The Unmarked Grave of my Father

It started out as a question from my wife.

“Can you call your mom and get picture of your Dad?” she asked me.

This question was asked by her because I had written a little something on my Facebook about him on Father’s Day,  stating I didn’t  have a picture of my father but I believed that he might look like this.  I had posted a picture of some generic older man that closely resembled him. ( see below on the picture I posted)


My wife actually called my mom enquiring about pictures. My mom told her my older brother, who lived in North Carolina,  had the only picture of him (she believed anyways),  as the rest had gotten lost for whatever reasons I  didn’t understand. Well, I don’t really talk to my older brother (another story for another day), so I called my mother  and told her it would be nice if she could tell him to scan the picture and send me the image.

Since that Father’s Day request to her,  no picture has surfaced for me to see. Surprise Surprise…  I can always rely on my family to come through for me.

Fast forward a little to last week,  we had decided to go to an Air Show south of us in our state of Michigan.  The air show just happened to be taking place in the same area where my father had died and had been buried.

So again my wife asked, “Hey, we should go and try and find his grave, since you have never been to it. You want to?”

“Sure, why not. But I have no clue what cemetery he is buried in.” I said.

So I called my mom yet again and asked her this question and her reply was,  “Hmm…I am not sure of the name at all. I don’t really remember,” she said.

“Really mom? Really…? ”  I asked.

She finally drudged up the funeral home name where the service had taken place in 1982, the year he died. The place was still around thankfully so I called them up.  A nice old lady named Barbara said she would investigate their records from that time to find out what cemetery he had been buried in.

She called me back in literally ten minutes after talking to another nice old lady I am sure , named Betty who worked at the Oakhill Cemetery where she  found he had been taken.

Through Barbara, Betty relayed great directions to the gravesite and Betty even offered to attach a cemetary Map to the front door of  the cemetery office, as she said they would not be open on a Sunday for the day we were going to be coming down.

“GREAT!”  I said and thanked her profusely for both of their efforts.

Sunday came and I drove with my wife, along with my mother-in-law who was tagging along to the air show,  ( and no, the thought of bringing my mother along to this , never crossed my mind).  For many reasons. One being, having my mother and my mother-in-law in the same car in the back seat  would have driven my wife and I insane.

Btw, a picture of my mom and mother-in-law below  in the back seat behind me at one time…it wasn’t pretty that day:



Okay, on with my story.

We arrived at Oakhill Cemetery after a little of bit driving.  It was a cemetery  set in a semi-run down part of town bounded by an old brick and mortar walls surrounding the perimeter, wrought iron gates at various entrances and exits bid you to enter or leave as you pleased. IF YOU DARE! It was actually a very entrancing place to drive up on.  The place immediately reminded me of George A. Romero’s cemetery setting from his movie ‘Night of the Living Dead’…. awesome, I thought to myself….. 🙂



We drove up to the building you see before you and sure enough good as her word, Betty had attached the Cemetery Map and Burial page log for the specific plot section along with instructions on finding my father’s grave. Cool.

We got out and parked the car near the relative area and proceeded to the task like good little archeologists on a dig to try and decipher the hieroglyphics, map and instructions to where he might be buried.

The first thing I realized  regarding my father’s information about his burial site was that he was buried without a marker, meaning he had no headstone put in place when he was buried….wtf!

Okay. So that’s interesting.

According to the information he was in Plot 83, Row 7, Grave #8 , near a person with a last name of  “Swift” , it stated in the instructions, approximately  20 feet off the road.

My wife and mother-in-law  began searching diligently for “Swift”  at the beginning of the section as the map markings were too small and hard to read  for each Plot section. I ranged further down the road as it seemed intuitively, in looking at the map, to just be further away than they were looking.

It was sort of thrilling in a way to be out doing this. I had always wanted to be an archeologist or anthropologist growing up,  digging up dead bodies and sifting rocks and dirt. I just needed a good hat and whip to complete my ensemble…. 🙂



After a few minutes with neither of us spotting the name “Swift” I suddenly saw it, the name “Swift” etched into the stone work of a very aged and corroded marble headstone in the shape of an obelisk, ( a broken obelisk) .

I had just found one of the supposed  neighbor’s to my father’s grave. Oh ,”Swift” must have been rich to afford such a marker in their day. (See below for actual picture of it)



I yelled to the others to stop the search in the area they were in and to come over.

We quickly referred to the burial location log and saw he should be buried in Grave #8 location between a  gravestone marker 8B with name of Dugan and  gravestone marker with name  labeled  only with the letter “J”per the entry in the log.

We quickly found this: (see images below):  It seems the “J” meant Julia.







So that means my father was buried in that non-descript space in the middle somewhere down below where I stood.









But just looking at this patch of parched grass, you wouldn’t know it.

Here was a man who lived on this earth until the  age of  73 years  through 1909 until 1972, with him dying when I was only eleven years old.

In that time,  he had married twice (I believe) and had us three sons bearing his name, yet you wouldn’t know he existed without me telling you he existed. (btw he had married my mom when she was 29 and he was 59 years of age in the 70s, so he was already at a  “grandpa age” as I was  growing up.

He has no picture to be found (as of yet) and now no burial plot to even show his bones were some six-feet deep  below me held by the earth.


I suddenly felt a little sad.  Not for me. But for him.  He died alone in his home without us in his life, separated from us. He was buried alone without us as I only remember going to the funeral home  as an eleven year old and not to his grave.  They say funerals are more for the living, but fuck that. He deserved better than this. Yes, everyone will be forgotten one day but damn at least I should remember him.

I also felt ashamed at not trying to find his grave sooner than I had on almost a whim as of now.  Had I really blocked him out from thoughts and every day life as to not care about such things as a picture of him or to possibly  visit his grave.  God, I was asshole of a son, I thought.

THAT’S gonna change.

Immediately when I got home I started looking up gravestones to buy for him.

I have decided so far that it’s going to read:

Willie Wardlow 

February 9th, 1909  to April 20th 1972  


I am still deciding on some one line of phrasing I’m thinking of putting on below this.

When its finally put in I will put a picture of it on here to show you guys….  🙂


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