Ashes to Ashes

Michael at Work

We buried my mother’s ashes on Saturday. They are now in the same plot as my father’s casket.

My family doesn’t always do things promptly. Jan/Taffy died in December 2011. We arranged for her name, dates, and epitaph (“Short and Full of Life”) to be added to my father’s stone the following year. The ashes have languished in the house ever since.

We were waiting until all four members of the immediate family could be in Massachusetts together long enough to accomplish the burial. When I learned that my brother David, my sister-in-law Leigh, and my nephew Michael planned to visit me this past weekend, I emailed our neighbor Paul, who coordinates burials for the Pudding Hollow Cemetery Association.

Paul asked me what time we would like the “ceremony” to take place. I laughed a little. We weren’t really envisioning a ceremony; we planned merely to pop the ashes into the ground and say a quick goodbye. We had held plenty of ceremonies in the year following her death.

In the end, the experience of burying the ashes did have a feeling of ceremony. Paul arranged for a hole of appropriate size to be dug at the grave site. He generously left us a shovel and the dirt that had been removed from the grave. The day was appropriately gray and drippy at the cemetery, a lovely serene place where I myself will be buried one day.

It was moving to be responsible for putting our mother into the ground ourselves and then covering her remains with dirt. I go to a lot of funerals and a lot of burials. This was the first I’ve attended at which no official was present at the actual interment. Having just the family there rendered the occasion intimate and sweet.

Placing the ashes in the grave and covering them ourselves felt like a final act of caring for Taffy, six and a half years after her death, an act that brought our family closer together. In tribute to our father’s Jewish roots, we ended our time at the grave by placing a few pebbles on the stone.

David Places a Stone

I wouldn’t recommend keeping ashes in the house for years as a general rule. Yet waiting did seem to help us. It made the death a little more remote and therefore less sad. We were touched, but we didn’t cry.

Waiting offered us a dividend: labor. Michael was 11 when his grandmother died. Today he is a strong 18 year old, and he did most of the shoveling and lifting.

I’ll be continuing to remember my mother in the next few weeks as we approach what would have been her 100th birthday on September 26. Next week, on Saturday, August 25, I’ll be singing a few of her favorite songs in a concert that salutes songs and people born in 1918.

I also evoked her memory this week on television when I prepared her favorite coffee cake, Blueberry Sally Lunn, and then showed off the recipe and video in a blog post.

I never feel that my mother is far away—but as I practice singing songs she loved, continue to nourish people with her recipes, and contemplate the headstone she shares with my father in the cemetery, I find new ways in which to celebrate her spirit and the gifts she left me.

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