Saturday, May 26, 2001

A day to honor the dead

Cemetery visits a weekly event for young family

By Anna Guido
Enquirer Contributor

        HAMILTON — When a man must be both father and mother, a routine helps fill the unfillable void. It provides an island of sameness, a comforting touchstone.

        For two little Springdale boys, it is the only way to be near the mother they never knew.

        Most Saturday mornings, Russell Jones takes his 7-year-old twins, Michael and Matthew, to Hamilton to buy fresh flowers, then drives to nearby Rose Hill Cemetery. There, under a tree near a creek and a crumbling bridge where the boys like to throw stones, they visit the grave of their mother, Michelle Jones.

[photo] At Rose Hill Cemetery, Matthew (left) and Michael help their father, Russell Jones, place flowers on their mother's grave and tend to its upkeep
(Craig Ruttle photo)
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        Like many families this Memorial Day weekend, the boys and their dad will visit a cemetery where loved ones are buried. They'll bring flowers, plant a flag or trim grass, observing an old tradition on what once was known as “Decoration Day.”

        For the Joneses, the weekly ritual is so ingrained in their lives that Michael and Matthew notice when the routine is disrupted. One week they went on a Thursday, Michael said, “because Daddy wasn't feeling so good on Saturday.”

        Even Cindy Bucheit, owner of Gray the Florist on Dixie Highway, has come to expect and enjoy the visits, and is concerned when Mr. Jones doesn't show.

        “He's missed some Saturdays here and there, but not many,” Mrs. Bucheit said. “He's a trouper. And you can tell he still loves her. I can see it in his eyes every time I hand those flowers to him.”

Visits began early

        Michelle Renae Bippus Jones died April 19, 1994, six days after her twin sons were born, of complications from a difficult pregnancy.

        She was 27, a registered nurse in the prenatal intensive care unit at Cincinnati's Good Samaritan Hospital, where Michael and Matthew were born.

        Mr. Jones started taking his sons to the cemetery as soon as they could walk.

        “It makes them think of her,” he said. “Sometimes, when we go, they say, "Hi Mommy, we miss you,' but I think it's hard to miss someone you never knew.”

        On a recent Saturday visit to the cemetery, Michael and Matthew were in one of their periodic silent moods. One of them - the boys are identical - picked up a fallen branch and poked at a wind chime hanging from a tree. The wind chimes were a gift for their mother, because, Mr. Jones said, she was so fond of them.

        “When we're not here, at least the sound is here - a reminder that we're thinking of her,” he said.

Fun is part of ritual

The time spent at the cemetery varies from week to week, but is always followed by lunch at Skyline Chili, where the boys and Mr. Jones are greeted by familiar faces. After lunch, they do something fun. This day, they played miniature golf.

        Mr. Jones, 39, grew up in Springdale, his late wife in Fairfield. They met working at Chi Chi's.

        “If we could have hand-picked someone for our daughter, we couldn't have done a better job,” said Patti Bippus, Mr. Jones' mother-in-law. “People don't believe me when I tell them about Russell. I think he's the most wonderful man and father and he's proven it even more so since Michelle died.”

        Mr. Jones, a salesman for Cincinnati Transmission in Pleasant Ridge, moved in with his parents in Springdale when Matthew and Michael were 6 months old. But he kept the Fairfield home he shared with his wife. He hangs on to it for sentimental reasons.

        “I lease it out,” he said. “It was the house my wife grew up in.”

        Mr. Jones' mother, Barbara, believes her son's weekly visits to the cemetery are helpful for the boys. “I think they have to know that their mom is not here, and I think the graveyard is the best place to honor her,” she said.

No "grief rule book'

        To some, seven years might seem a long time to grieve.

        “I don't think my life is fixated around it,” Mr. Jones said. “But I'd like to think that I'll always honor and miss her, regardless of whether I have another relationship. She was an important person in my life and will always be an important person in my life and the life of my kids.”

        Christi Kettman, outreach coordinator at Fernside Center for Grieving Children in Norwood, said what Mr. Jones is doing for the children is normal.

        “This is the ritual that he's adapted for his family and it works for them,” she said. “I don't think you can pull out the grief rule book and say grieving should only last a certain amount of time.”

        More than anything else in life, Mr. Jones said he wants to provide his boys a good home and raise them the way his wife would have wanted.

        “Sometimes I think, "Why me? What did I do wrong? Who did I make mad?' But you've got to believe that you never get more than you can handle,” he said.

        “These boys are part of my life and my life has blossomed because of them.”

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