The Healing Lodge

The Healing Lodge

Honoring Our Elders A Visit For Comfort

The grand replica of a four-pillar colonial mansion of Forest Lawn Cypress is still and quiet when the gates swing open at eight o'clock am. From the exterior, one would not think the it building to be a mortuary's administration building. The interior of the building is dimly lit and people walking through the main hall speak in low tones. To one side of the main hall, a small area is designated as a flower shop. Cool air flows from a large walk-in refrigerator with sliding glass doors that stand open, inviting one to take a look at the variety of floral arrangements. As the main hall double doors open, a glare of light shatters the dimness of the hall. Outside massive black gates stand open leading to the secret behind the massive white walls which surrounds the extensive grounds.

Once inside the large black iron gates, sweeping green lawns roll in every direction. Massive trees stand as if to guard those lying beneath the soil. The grounds are divided up into nineteen sections by tree-shaded roads, each section lined with flat bronze rectangles. Garbage containers line the edges of the individual sections. By some rectangles, small potted plants stand in short wire holders very close to the ground while other rectangles have fresh cut flowers in lawn vases or temporary vases. Red, purple, yellow, and pink flowers add color to the otherwise endless stretch of green. Around a few headstones are birthday balloons, small "Happy Birthday" banners, and birthday cards. Every now and then, a sign is posted: "Flower theft is a crime punishable by imprisonment."

Towards the rear of the sweeping lawns is the "Ascension" Mausoleum. At the entrance is the "Ascension" Mosaic, a re-creation of John LaFarge's famous painting, made of over a million pieces of Venetian glass tile in over 3,000 shades of color. Beyond the entrance, several corridors are adorned with rare marbles, mosaic inlays, and colorful stained glass. To the side of the Mausoleum, stands the Church of Our Fathers, which features historical momentos from the Colonial period.

The church itself is a re-creation of old St. John's Church in Richmond, Virginia, where Patrick Henry delivered his fiery 'Give me liberty or give me death' speech," comments a friendly church visitor. The church's simplistic elegance makes it a comfortable place to find solace and peace.

Gardeners work planting, cutting, and watering the extensive lawns, shrubs, and trees. The buzzing noise of lawn mowers and edge trimmers can be heard all around the grounds. The smell of freshly cut grass fills the air. One gardener zooms by in his small go cart filled with gardening equipment. He stops at the far end of the lawn. Three other men stand watching a grungy yellow tractor dig a neat rectangular hole in the ground, preparing for a new permanent guest. After a few large scoops, the tractor stops digging and backs away from the hole. The three men and gardener cover the large pile of dirt to the side of the hole with a blue tarp, then the gardener returns to his go-cart and zips away.

At the corner of the section called "Sheltering Trees", a blonde haired girl in her late teens, early twenties, sits cross-legged with a dazed look on her face next to a bronze rectangle that reads:

Sharolyn Joy Lipari
Loving wife and mother
Loved By All

The inscription is surrounded by leaves etched into the headstone and a gold coated rose forever frozen in bloom.

"She died almost fifteen years ago. I was just a little girl, but I still miss her. I come here when I really need some one to talk to and when I need to be alone," the girl says. "Because Forest Lawn is secluded, its very quiet and peaceful. No one bothers you here."

A short distance away, an small elderly lady is knelt over a headstone, small gardening tools neatly placed beside her. Her small gloved hands make quick work of trimming the grass edges around the headstone and cleaning away debris. "My husband," she says pointing to the headstone, "passed on almost twenty years ago." She sighs, reaching up to tuck a long strand of black- gray hair that has fallen lose from her neat twist back behind her ear. "I try to come about once a week to things tidy up for him." She smiles. Her face is soft and despite her age , she has a girlish nature about her.

As she finishes cleaning the headstone, she puts her tools into a straw-weave bag. "There," she sighs. "Just one more thing." She rises slowly up off the ground and walks swiftly to her spotless black Camry parked a few feet away. Returning with a brunch of fresh cut flowers, she arranges then re-arranges the flowers before placing them in the flower holder in the ground before the headstone. From her pocket, she pulls a pack of cigarettes, selects one, and lights it.

"All done." She takes a delicate puff from her cigarette and closes her eyes. As she finishes her cigarette, she laughs to herself. She kisses her fingertips, leans over, and brushes her kissed fingertips across the headstone. "Until next week," she whispers softly. She straightens up and moves swiftly away.

I wrote this a few days ago after visiting my mother - Sharolyn Joy Lipari.

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Photo Courtesy of the National Geographic, January 1997, Our Man In China.


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