Saturday, November 19, 2011

Into the Earth

Today would have been my parents 45th wedding anniversary. My gift may be slightly macabre, but it's been rattling around in my head and freezing my hands for months. Here's what happened on July 6th, 2011.

The day we buried my father finally dawned on us. It was sunny, clear, and warm. Considering it was early July the warmth shouldn't have been surprising, but since it had been relatively cool all of the days prior the warmth was unexpected.

We got all dressed up in our fancy clothes and headed to the church. There we met up with my passel of cousins, young and not quite as young. As happy as we were to see each other, we were a little stilted and withdrawn. Do you perk up at the sight of someone you wouldn't even be seeing if your common relative hadn't died? I do, but it came and went in waves. I was pleased to see everyone, but it was hard to continue accepting condolences. Lining up, shaking hands. Who are these people? Church members, old friends, members of the choir all shuffle into the church and greet us using sad, tender voices.

After we greet the crowd, we wait in a small room with my cousins until the witnesses? audience? attendees are all seated. I took a few pictures to keep from thinking too much. The brightest spot of the whole ordeal was right here:
Maddie was as cute as a button.

Emma was fascinated by the 7 month old Maddie and spent a lot of time holding her tiny hands and stroking her soft cheeks.
Smooches for Maddie.

One portion of my cousins. An initial serving, as it were. These are the children of my dad's eldest sister, Thelma. These are the cousins I grew up knowing and they knew all of the best stories about my dad.
Marilyn, holding Logan, Ron, my own dark self, Nancy standing next to/behind Eric, who is holding Emma and Caitlin.

In the waiting room waited another serving of cousins, my brother and his sweetheart.
Ian, Deb, Maddie in the stroller, Ruth in the background, Nancy (the younger), and Marilyn again.

The priest and the undertaker sorted out their business and stepped to the front of the procession. We fell into line behind them and solemnly walked in, all eyes on the stainless steel urn held by the man at the front of the line. We finally made it to the front row, where all of the family spread into a thin, dark line and seated ourselves.

The formalities began.

Here's the part where I will be honest with you: I really couldn't concentrate on the funeral. I wasn't crying. I'm not sure if anyone was. I felt disjointed and distant. It wasn't a mass, since dad wasn't Catholic, but it was filled with singing songs I didn't know and some readings I didn't recognize save for one. I felt twitchy, overly warm, and out of place. I don't know if it was the kind of service he would have chosen for himself if you'd asked him. It seemed way too formal, bound by odd church strictures and laws. It did, however, begin to tell me what kind of funeral that I'd like, when that day comes for me.

Imagine a garden, my garden of the future, maybe. Perhaps a gorgeous park. Somehow I'm assuming I'll die when it's warm, but that may just be because of the current circumstances. A few concentric rings of chairs and a table with my urn on it in the center.  I'd like to be flash frozen and shattered instead of cremated. I'd become instant compost. (In fact, the process is called corpse composting. Eco unto death, that's me.) The group of folks would then tell stories about me. No singing, unless someone really wanted to. No music, unless it would make the mourners feel better. Instead, a circle of friends and family, telling stories, laughing and crying. That's what I want. Outside the circles, food and drink, photos and the rare video of me. Maybe. When the party is over (and it is intended to be a party), my remaining family gets to take the package of my remains home. Put me up on the shelf with the ancient remains of my long dead cats. Put me out in the garden and let me feed a beloved tree. I don't know. I don't care. But don't bury me in a box, in a hole in the ground, and walk away from me. For some reason, that image makes me deeply sad. Plant a new tree, just for me, and bury me under it. Toss my dust out over a forest, but make use of me in some fashion that helps the Earth and the plants I love so well.

Finally, back in reality, the service is over and the majority of the family and my dad's closest friend Joan, pile into cars and head over to the grave site. Here's the plot that mom had purchased. An undistinguished section of grass with a small, rectangular hole cut into it. "Grass" carpeting covers the pile of soil next to the hole. Note that it's big enough for 6 cremains...apparently mom is planning on throwing an eternal party there in the ground. The undertaker pulls out a blue velvet bag, puts dad's cremains into it and lowers it into the hole. Then he pulls out a second bag that holds the purple cloisonne urn that contains all that remains of my maternal grandmother. Mom had her on the mantel at home and had been waiting to bury grandma with dad. There's room in this spacious plot for mom, one day far off into the future. She's planned ahead, my mother has.

The priest says a few more things. I think the line ashes to ashes comes up, but I can't remember now.

Suddenly, the first note of a bagpipe hangs in the air, and the funeral party turns, as one, in surprise to face him. I have no idea what song he's playing, but this might be a close match.

And damn! but didn't every single one of us who hadn't cried in the church and had been toughing it out, we all started to cry. Me, my cousins, my sisters, all of us. My mom turned to Joan, and they hugged and laughed through the tears. It was Joan's idea to have a piper, just as she was the one who arranged for a piper at Cindy's wedding, years before. It was beautiful, haunting, sad and just perfect. One small thing. A man alone in a graveyard, playing a haunting tune.

When it ended, we wiped our tears away and leaving my dad and grandma there in the plot meant for six, we drove off to the church.

To the after party.

Well, what else do you call the part where you get together with the other mourners and eat food at banquet tables in the basement of a church? That, my friends, is an after party.

The funny thing is that there was an after, after party back at my mom's house afterwards, but I have to run. I'll finish this post and include those pictures tomorrow. I just didn't want to break my monthly posting "streak".

My love to you.


Monica said...

This whole post is wonderful except for one thing: You are never going to die.

Glad that's settled.

Woman with a Hatchet said...

Thanks Monica. I'll try!

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