Today we buried my mother's ashes.
They had been sitting in a closet for over five years. Every once in a while, I would be rummaging through the closet and would come across the black velveteen bag containing the box containing her ashes. I was always surprised. Dang. Mom's ashes. I would quickly shove the box to the back of the closet and shut the door.
What was I supposed to do with her ashes? What was I supposed to do with her? I asked my brothers. They had no ideas.
Those of you who follow this blog (thank you) know that my relationship with my mother was fraught, and that my feelings about her have softened since her death. See: https://woacanotes.blogspot.com/2017/12/today-i-missed-my-mother.html Now that she is gone, I am no longer holding my breath or biting my tongue. I have released my longing for a mother with whom I could talk, with whom I could feel ease. I know that she did the best that she could. And so did I.
Still, there was the issue of the ashes.
Even if the relationship hadn't been fraught, what do you do with the ashes of a person who has lived in three countries on two continents? A few months back, I tried to write about it:
For five years
have lain in their box
nested in a velvet bag.
For five years
I have passed
With unseeing eyes
The closet where they rest.
But recently, occasionally,
I have felt their restlessness,
their desire to be set free
from the smothering clothes
that hang above.
Where do they belong, these remnants
of you that are not you at all?
In Scotland where you began?
The place you ever turned your face
with eyes of longing.
In Canada where you spent your
days as a young mother?
In New Jersey where you birthed
a second son and raised us all?
In Florida where you warmed your
in the Pacific Northwest
where you spent your final years?
Where were you happy?
Were you ever truly happy
once you education was cut short
so that you might enter the world of work?
Are you free now of
the losses and resentments
that haunted you?
Will you be happy with your
ashes in a local stream ?
Will anywhere do?
Or must I travel
to the land of your origin,
the place of your happy girlhood,
to set things right for you?
In the end, I decided that a local stream would have to do. I needed to get her out of the closet. So, I made a plan with my daughters and their father (who was kindness itself to my mother) and my husband. We would go to a local forest and spread the ashes in or near a stream. We chose a date and a rendezvous place.
And then, last night, on the eve of the planned ash spreading, I knew that this plan wasn’t right. The place would be too public. It had nothing to do with my mother. I was thinking about the fact that my cousin Judy had recently buried my Aunt Pat’s ashes in my aunt’s garden. A lovely idea, but my mother had resided in an assisted living facility for the 12 years before her death. She didn't have a garden.
It was coming on toward 9 p.m. Too late to change the plan. I was tired and trying to finish defrosting the freezer by whacking at the ice with a hammer – seven hours is long enough to wait – right? As I banged away, the idea wouldn’t leave me. We didn’t need to go to a public place; we could bury the ashes in my garden.
And so, I called the others and changed the plan. This morning, my husband arose early and dug a hole. I, at the suggestion of Anne, my eldest, made a quick trip to a nursery to buy a plant. I came home with a spirea and (of course) a couple of heather starts.
It was a cloudy and unseasonably chilly morning. We gathered next to the place where Bill had dug, and took turns pouring ashes into the hole. (I kept back a small portion of the ashes to take to Scotland in September.) Roger, my ex—father of my mother’s granddaughters, offered us each a “wee dram” of scotch from the cap of the whiskey bottle he had brought with him. Mara, my youngest, placed the plants.
I read Rabbie Burns’ My Heart’s in the Highlands, and it all felt just right.
We dispersed – Anne and Mara going off with their dad for a Father’s Day lunch, Bill and I heading out for lunch ourselves. It wasn’t quite time to resume the day’s activities.
I felt and feel at peace now that my mother’s ashes are out of the closet and in the ground.
I hope that you are at peace, as well, Mom. I pray that your soul is flying free over the highlands.