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Tidings of joy to lost loved ones

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The trunk of Susan Infeld’s car had become a makeshift florist shop. She and her high school classmate Nancy Dean Mattingly worked together making sprays with fragrant evergreen boughs, two red roses, and green and red plaid ribbon. With greenery in hand and guided by a paper map of Arlington National Cemetery, they closed the hatch and made their way past rows of graves until they found the one they were looking for. The women gently propped the flowers against the headstone, then began to recite Psalm 23 — “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.” 

The idea for these visits came to Infeld five years ago. It’s important to her to visit the graves of her family members, but she knows many people no longer live near the places their loved ones are buried.  She asked fellow members of Arlington’s Yorktown High School Class of 1973 via Facebook if any of them would like her to visit graves on their behalf. 

Classmate Dean Mattingly responded right away and offered to help. There were hundreds of people in their graduating class and they had never met each other. But working together to honor their classmates’ loved ones has made them fast friends. “Just one more gift of the season,” said Infeld. 

That day they stopped at 14 gravesites in three cemeteries: Arlington National Cemetery, Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington and Fairfax Memorial Park. At each headstone, they read a heartfelt message from their classmate or a specially chosen poem or prayer. At one, they sang the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” 

“It is a spiritual gift to be able to say a prayer by someone's loved one,” said Infeld, a parishioner and parish nurse at St. John Neumann Church in Reston. “I think it touches us both.” 

“It makes our Christmas,” said Dean Mattingly, who is Lutheran. 

The pair crisscrossed Arlington Cemetery to reach seven gravesites Dec. 7. One was the final resting place of Infeld’s high school best friend’s parents, whom she considered a second mom and dad. Another was the grave of a woman who came to St. John Neumann several years ago after being diagnosed with cancer. Infeld and then-pastor Oblate Father Thomas E. Murphy accompanied her as she faced death.

A spray of greenery rests on the grave of Gina Marie Lundy, a deceased friend of Susan Infeld. ZOEY MARAIST  |  CATHOLIC HERALD

christmas graves 68Whether Infeld had known them in life or not, she often told the deceased how much their loved one misses and appreciates them. “Bless you,” added Dean Mattingly. They sent a photo of each grave to that person’s loved one. 

At their final stop at Arlington Cemetery, the women trekked up a hill to the graves of Dean Mattingly’s parents. Her father was in the Navy and served in the Pacific during World War II. Later that day, Infeld visited her parents’ graves at Columbia Gardens. Both women said they enjoyed the chance to honor not only their parents, but the generation that raised them and their friends. 

“All of us grew up in a time that was so much simpler, and the focus of life was on family. Most of us have very many happy memories of that time,” said Infeld. “Nobody had a perfect family but I think everybody tried really hard. (Doing this) connects those folks with those happy memories.”

“We thank parents for all they did for us to make it a wonderful life,” said Dean Mattingly. 

The classmates believe that the Advent season is the perfect time to visit a cemetery, read notes of longing and love, and offer prayers for the dead. And these women are happy to do it on behalf of others, especially this year as many can’t travel to the final resting place of their loved ones during the holidays. 

“Their hearts are still here with their families,” said Infeld. “That's who we're representing. (We’re) bringing them comfort in knowing that we were their arms and legs.” 

“All hearts come home for Christmas,” said Dean Mattingly. 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020