Cemetery goldfish pond memorializes daughter

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Gary and Michael Greisinger, father and son, pulled into the Elmer's Aquarium & Pet Center parking lot in Monroeville Friday morning. For $151.20, they walked away from the store with 700 goldfish.

"They give us a break," said Gary Greisinger, 64.

The Elmer's employees know what the goldfish are for; the Greisingers have been holding a vigil since 2003, when Catherine Helen Greisinger, Gary's daughter and Michael's sister, died at age 27 in a house fire in Pitcairn.

On May 17 each year, the anniversary of her death, the Greisingers drive to Elmer's. They fit four white boxes filled with goldfish into their car and they make their annual pilgrimage to stock the pond of the cemetery where she lies buried.

They've done it for a decade now.

"It's just a tradition," her father said.

Gary Greisinger channeled his devastation at the death of his only daughter into a charity he formed in her name. Cathy G Charities has raised money for organizations including Make-A-Wish and the Animal Rescue League, continuing the legacy of a woman her family members say loved helping others.

"We just wanted to keep that aspect of her alive," said Michael Greisinger, 28. Another way they remember her is with their goldfish tradition.

The Homewood Cemetery pond is where Gary Greisinger visited as a child with his father and brought his own children to visit the pond and feed the goldfish.

Ten years ago, after he buried Cathy, he walked to the empty pond. So Mr. Greisinger decided he'd fill the pond with goldfish in his daughter's memory. He's there every May 17, adding life to the water.

Some people remember their loved ones by planting trees, said Michael Joyce, who has been superintendent of the cemetery for 35 years. Some designate memorial benches. The Greisingers' fish memorial is unique, he said.

"We like it," he said, describing families who visit with their children to see the fish. "It's definitely a nice little thing."

Gary and Michael Greisinger arrived at the cemetery just before noon to place the fish in the pond. Cathy's voice, singing "Me & Bobby McGee" and "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue," played on repeat from Mr. Greisinger's car until the battery died.

The week leading up to the anniversary of his daughter's death is a sad one each year, Mr. Greisinger said. But when they re-stock the pond, he feels calm.

"This gives me a lot of peace," he said.

His sister, Kim, arrived with bread to feed to the fish. The Greisingers threw pieces into the pond, and Gary passed out slices to a few women who wandered over to watch. He plans to continue stocking the pond, in Cathy's memory, every year until his death. And at that point, his son will continue the tradition.

He imagines that his daughter knows what they do each year, and is able to say: "My family will never forget me."

"And we won't," he said.

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. First Published May 18, 2013 4:00 AM


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