Sunday, November 27, 2016

The case of the falling tombstone

Ten years ago, shortly before Rosh Hashana, when my father was 86 years old, he went to visit his parents' graves. Dad's parents are buried in the Yekke section of a very large cemetery in Clifton, NJ. He went on a drizzly, cold Friday morning and didn't tell anyone that he was going. He was still quite independent at that point and was still driving. Probably due to the inclement weather, dad was the only one in that area of the cemetery.

Somehow or another, dad's father's tombstone tipped over and fell on his leg. Fortunately, dad had a cell phone in his pocket and was able to call 911. Once emergency services arrived at the cemetery, it took them quite a while to locate dad, and once they did, they needed 4 men to lift the 500 lb tombstone off his leg.

Dad's injuries included multiple bone fractures, muscle damage and skin damage. Over the next seven months, he had seven surgeries, including a skin transplant. Eventually he recovered fairly well, despite his age.

One of the members of the medical staff later told my sister Karen that when Dad first arrived at the hospital after the accident and his wounds were assessed, she was sure that Dad would lose his leg.

More than one person has asked me what I thought of the mystical implications of a father's tombstone falling on his son's legs, but I prefer not to speculate about that. I certainly never brought it up with my father.

Later on, I did internet searches for "falling tombstones" and "cemetery accidents." I had never heard of such a thing before, but apparently it happens more often than you might expect, and in cases where children are involved, they are often killed. It's not common enough to induce anyone to start a cemetery safety campaign, but cemeteries are dangerous places, especially with the vertical tombstones used in many places, and more so when the stones are old enough for the materials used to have deteriorated. It makes me appreciate the flat ones that are common here in Israel.

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