share with her. The image was taken from a photo during the last year of her life, while on vacation at a lake.

Trips to the lake were a big part of their life with their family, which grew to three kids and six grandchildren.

Though he’s not Catholic, John usually prays a Chaplet of Divine Mercy at the graves of his mother- and father-in-law and a rosary at his wife’s grave. He started those devotions years ago after watching the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).

John said he began praying the rosary and chaplet at the cemetery beginning in late winter or early spring of 2017, on a cold, foggy morning.

Though he went to the cemetery often, he felt “kind of useless” there, he said.
But on that morning, “there was a woman a couple hundred feet away, and she’d obviously come to see a grave. She was carrying a rosary,” he said. Praying a Rosary “seemed like something I could do, so I copied her, I guess.”

He said he hopes other mourners might imitate that practice, too.

“At least you get some peace out of it,” he said of praying the rosary and chaplet. “You’re doing something. You’re not just giving up.” 

LOGIC IN FAITH

John was baptized in the Lutheran faith and raised as a Baptist. During his teen years, he fell away from the Christian faith altogether, he said.

His wife was raised Catholic by her parents, and she remained a Catholic. John and Anne were married in a Catholic church in Omaha in 1971. He had no qualms about having their children raised in the faith as well.

The two used to be part of Marriage Encounter, specifically helping other couples in which one spouse was Catholic and the other was not.

Catholicism, and the Christian faith in general, makes sense to him, he said. “There’s a lot of logic to it.”

He said he’s pro-life and pro-family. He follows Catholic sites on social media and has become dedicated to praying for the souls in purgatory.

“I don’t want anybody suffering,” he said.

John has been through classes for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) twice, but has stopped short of being fully initiated into the faith.

Joining the Catholic Church is “not like joining the Elks,” he said. “It’s a lot more important than that. There’s not a question more important in life. You don’t want to do it half-heartedly.”

John said he can’t point to anything specific that’s keeping him from becoming Catholic.

“I don’t know what I’m waiting for,” he said. “I keep praying and hope something happens. Maybe I’ll get it.”

“Knock and the door will be opened to you,” John said. “I’ve been knocking for about 40 years,” he said with a laugh. “It’ll work out.”