Thursday, September 18, 2008

All we are is dust in the wind

For years we kept my mother's ashes in the tin they came in from the mortuary. It sat on the floor of our pantry. It had to be pried open with a flat head screw driver. The ashes, themselves were actually kept in a large plastic bag inside the tin. It may have been a ziplock, but I may have added that in post. I used the tin once or twice as a step ladder to reach the toilet paper on the top shelf.

When the decision was finally made to give my mother's ashes a more dignified resting place there was much rancor over who got what (the ashes of one person, you may be surprised to know, are remarkably varied in size and color). Much of her got spread in places that meant something to her. The rest of her got divided up between my father, my sister and myself.

I have kept her in a tiny calico pot I found in an antique shop outside of Sawanee, Tennessee. It's been fun to watch unsuspecting people come across it on my bookshelf. "What's this?", they would ask upon inspecting the contents. "My mother," I'd reply. At that, most would simply replace the lid and slide the pot back into its place, though one person did exclaim, "Daisy!" Incidentally, this is similar to the reaction I often get when I reply to the question, "What would your mother think?" with, "She wouldn't. She's dead." People take offense to my frankness, as though I have insulted them. Perhaps, in this culture, in which death is just not something anyone seems to be able to deal with with any sense, it is insulting to be so blunt about it. I find people need to be coddled with the information. "Oh, I am so terribly sorry to have to tell you this, but my mother passed over to the great Beyond. She's with the angels now." My suggestion is, if you're the type who is easily offended, you should not spend much time with me.

At any rate, in my efforts to purge myself of all items associated with my ex-husband (except for my beautiful Le Creuset dutch oven. And while we're on the subject, anyone in the market for a Sapphire engagement ring?), I decided it was time to find a better recepticle for my mother's ashes. I found a beautiful little black bowl with a pineapple shapped lid at a garage sale. I snatched it up with a fantastic handmade glass necklace. After cleaning it and deciding on the right place for it, I finally took the time to make the transfer, months after actually buying the bowl. I think the hold up was about my fear of my mother's ashes flying away as they slipped from the tiny pot to the bowl. After 15 years I worry that I have so little of her left with me that the risk of losing more was almost too much.

So, I sat on the edge of my bed, last Sunday evening, with the pot in one hand and the bowl in the other. I took some time looking at my mother's ashes and thinking about the kinds of things one thinks about in moments such as those. After a breath, I tipped the little blue and white pot over and watched the ashed slide. The room was still and nothing of my mother flew off into the wind. When the pot was empty, without thinking, I ran my finger around the inside of it, scooping out whatever might have stuck behind. And there I was, left with ashes coating my index finger. What else was there to do but wash my hands and move on?

As I ran my hands under the tap I thought, "This is not my mother. This is the remnants of her shell."

Really, she has passed on to the great Beyond. I'd like to think she may, in fact, be hanging out with the angels.