Just Ashes

June 15th, 2009 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Ashes BoxWanda’s not here and she’s not in the box. You might say my mother has become furniture or un objet d’art.

It is, however, a fine box. I went shopping for one worthy of holding half my mother’s ashes and found it in a small town in New Hampshire.  Oddly enough, it was hand made and hand inlaid not there, but in Comanche County, Oklahoma. I was born there in Fort Sill Station Hospital.

My mother, of course, was there at the time, busy allowing me into the larger world. Now the buff, heavy ashes of half of her cremated remains are sealed in that box. The box sits on a bookcase in my home office, highly visible at waist height.

Four years on, it is past time to allow them into the larger world.

I did not ask for half of the remains and I would not have. Instead, a call from my brother-in-law in New Mexico informed me they were on the way. His wife, my sister, just knew I’d want them. She’d keep half and send the other to me. As I recall, when Richard told me of the pending delivery, my only response was, “Why?”

Zydeco legend spoke Clifton Chenier to my attitude of mortality with, “When you live, you live. When you’re dead, you’re gone.” On a higher plane, I can play Socrates, as recounted in Phaedo. While I don’t have his faith in an immortal individual soul, I concur with his conclusion when asked what he wanted them to do with him after his death. He said the they could do whatever they wanted with his body because he was not going to be there.

So wife and family can toss my remains or absentmindedly leave them in a fine constructed box — dust on both inside and outside — or bury them. That’s whatever suits their emotional state and needs.

Plato quoted Crito as asking the dying Socrates, ” And in what way shall we bury you?” The response included”

In any way that you like; but you must get hold of me, and take care that I do not run away from you…Be of good cheer then, my dear Crito, and say that you are burying my body only, and do with that whatever is usual, and what you think best.

My mother was of that thought, asking only that there be no funeral and minimal expense. She definitely did not want a burial plot and probably would not even have approved of the fancy box.

When the frightfully heavy bag of ashes arrived by UPS, I fretted. I turned to my sage, aged adviser, UU Minister Farley Wheelwright. Over the past seven decades, he’s buried and married quite a few folk, parishioners, friends, family and strangers. He set me straight immediately.

A Matter of Place

Farley said not to have even a passing thought that the content of the box was or had ever been my mother.  Instead, the ashes are just that. They are as symbolic as I choose but no more.

His own attitude about such matters is rather casual, even to himself. I stood in for him at a family funeral at nearby Forest Hills Cemetery here. There’s a spot in the same grave for his ashes as well, the last in that grave. He’s fine with that.

He did ask jocularly for me to drop by from time to time to visit. That seems to be the real utility of such burials, a locus.

Actually, I had created as much in my back garden many years ago for my beloved grandfather. I took a photo of him and a few small objects of his and buried them in a tin. He was a highly skilled gardener, equally of flowers, vegetables and fruits. He and I worked many summer days weeding and harvesting. Putting my version of him a few feet from the house was soothing.

He was my touchstone and ideal. He was always there for me when I was happy or troubled. Without judgment, he would answer, agree or discuss. I can still have one-sided conversations.

Now I think I need a trip to the Eastern panhandle of West Virginia. My mother and I each learned to swim in the South Branch of the Potomac. We each wandered the mountains surrounding Romney as youths and adults. Her ashes — half of her ashes — should become one with that symbolic home.

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One Response

  1. Uncle says:

    I appreciate this in all its nuances. My mother instructed that her ashes be scattered on the island which was “home” in my early years: but we no longer owned it. Upshot was my brother made a stealth winter expedition over the ice and did the job. I was indifferent, but my bro might have benefitted from Farley’s advice.

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